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alumna profile: Allie Frownfelter ’17

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Bottle Thread logo, designed by Allie Frownfelter

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” says recent Chatham graduate Allie Frownfelter, “but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Inspiration came little by little. In one of her sustainability classes, Frownfelter (who majored in Sustainability) was shocked by an image the class was shown. “It looked like a bunch of pixels on the screen,” she says, “but the professor said that it represented the number of plastic bottles that gets thrown out every second.”

Later, she overheard a woman expressing interest in starting a clothing line. Sustainable fashion was something that had interested Frownfelter, because it struck her as an untapped market, and because it tapped something inside of her.

“I wanted to study abroad after my bachelor’s degree, and have the least amount of clothing that could be turned into the widest array of outfits while I traveled,” she says.

“Say goodbye to wrinkles and ill-fitting shirts forever.  Our sustainable blouses are constructed with a proprietary blend of fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The high-quality fabric is UV protected, Anti-pilling, breathable, and moisture-wicking. You could comfortably wear this shirt backpacking, though it looks even better at the office, or writing at a coffee shop in Barcelona.” – from the Bottle Thread website  

The idea of making a button-down shirt for women particularly resonated. “They’re often baggy, uncomfortable, and need to be ironed,” says Frownfelter. “I wanted to make a shirt that you could wear to work, while traveling—something that has that versatility.”

Frownfelter found a manufacturer in Southern California called Indie Source that offers a sustainable fabric partially made from recycled plastic bottles. Her sustainable clothing line—called Bottle Thread—will launch with a women’s shirt, a men’s shirt, and a dress. The clothing will be designed by Indie Source to Frownfelter’s specifications, and she will approve the fabric, cut, buttons, colors, and other elements of the clothing line. “It’s all online,” she says, “so other than the samples, I don’t have to touch anything.”

A white female with long brown hair wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses on top of her head holds up two cardboard sheets with gray fabric samples stabled to them.
Allie with fabric samples

Frownfelter came to Chatham as a transfer student from Millersville, on the eastern side of Pennsylvania. “I just fell in love with the Sustainability program,” she says. “It starts by showing all these problems we have, but also introduces ways that we can start to fix them.”

A young woman in a blue hat and olive green overalls holding a shovel stands in a stream. She is laughing, and there is snow all around.
Allie collecting stream data for one of the qualitative ecology labs.

She credits two courses in particular: Sustainable Transition Management and Sustainable Systems. “Those courses combined opened my mind to possibilities,” she says. “What they taught me was that things take time, and that you can change things incrementally.”

“You can start a business, change a system slightly, direct it into a new kind of way to go somewhere else. That’s what I’m doing with Bottle Thread.”

“During my last semester, I took a quantitative ecology class that focused on environmental statistics,” says Frownfelter. “I was never a math person, so I procrastinated taking that class.  But the timing was perfect, because I was able to overcome my math inaptitude and actually create reliable projections for investors in Bottle Thread.”

Frownfelter was able to have her company dovetail nicely with her coursework: In her Design Praxis course, she developed a logo and brand identity for Bottle Thread.  And her senior capstone project was the Bottle Thread business plan, written under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business Thomas Macagno.

“The wrinkle free material saves customers on average $300 a year in dry cleaning and can be packed in your suitcase without worrying about finding an iron…. A single blouse reduces ocean and landfill pollution and is made from approximately 42 recycled bottles. Proudly made in the USA”. – from the Bottle Thread website  

“I knew I was going to write a business plan anyway,” she says. “But having the opportunity to consolidate my work into an educational experience meant that I was able to focus more on how to make the company as sustainable as possible. I don’t think I would have been able to be this environmentally focused if I didn’t have such an incentive. Instead, I probably would have focused on creating the best quality product at the cheapest cost, virtually throwing out a lot of the values I learned through my degree for the sake of efficiency because it was easier. Consolidation of the two projects helped me merge my degree into my company, which is basically the new American Dream.”

Frownfelter is also working with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham. The CWE has been helping her with marketing and connecting her to resources including networking events. As the business expands, Frownfelter expects that she’ll be able to take advantage of more services offered by the CWE, but their input has already proven valuable. “The idea to use bra sizes for the shirts was just an off-the-cuff comment made by someone at the CWE, but I think it is a fabulous idea so I am taking it and running with it,” she says.

Bottle Thread and Company is filed as a benefit LLC, which means that Frownfelter must file an annual report with the state explaining how Bottle Thread benefits people and/or the environment.  “Being a benefit LLC allows my company to focus on things other than purely making money,” she says.

Frownfelter hopes to begin shipping on July 1. As of now, Bottle Thread items are likely to be available in white, black, and steel. And a Chatham purple.

