In Galapagos, Conservation Science Finds Startup Solution
Sustainable beachwear brand Sula will give 20% of its profits back to the Galapagos Science Center.
A creative collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill’s Galapagos Science Center and sustainable clothing startup Sula means new investments in conservation research and programs for the Galapagos Islands.
Shortly after graduating from Florida State University, Macarena Morillo returned to her home country of Ecuador and started doing what most college graduates do: hunting for a job. But when her job search led Morillo and her sister to begin chasing a lifelong dream – to start their own company that combines their sense of fashion with a love of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands – she experienced newfound inspiration for using entrepreneurship to support island conservation.
Morillo’s decision to found Sula, a sustainable beachwear brand, was based on a keen observation she made while visiting the Galapagos: local shops lack quality clothing items that tourists need when they go scuba diving, swimming or hiking. She could not find a brand that aligned with her values, so she realized that by creating Sula, she could fill a gap on the island and advance its conservation.
But Morillo knew that by collaborating with another organization, her new company would make an even greater impact on conservation efforts than it could by itself. That insight led Morillo to meet with leaders at The Galapagos Science Center (GSC) – co-founded by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Universidad San Francisco de Quito – which coordinates scientific research projects between local, national and international scientists to benefit the Galapagos Islands and the world of science.
Leaders of the GSC and Morillo put mutual entrepreneurial thinking into action and forged a new collaboration aimed at helping to preserve the islands. In launching its first collection, Sula will give 20% of its profits back to the GSC, the first and only academic research center in the archipelago.
“We always knew we wanted to donate a part of our profits to conservationist causes, but we were not really sure how to find the right one,” says Morillo. “When you donate to a foundation, sometimes a small percentage goes to the conservation project. So when we saw the Galapagos Science Center, we knew it was the perfect place. We felt connected to its projects, and the students are just amazing.”
An entrepreneurial approach to problem solving
The conservation challenges that the GSC is trying to solve are significant: extreme weather events influenced by climate change, the hazards of newly introduced species and a fast-growing population. Such rapidly evolving concerns call for an entrepreneurial perspective on problem solving, which leaders at GSC embrace through a collaborative approach.
“The sustainability of the Galapagos can only be ensured when all stakeholders take responsibility for the Island’s future,” says Steve Walsh, co-director of the Galapagos Science Center (UNC) and director of UNC Center for Galapagos Studies. “It is gratifying to see private organizations giving back to the Galapagos Islands through dedicated funds to help ensure an Island future filled with mystery and wonder for all to enjoy.”
Morillo describes Sula’s product line as fashion forward, comfortable and durable, but most importantly, sustainable. Taking its name from the scientific name for the blue-footed booby (seabird), Sula stands behind its tagline “Together we preserve the Galapagos,” and offers products with a tangible purpose. Its first collection creates swimwear and beach towels made of recycled plastic, as well as organic cotton outerwear for men and women.
“We realized how much the world cared about the Galapagos, but there wasn’t a current way to contribute to conservation efforts,” says Morillo. “Our brand has very strict values. Not only are the products made with sustainable fabrics through fair trade, the brand has a bigger purpose. It has the mission to preserve one of the most vital places on earth.”
Read more on the Innovate Carolina website.
January 23, 2023