Caitlin Lota helps customers at her “Jewelz by Cait” booth on Dexter Lawn during the Sustainability Festival, which lasted the duration of October. Credit: Mia-Isobel Craig | Mustang News

As part of a month-long celebration of sustainability, student vendors participated in Cal Poly Green Campus’ Sustainability Festival in October, selling handmade goods with a mission of promoting local, sustainable fashion.

One such vendor was Hope Springer, a graduate student at Cal Poly who makes bottle cap earrings and other jewelry.

After meeting former Cal Poly student Sam Apodaca who made jewelry out of bottle caps, Springer took note of all of the bottle caps she had accumulated in her home state of Washington during her freshman year. The next time she visited home, she found her mother’s old jewelry-making supplies and got to work.

“It’s an easy material to get, especially at parties, you know, you’re in a college town,” Springer said. “All my friends know if I’m there, they just hand me all their bottle caps. I go home from every party with pockets full of bottle caps or friends will bring over baggies full of them for me.”

In addition to her friends donating supplies, Springer will ask local bars for spare bottle caps. If a unique bottle cap on a case of beer catches her eye at the store, she will take it home with her and use them to make earrings.

Although metal bottle caps are recyclable, many people do not realize this, Springer said. Metal items comprise about 9.5% of landfill material, accounting for 13.9 million tons of waste in 2018, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Springer’s jewelry helps take metal bottle caps out of this waste cycle and gives them a new life as accessories.

“It’s a way to reuse something that typically gets thrown away,” Springer said. “Even though they’re recyclable, people don’t really know that they’re recyclable and they typically just throw them in the garbage.”

Though the bottle cap earrings are her most popular item, Springer has expanded to other types of jewelry. She also makes wire-wrapped pieces made from natural materials like sea glass, sand dollars and rocks. Her beaded jewelry uses up-cycled beads she finds at thrift stores, estate sales or from old necklaces. Springer is also environmentally friendly when it comes to her packaging, in which she cuts up Trader Joe’s paper bags.

To Springer, sustainability is more than her business; it’s her passion. She graduated from Cal Poly in June 2022, with a bachelor’s degree in environmental management and protection and minors in sustainable agriculture and Indigenous studies in natural resources and the environment. Currently, she is in the environmental sciences and management graduate program and interns for Green Campus, which focuses on incorporating sustainable practices at the university.

Springer’s interest in sustainability was inspired by her high school Advanced Placement Environmental Science class, which gave her a frame of reference for what practices she wanted to adopt. She initially took to sustainable food and accessibility, researching further into environmentally friendly practices. During her first four years on campus, she worked with the Poly Organic Farm, Swanton Pacific Ranch, the Real Food Collaborative Club and became the Associated Students Secretary of Sustainability.

As an advocate for green habits, Springer encourages shopping sustainably and locally.

“If someone in SLO is making bottle cap earrings and you take the bus to campus and you go and buy them on Dexter lawn, your carbon emissions to get that item are very low,” Springer said. “Whereas, if you order them online and then they have to be packed in a package that was made from fossil fuels and then sent on a plane and then driven in a car to be delivered to you, your carbon footprint is a lot bigger. So I think it’s valuable to think about that in a lot of purchases made.”

Hope Springer poses with her jewelry at a Booch Garden craft sale at Whalebird Kombucha in San Luis Obispo in June 2021. Credit: Annie O’Neill | Courtesy

Jewelz by Cait

Statistics senior Caitlin Lota also hosted a booth at the Sustainability Festival with her business, Jewelz by Cait. Like Springer, she sells handmade jewelry made from up-cycled materials, by taking apart an old piece of jewelry and using the materials to create new items.

It’s no secret that plastic is harmful to the environment, as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission reported that plastic makes up 80% of marine pollution, equating to 8-10 million metric tons of plastic. With plastic beads often being used in jewelry, up-cycling old pieces avoids wasting more plastic materials.

Lota began making jewelry last year for herself but later realized that she was making far too much for just one person to use, so she decided to sell her pieces. Her work is diverse, and she produces everything from waist chains and earrings to bracelets and necklaces. She also recently began selling clothing she found at thrift stores alongside pieces she has crocheted and reworked.

“I don’t want to re-donate [the clothes] because I know that sometimes it ends up in the landfill anyway if it doesn’t get bought in the store,” Lota said. “So finding people who actually want that piece is a lot more effective at getting it out of landfills.” 

