Transforming garbage into fashion

Carolina senior Ana Soule and her team at the Phoenyx Project are giving new life to vinyl billboards that would otherwise end up in the dump.

With a dad who works in outdoor advertising, Ana Soule has spent a lot of time around vinyl billboards. She has also seen firsthand how much of the material is produced without a sustainable method to repurpose it later.

To find an eco-friendly way to re-use the vinyl instead of sending it to the dump, the Carolina senior launched the Phoenyx Project with help from juniors Julia Thompson and Alessandro Uribe-Rheinbolt.

The young company creates durable and fashionable utility bags from recycled billboard material, harnessing the positive properties of billboard vinyl such as the material’s strength and flexibility to develop products that are dependable, lightweight and waterproof.

Ultimately, Soule said, the Phoenyx Project wants to also address the issues of fair and accessible wages by providing employment opportunities for the homeless.

“The reason why we’re doing this is to reduce environmental waste and also to create economic opportunity,” said Soule, an economics and public policy major.

This weekend, Soule will join students and faculty from five other Carolina-based projects at the ACCelerate Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival in Washington, D.C. The event brings the most innovative minds to the nation’s capital to celebrate the creative exploration and research happening at the intersection of science, engineering, arts and design.

Led by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, the UNC-Chapel Hill delegation will represent some of the most pioneering ideas at Carolina.

In Washington, D.C., Soule will discuss how sustainability and social impact can be the most notable new styles in the fashion industry.

“This whole semester we’ve been working on getting products ready for the showcase,” she said.