With environment top of mind, Williams students harbor grand designs for cap business

By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle

WILLIAMSTOWN — A couple of juniors at Williams College are trying to save the environment “one cap at a time.”

Peter Frelinghuysen and Michael Medvedev, who played together on the Williams tennis team, noticed in spring 2019 that their collection of caps, which both used frequently to contain their prodigious locks, had become rather large and had come from a wide variety of sources.

While they might like the look and the style of some of the hats, these two budding entrepreneurs thought the hats could have a deeper connection with their users by having an impact on improving the human condition — other than preventing sun damage, Frelinghuysen noted.

Medvedev and Frelinghuysen attended the same high school, and while there, the two had been dabbling in designing tennis apparel for a few months, enough for them to realize they had a knack.

When they arrived at Williams as freshmen, they had started thinking about another business idea. Then the caps idea started to evolve. They thought that if they designed some thematic caps with simple but cool designs and donated part of the purchase price to a nonprofit that might be reflected by the cap designs, they would be selling caps and increasing the revenue and effectiveness of some nonprofits.

They didn’t have to think about what type of nonprofits they would like to engage with: they already had been involved in climate-change activism.

So, they started designing hats with simple images of animals like penguins and bears. And they decided to donate $5 from each cap sold to a nonprofit that works to protect the things depicted on the caps.

To get the business rolling, they invested money they earned at summer jobs.

They named the business Earth Caps, with the slogan “Saving the Earth, one cap at a time.”

They launched their first batch in August 2019. First customers were friends and family. Then, some of their friends at Williams. They sold about 150 hats.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. They had to pause their business plan for a bit but used the time to work on new designs and partnerships.

“We had more time on our hands, so, we were able to focus more on growing the business,” Medvedev said. “We were making calls, seeking partners. It was a lot of fun — enlivening.”

They considered dozens of organizations, and chose to work with four of them: Lonely WhaleMake A Change WorldBondh E Shams and World Animal Protection.

So, if they sell a wind turbine cap and send $5 to Bondh E Shams, it helps to pay for an innovative, solar-powered, all-in-one water pump and filtration system that saves up to 2.5 liters of water per day for 20 years, which equals 10 cups of clean water every day while their project is active.

And when they sell a coral or penguin cap, $5 will go to Lonely Whale and Make A Change World to help in educating future generations on the gravity of climate change, or cleaning Indonesia’s plastics-polluted waterways. A rhino cap will provide $5 toward feeding an endangered species for several weeks or raising awareness about the climate effects of mass farming. They sell baseball-style caps and beanies for the winter. So far, they have sold about 300 hats and donated more than $1,000.

“We just ordered more hats,” Medvedev said. “We’re making a lot of progress.”

Their next project is to identify vendors that can incorporate shredded recycled plastics along with cotton fibers to manufacture the hats.

“Each hat would be made from four or five plastic bottles,” Medvedev said. “We’re going to launch that early next year.”

“Sustainable Earth Caps was our goal from the beginning, although it looks like they’ll be more expensive to make, and it takes a lot of [research and development],” Frelinghuysen added.

Through it all, their focus has been on sustainability and awareness.

Sam Bencheghib is the co-founder of Make a Change World, which is working to end pollution of rivers and plastics pollution.

“Michael and Peter are high school friends of a friend of mine,” Bencheghib said. “I’m honored to be one of four organizations they are partnered with. I love being able to fund part of our cleanup efforts thanks to Earth Caps. We’re very grateful to have their support, and we can’t wait to continue this relationship and clean more rivers thanks to them and their hats.”

“We want to help make sustainability and the fight against global warming cool and popular,” Medvedev said.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.

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