During the 2020 quarantine, Lota had been scrolling on TikTok, finding video after video of large fast fashion hauls. This encouraged her to dive into the ethics of fashion and consumption, later prompting her to take classes online at the Fashion Institute of Technology that focused on sustainability and fashion. Afterward, she completed an internship at SlowCo, a fashion company that specializes in consciously sustainable clothing and fights against over-consumption.

According to the EPA, textiles contribute about 8% of waste, with discarded clothes being the main culprit. In 2018, there were approximately 11.3 million tons of textile waste in landfills and on average, Americans threw out an average of 81.5 pounds of clothes each year. Donating clothes and buying second-hand are great ways to deplete waste.

When it comes to her materials, Lota uses thrifted wire and beads to make new creations. She loves taking older items and making them her own.

“My favorite part is being able to go into a thrift store and visualize what I want to make with it. Cause a lot of the time if I’m reworking something or if I’m reusing a piece of jewelry, it’s not gonna look anything like what I bought in the store,” Lota said. “Being able to come up with those ideas in my head and then have it work out when I’m actually making it is the best part for me.”

Lota finds that fashion is the easiest path to living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, as some other green practices are not always available to everyone.

“I know as a student it’s kind of hard to get into things like composting and, maybe, sustainability around food, because a lot of people have dining plans and they’re not really in charge of the ways in which their food are made or served to them,” Lota said. “I feel like clothing is something that we have the most control over or just buying things in general.”

Lota also serves as the event planner for the Fashion Sustainability Club (FSC), planning events focusing on clothing sustainability. She and FSC collaborated with Green Campus to organize the Sustainability Festival, including an FSC clothing swap and plenty of sustainable vendors. She loves “getting involved with creative people,” as well as educating other students on green practices.

A recent piece Lota made. Credit: Caitlin Lota | Courtesy

Thrifting and up-cycling fashion

Similarly to Lota, psychology sophomore Amber Hicks runs a small business selling second-hand and altered clothes, with her Instagram handle being @amber.marie.hicks. She also plans to sell crochet items using thrifted yarn and other materials. She ran her own booth at the Sustainability Festival, which was the first vendor event she participated in at Cal Poly.

Hicks has been visiting thrift stores since her childhood, as they provided an affordable clothing option for her. During quarantine, thrifting became an artistic outlet for her where she could buy trendy pieces and repurpose them when trends passed. She has now cut fast fashion out of her style and even buys second-hand decor and dishware for her apartment.

“Now I only thrift everything. I barely buy anything completely new, just because I know I can find it at a thrift store and it’s way more environmentally conscious,” Hicks said.

Hicks supports second-hand and sustainable shopping but also warns against overconsumption.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve been learning for myself is to consume less, cause that’s the other part of sustainability, like first buying secondhand, then also not consuming as much and buying as much and just reducing that is so important,” she said.

When it comes to buying second-hand, clothes are not always likely to fit after you purchase them. Hicks was able to solve this problem by learning the skill of sewing and altering clothes. Her friends took note of her new talent and asked her to begin altering their clothes, which prompted her to buy a sewing machine. From there, she started to make her own bags and clothing pieces from thrifted materials.

Her fascination with crocheting started when she attended an FSC event that taught attendees how to crochet with plastic materials. She fell in love with the idea of a fun hobby creating something tangible. Hicks also encourages others to pick up sustainable hobbies and artistic pursuits.

“I think that anyone can be more sustainable, even when you think you can’t, you probably can, and if you want to start creating art and start selling it, you should totally do it because it’s a really great outlet,” Hicks said. “Also, it’s sustainable, which is cool, and it supports communities of people. You meet so many people and you find like-minded people.”

Sarah Daks (left) and Amber Hicks (right) at their shared booth for the Swap and Shop section of the Sustainability Festival on Oct. 6, 2022. Credit: Ella Wallis | Courtesy

Hicks said she believes that education is vital to maintaining a sustainable environment. Education is the most important part of Sustainability Month for Hicks, as she believes it helps students understand how they can adopt environmentally friendly habits in their own lives.

Students interested in getting involved with sustainable communities at Cal Poly can visit Green Campus or can find one of the many sustainability-centered clubs on campus to join.