Popcycle marketplace supports SU’s student-run businesses
Popcycle supports student-run businesses
At the end of October, Syracuse University students flocked to Bird Library, but not to check out books or to find a study spot.
The library’s Blackstone Launchpad transformed into a shoppable marketplace that showcased 15 student-run businesses. Handmade jewelry, intricately painted clothing and unique vintage finds were among the many pieces available for purchase.
Jackson Ensley and Paul Hultgren organized the pop-up event. The two founded Popcycle, a start-up company that produces campus retail events for student-owned fashion brands.
The duo works to collectively promote small businesses on campus to more than 2,300 Instagram followers on @popcycle.cuse, encouraging customers to shop through the sellers’ online platforms and at pop-up events.
“Each of these brands has websites or social media accounts or Etsy, DePop, all that, but they find it very hard to differentiate themselves,” said marketing senior Ensley. “When you sell on campus, specifically to students at your own college it’s a lot easier. When you tell students that their purchase will support another student on campus, they are a lot more willing to buy.”
For their October event, the company helped generate over $6,300 in sales for student-owned brands while also raising nearly $1,188 for Callisto, a nonprofit organization that combats sexual violence and supports survivors on college campuses.
Popcycle began in 2019 after Ensley transferred to SU and partnered with SU alumnus Ben Goldsmith ‘21. The company produced two successful pop-up shops before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, leading them to redirect their business model.
“We thought Popcycle was dead. We thought it wasn’t going anywhere. It seemed like it was over,” Ensley said. The entrepreneurs quickly adapted, however, welcoming Hultgren, an entrepreneur and programmer originally from San Francisco, to the founding team.
“He’ll never say it, but he’s the most talented programmer I know,” Ensley said. After six months of building, Popcycle became an online marketplace in September 2020. The website was wildly successful for about three months. Ensley said the number of sales blew his socks off.
After facing some technical hiccups and pursuing their additional entrepreneurial ventures, Modosuite and most recently Patchwork, Ensley and Hultgren decided to revert back to the in-person campus pop-ups that first introduced SU to the Popcycle name. This time, Ensley and Hultgren approached the event in a more relaxed manner, welcoming more brands and doing minimal marketing on campus.
“It was the best pop-up we’ve ever done,” Ensley said, noting that Popcycle made almost twice as many sales as before.
Another aspect Hultgren and Ensley did differently this time was their partnership with an organization for a cause. When the Popcycle team discovered Callisto was interested in working with a campus organization, an immediate partnership was born.
Callisto launched on the Syracuse campus last semester. The nonprofit works to combat sexual violence and support survivors on college campuses said SU senior and Callisto campus champion Abigail Tick.
Each student-run Popcycle partner agreed to donate a portion of their profits to Callisto. Tick said when she received the text from Ensley and Hultgren with the total amount raised, $1,188, it felt surreal.
Ensley said that each brand was extremely willing and excited to donate to such an important cause.
In regards to the future of Callisto, Tick said, “I want Callisto to be so embedded into the social culture among students at Syracuse that when something happens, it’s on the first line of response. I don’t see it ever, ever replacing any kind of already existing resource, whether that be the Barnes Center or Title IX or even Vera House; rather, it needs to exist in the ecosystem of survivor support. It needs to be an additional avenue that students can take if they want a route that is a little bit more personal and unaffiliated with the university.”
Meet the Brands
Of the 15 brands included in the recent pop-up, Ensley explained each typically falls under one of four categories: vintage, upcycled, custom or jewelry.
Vintage ‘Cuse & VintageU
Entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and management senior Lauren Levin founded Vintage ‘Cuse during her first year at SU in November 2018. The small business also led to the development of VintageU, which now reaches over 65 campuses across the nation. She sells vintage-sourced and thrifted pieces including sweatshirts, t-shirts, jerseys and more. Levin now has a team of seven working with her.
Levin was inspired to start Vintage ‘Cuse after learning about the environmental effects of the fashion industry and working to combat them in her own life. Shopping secondhand, she quickly found unique pieces and saw an opportunity to provide others with a sustainable option, she said.
Political science junior Amanda Kruman founded her small jewelry business Fully Wyred last December over quarantine. Both of Kruman’s parents own jewelry businesses, which provided her with the supplies and foundation for her skills, she said. Other techniques, like the wire wrapping she is popular for, she picked up from TikTok.
Kruman appreciated her partnership with Popcycle for the recent pop-up due to the charitable aspect. She donates a portion of all proceeds she makes, and valued partnering with an organization with the same values.
Follow Kruman’s work on Instagram @fullywyred
Studio arts junior Rochelle Dweck founded her sustainable, small business Mercer Girl her senior year of high school after receiving positive feedback on a hand-painted jacket she made for herself. She now sells custom-painted secondhand items and expanded into other areas like screen printing, pouch work, and even rugs.
Dweck said one of the most rewarding parts of owning a small business is seeing her peers around campus wearing her creations. She wants Mercer Girl to be about more than just selling clothes, but she wants it to be a brand for herself, distributing one-of-a-kind pieces. “It’s easy for me to be creative, think of designs, paint and create art because that’s what I do every single day. It’s what I love,” Dweck said.
Film senior Kai Philavanh doesn’t define Tomboyish as a business but rather a passion research project. Philavanh started Tomboyish over quarantine last year after teaching herself how to sew. She now uses her pieces as a way to explore science and the future, she said.
Philavanh wants Tomboyish to be a brand that is groundbreaking in both form and function, she said. She hopes to further research how design and science connect so that the betterment of society can be incorporated into fashion.
Follow Philanvanh’s passion project on Instagram @tomboyish.shop.
Public relations and political science senior Jules Schwenderman founded the small jewelry business, QWLRY, out of curiosity and boredom last August, they said. Schwenderman decided to experiment with creating jewelry out of unconventional, repurposed items. Safety pins, soda tabs, vintage toys and other novelty items make up the unique QWLRY style. Schwenderman said their brand is fun and affordable which is what attracts customers to their Instagram page.
QWLRY also serves as a form of expression for individuals in the LGBTQ community. Schwenderman said that their pieces can serve as a flagging symbol and a fun way to express one’s identity. Schwenderman’s favorite part of QWLRY is using it as a creative outlet to experiment with new, out-of-the-box ideas.
Graphic design senior and pop-up attendee Tanner Hogan said, “It’s really cool that Popcycle has created a space where students can come together to promote their products and creativity. It’s also inspiring to see them partnering with campus organizations to help support students in our community.”
As Ensley and Hultgren go on to pursue other entrepreneurial endeavors, they said they are looking to pass the Popcycle torch to an individual who can continue to expand the idea and outreach to more college campuses.
“There will always be brands and there will always be people who want to sell,” Ensley said.