 

Marita Garrett, MAP ’15 wins Wilkinsburg mayoral primary

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Update: On November 7, 2017, Marita Garrett won the Wilkinsburg mayoral race. A longer version of this story appeared in the Spring 2017 Chatham Recorder

In 2010, Marita Garrett bought a house in Wilkinsburg, PA, a borough of about 16,000 people, right outside Pittsburgh. “The taxes were super high, but I kept coming back because I really liked Wilkinsburg,” she says.

Three years later, the Department of Education put the Wilkinsburg school district on the financial watch list. Residents, including Garrett, took note.

Her first thought was to help another candidate. “There were four seats open on Borough Council,” she says. “I thought maybe I’d pass out flyers or host an event. But the second time I went to an interest meeting, I asked who was running for our ward, and saw eyes looking at me.”

“I started doing door to door, and realizing no information was getting to our residents. They didn’t even know Wilkinsburg was its own municipality; they thought it was part of the City of Pittsburgh. I thought now wait a minute, I need to stay in this full force, because this has to change.”

She was elected to Council in the fall of 2013, and began her term in January 2014.

Fall 2013 was also when she enrolled in Chatham’s Psychology program. “It made me a good listener, and good at figuring out where people are coming from. That’s come in more than handy in Council, when nine people all want the best thing for the community but have different ideas of what that looks like.”

On my first day of orientation, I saw the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics table and said I was just elected to Wilkinsburg council! They were like, ‘You have to come to our office! and I was like, Yes!’ It’s been a great relationship.”

In September 2014, Garrett launched a series of quarterly community conversations. In 2015, she co-founded Free Store Wilkinsburg, a nonprofit that redistributes new and lightly used goods at no cost to community members to bridge times of financial stress and emergency.

Why did Garrett decide to run for mayor? Wilkinsburg has a “weak mayor, strong council” form of government. That means that the vast majority of decisions are made by the Borough Council.

If it sounds like Council is where the power lies, that’s what Garrett thought, too. That’s why when her friend Austin David, executive assistant to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, asked her whether she’d ever considered running for mayor, she was skeptical.

But then Austin made a very good point: Braddock’s John Fetterman is also “just the mayor.”

“I was like, Wow, you know what? That’s right,” Garrett says. “Fetterman has really taken that role of a figurehead and spokesperson and used it to do so much for Braddock. He’s brought in concerts, events, all these exciting things. I thought ‘You know what, okay. I’m going to do this.’”

“It was always my plan to announce the day after the general election. Then Hillary lost, and I did take a day of reflection. I thought, should I even try to run? Then I thought no—we’re moving ahead. I officially announced my candidacy in January.”

Wilkinsburg’s mayoral general election will be held in November.

An emoji is worth…what, exactly?

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It’s not every day that Vogue magazine wants to talk to a Chatham researcher, but Assistant Professor of Psychology Monica Riordan, PhD was ready. Dr. Riordan studies computer-mediated communication (such as texts, instant messaging, and emails), and she recently published a study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology about emojis—the little pictures of everything from a thumbs-up to a salamander to the Romanian flag that we see on our phone screens and computer monitors.

Some people think that emojis grew out of emoticons, combinations of punctuation that help writers communicate the emotion behind a text or an email. The smile is a common one: :) In fact, many computer programs (including Microsoft Word) automatically replace emoticons with emojis: in the case of the colon + right parenthesis, it’s replaced with a smiley face.

“But if you look at all the 2000+ emojis that exist, only a small percentage of them are faces,” says Dr. Riordan. “The vast majority are objects. It begs the question, what are these non-face emojis for? What do they communicate?”

To investigate this question, Dr. Riordan worked with students to develop a set of texts that they could imagine receiving (“ecologically valid,” in psychology-speak), and paired the texts with zero, one, two or three emojis. She then showed the texts to study participants and asked them to rate how much of each of eight emotions (joy, trust, fear, surprise, anger, sadness, disgust, and anticipation) was present in the text message.

The results surprised her.

“It’s intuitive that if you use a smiley emoji, it will make you seem happier,” says Dr. Riordan. “But it’s not quite as intuitive that an emoji of a tree should suddenly make people seem happier, and yet they seem to. I was really surprised that of all eight emotions that I looked at, joy just significantly increased every single time.

“People just seem more joyful when they use emojis, no matter what that emoji is.”

Cara Gillotti, Senior Writer at Chatham University: Why do you think that might be?

MR: I think it adds an element of playfulness. If you’re really angry about something, you don’t play with language, right? You’re very terse, very to the point. Emojis are a form of art. They’re a form of playing with language.

CG: Do you think that’s their main purpose?

MR: I think emojis are used in a few ways. For one, they might be used to disambiguate meaning. For example, if I send you a text that just says “Party time!”, that could mean a baby shower, a graduation party—you don’t know. But if I include an emoji of two beer glasses clinking, it tells you more about what kind of party it’s going to be. But of course the extent to which they do that depends on which emoji you use, for example, a balloon emoji may not differentiate.

I was working closely with a former student—who is now in the Quantitative Psychology PhD program at Notre Dame—and we spent many hours talking about what emojis mean. She showed me a text she got from a friend that said “See you later” with a unicorn emoji after it, and I was like “What does that mean?” It turns out that they had negotiated the meaning of the unicorn emoji to be a personality signature, like a hidden understanding, a shared joke just between the two of them. And I found that really interesting, and we put together this theory, that by having this hidden meaning inside joke emoji, you’re almost performing your role as a friend, saying “we’re besties.”

The meaning of emojis is negotiated and changes over time. Emojis rise and fall in popularity, more emojis are made, and some emojis are deleted from the favorites list. In these ways, they are a lot like words, and have become a language unto themselves.

Emojis can also be great timesavers in terms of acting out social roles too. Let’s say you’re part of a sales team that just won an award. You could go down to the office and give everyone a high-five, or you could type a couple trophies, a couple of high fives, and text them to everybody, and you’re “present” in that moment.

And sometimes emojis have no meaning whatsoever, sometimes they’re just like rainbows and flowers and whatever else. I have nothing else to say so I’m just going to text you a bunch of emojis in a row.

CG: So we don’t always know what emojis mean.

MR: Nope. In fact, people who are older than college age tend to think of emojis as pictograms—that they represent the actual object. And this can lead to misunderstandings, because the people who use emojis more often actually consider them to be more like ideograms. Which means they don’t represent a trophy in reality, they represent the idea of being a champion, the idea of winning.

CG: How can we tell whether they’re used as pictograms or ideograms? 

MR: Apple recently came out with an upgrade to the iPhone that suggests emojis for words you type in a text— if you text “tree”, it will suggest replacing that word with an emoji of a tree. The problem is, most people don’t do this. The most common place for an emoji is at the end of a text, not in the middle, and rarely in place of words. They’re used as punctuation.

CG: Interesting. 

MR: Yeah. So, because emojis are often seen as ideograms, we can never really know what they mean. With some, there’s almost like a cultural-level negotiation of their meaning.  I thought it was really interesting that negotiation happens at the cultural level, and also at the interpersonal level, like with my former student and her best friend.

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CG: I looked at one of the papers your studies references, and was intrigued by the finding that texts that end with periods are actually seen as being less sincere. 

MR: One of my students told me that she uses a period to specifically end a conversation. When you’re face and face with someone, you walk away and the conversation ends. But conversations over text message can go on perpetually. Maybe there’s a delay, and 20 minutes later you get a message. It’s a constant, ongoing conversation. So she feels that if she wants to end the conversation, she puts a period there to show that we are now closing.

CG: So it’s a deliberate decision that she’s making?  

MR: Exactly. And it’s so interesting to me that it’s using punctuation in a completely different way. It’s not ending a sentence; it’s ending a conversation.

CG: In your study, did you find that three emojis—trophies, for example—correlated with more joy than two trophies?

MR: No, interestingly—if we look at the trophy, joy went up almost an entire point from zero emojis to one emoji. But two emojis were basically the same as one emoji, and when you added a third, it went up only about another three-quarters of a point. So it looks like the important thing is whether an emoji is included, not the number of emojis. Only rarely did adding more emojis make an emotion more intense.

If you look online, you will find like the “laughing while crying” emoji three times in a row, and that’s supposed to indicate the intensity of the emotion. But in reality, most of the time we’re not really feeling the ways that we’re communicating that we’re feeling. It’s all a complete performance, so you’re performing the social role.

CG: Do people use emojis in emails?

MR: It is extremely infrequent. Most people – especially teenagers and 20-somethings don’t email their friends or family. To them, email is strictly something they use for professional correspondence.

CG: Are you thinking about extending this line of research?

MR: Yes, I am. So, if my father or mother sends me an eggplant emoji, I know they don’t mean certain associated meanings. But if a friend sends it, I think “she knows what that means!” I judge the meaning of the emoji based on the person who sends it. It’s obviously very complex, but I think I’d like to untangle some of the relationships between context and emoji use, and meaning of the emojis of that context.

Read Vogue’s coverage of the study here.

This study was funded by a Chatham faculty research grant. Chatham University’s undergraduate psychology program allows students to explore contemporary theory and research in psychology while thinking scientifically about behavior and mental processes, appreciating and respecting others and their differences, and to pursue a variety of career paths or graduate school.