California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    “Shark Tank” star and self-starter speaks at StartupCLU event

    “Shark Tank” star and co-founder of Rareform Alec Avedissian came to California Lutheran University to give some words of advice for young entrepreneurs and other attendees.

    Senior and StartupCLU Vice President Molly Strawn coordinated and moderated the interview, which was held in the Lundring Event Center from 6-8 p.m. Strawn landed a job with Rareform about a year ago after hearing them speak at an event at Hub 101.

    “Hearing them speak was so influential for me and I really loved talking with them and getting to know them in that event, so I said, ‘Why don’t I bring that to Cal Lu?’” Strawn said.

    This was the first event of its kind hosted by StartupCLU. Senior and StartupCLU President Evan Brandt said that they already have two more similar events planned for the upcoming school year.

    Rareform is a company based in Agoura Hills that upcycles old vinyl billboards into one-of-a-kind bags and accessories. The company was founded by brothers Alec and Aric Avedissian in 2012.

    Since its founding, Rareform has been featured on the show “Shark Tank” where they closed a deal with Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary. They received a $150,000 loan for five percent equity.

    After getting so much publicity from the show, they said their sales and popularity greatly increased. They now repurpose an average of 20,000 pounds of billboard into about 10,000 unique products each month. That’s enough material to cover more than 12 football fields.

    Alec Avedissian said he first got the idea for repurposing billboards while working at a nonprofit in El Salvador. There, he witnessed people using recycled billboards for shelter and was amazed by their size and durability. Billboard vinyl is waterproof, vegan and lightweight.

    After his return to California, he said he decided to put his idea to the test. He went to an auto upholstery manufacturer and asked them to sew pieces of billboard into a surfboard cover. After positive response from his friends, he decided to move forward with the idea.

    He said he had to start by acquiring more billboards and he did that for free by calling different multi-billion dollar advertising companies. He said he contacted the CEO of Lamar Advertising and told him, “I want to save you money by recycling your billboards and I’ll give you a marketing piece to your company.”

    The first shipment of materials arrived to their parents address in a 40-foot semi-truck because they didn’t have another place to store it.

    “My brother and I we’re like, ‘Oh no, we’re in so much trouble,’” Alec Avedissian said.

    At that time, they said they were manufacturing products out of the attic of a boxing gym in Santa Monica. Today, they have their own offices and warehouse near Santa Monica and have expanded their manufacturing process to a global scale.

    They said their process begins with receiving shipments of material from all over the country. They then clean, cut and sort the material, making sure not to include any faces, foods or logos. After shipping the cut material out to manufacturers in Mexico and China, it is shipped back in the form of finished goods. Because each piece is completely unique, every single product has to be photographed and listed on the website and instantly removed after it has been purchased.

    Rareform has formed partnerships with numerous retailers including REI, Val Surf and Wholefoods. They also have a newly announced licensing agreement with Coca-Cola and will soon release a Coca-Cola line of product.

    Alec Avedissian said he knew he wanted to start a business that was doing some sort of good in the world—he just didn’t know what. He left his job in finance to pursue his startup idea.

    “I always liked the idea of having something that was my own. I like the creative part of it and being responsible. If it makes it or not is based on me directly,” Alec Avedissian said.

    With their continually growing success, Alec and Aric Avedissian want to make Rareform a well-known brand in the repurposing materials business. They also want to continue to find new ways and new partnerships that help their company to be socially responsible and eco-friendly.

    To those who attended the event looking for advice for their own entrepreneurial endeavors, he stressed the amount of work and sacrifice that having a successful startup requires. He said that when he first started the business he had no idea what was in store for him.

    “I was totally naive and totally optimistic,” Alec Avedissian said. “And I think that’s the best way to be. I think you have to be.”

    To learn more about Rareform, check out www.Rareform.com.

    Brooke Stanley
    Reporter