Campus Life: Christian Alliance Cheng Wing Gee College students' denim upcycling startup goes beyond fashionable goods

A group of local students are tackling waste in the community by turning old denim jeans and jackets into stylish new products

Joanne Ma |

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The teen members of new start-up company Rudolph were all wearing the same white jumpers and denim overalls. Denim is kind of their thing. They walked around, chatted to customers, and shared their company’s slogans. They’d worked tirelessly to create a line of upcycled demin products, and now they were proudly showing them off.

Rudolph was created from scratch by 21 students from Christian Alliance Cheng Wing Gee College. They were one of 74 teams from Hong Kong schools taking part in the Junior Achievement Company Programme (JAHK CP) Trade Fair, which was held at Charter Garden on December 15.

With their eco-friendly mission statement, and exquisite product designs, it was no surprise that the company were awarded first prize in the “Best Booth” category, as well as coming second place in the “Best Offering” category.

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The idea to sell handmade products made from used jeans came about soon after the students first signed up to take part in the programme, back in September. After doing some research, they discovered the just how harmful the production of new denim is to the environment.

“We want to raise awareness about the huge amount of energy and resources that are wasted as human beings keep producing things that we already have,” explained Ivan Tong Chun-ling, the 16-year-old leader of the company. “On top of that, denim is such a durable material, it shouldn’t just go to waste once an item is considered out of style.”

The team settled on the name Rudolph for their company because it is a transliteration of a phrase meaning “live a fruitful life” in Cantonese. The Cantonese word for “fruitful” also sounds the same as the word for “trousers” or “jeans ”.

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After weeks of planning and brainstorming, the team were ready to spring into action. They held a denim donation event at their school in early November, where they were able to collect piles of old and unwanted denim jackets and jeans from their schoolmates. They then set to work transforming the material into 130 handmade products, including handbags and notebook covers.

“We pulled together and spent six weeks in the needlework classroom creating our own collection,” explained 16-year-old Khaw Chin-pok.

Rudolph's products were showcased and sold at the Junior Achievement Hong Kong Company Programme Trade Fair at Chater Garden on December 15.
Photo: Joanne Ma/SCMP

Ivan explains that one of the biggest challenges among the team was how to divide the workload. But they eventually figured out where each of their strengths lay, with the girls proving to be more detail-oriented and therefore better-suited to the needlework than the boys.

“We boys are just very clumsy, especially when it comes to delicate work. So we do a lot of the more active jobs like carrying heavy materials and decorating the booth itself,” added Ivan.

The students also wanted to make sure their products would last; after all, there was no point turning old items into new ones if they were still going to end up in the bin. One product they are especially proud of is notebook sleeve, as they had initially planned to only make accessories that could be stuck on notebooks.

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“But then we thought, our recycled denim would still face the same fate if people just throw away the entire book after using it,” said Ivan. “That goes against our principle. So we made a reusable jacket that people can simply put on and take off their notebooks instead.”

The upcycled items aren’t the only good thing to come out of the project. After their denim donation day at school, the students noticed that more of their classmates were starting to recycle. So they decided to hold a free workshop to teach other students how to make Rudolph’s products themselves.

Among the best skills they’ve picked up during the entire experience was communication – whether it was to make a sale or solve a problem. “I’ve gained more courage to talk to other people,” said Ivan, “Also, we’re more confident in running a business now because we’re actually doing it. It’s about good communication – knowing what your customers want and delivering it to them.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge