- Fette, founded by 2 Brown students, sells 100% plant-based cups that break down in 60 days.
- Cofounder and rising senior Priya Mittal got the word out about Fette through microambassadors.
- These students trade social marketing for opportunities to network and learn from founders.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Long a staple of frat parties, BBQ’s, and tailgates, there’s no single object more representative of party culture than the red Solo cup.
“For far too long we’ve normalized the use of these plastic cups that are, for all intents and purposes, not recyclable, and as students who love having fun yet care deeply about protecting the environment, we knew something had to be done,” cofounder and rising senior Priya Mittal, 21, told Insider.
Armed with $5,000 – a combination of Social Innovation Fellowship money, various student and small-business grants, and some loans from family and friends – the two women sent out to build a brand that would disrupt the party industry, or as they like to say, “do good, while being bad.”
To ensure everything from the factory environment to the shipping materials to packaging to the cups themselves are crafted in both an ethical and sustainable manner, Fette, which launched this past fall, manufactures their cups in the United States.
The process of finding a domestic manufacturer with similar standards was a rigorous one, Mittal said, and took close to four months. In the end, Mittal and her business partner were able to source a Florida-based manufacturer whose core values on sustainable practices aligned with theirs.
A recent Pew Research Center study revealed millennials and Gen Zers to be standouts in terms of their high levels of engagement centering around climate change. With Gen Z making up 40% of the global consumer base to the tune of an estimated $143 billion in spending power, the future of the retail marketplace is literally in hands of a generation whose defining issues are environmental and social causes.
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Fette’s mission isn’t just about sustainability, however – it also hopes to make drinking safer by making its cups transparent. “Whether it’s an all-night rager or a few friends gathered together with a bottle of wine, we believe being able to see what’s inside your drink is a crucial first step in mitigating the toxic elements of party culture, which includes the enormous sexual assault epidemic on college campuses across the country,” Mittal said.
Since launching at Brown, Yale, and Duke in September, Fette has sold over 50,000 cups to students at 20 colleges and universities and more than 10 liquor and convenience stores near college campuses, Mittal said. Based on interest and pre-orders, the company’s in the process of producing 500,000 more cups to meet demand.
Putting sustainability directly in the hands of students
Rather than approach colleges themselves, the cofounders instead opted to partner with individual students who are active in everything from Greek life to sports teams to dance troupes to a capella clubs and put the power directly in the hands of customers.
“In our experience, students are less prone to do something if it’s run by a school-related entity. We’ve found peer-to-peer relationships to be more compelling in terms of both impact and influence,” Mittal said.
During their launch, through a combination of their personal networks and social-media outreach, the cofounders recruited 50 “microambassadors” at campuses around the country in a beta test to spread the word about Fette in exchange for free cups.
They’ve also built an online community comprised of students, innovators, and brands known as #fettefam. In their most recent grassroots effort, Fette unveiled the #fettefam ambassador program, a new and improved community with more benefits.
They asked students to go to their website and sign up. Within 72 hours, 150 new ambassadors did just that.
Perks of being an ambassador? Free networking.
Unlike brands who often market their products to the Gen Z audience through traditional advertising and free swag, Mittal and her business partner are offering their peers something they said is much more beneficial: The opportunity to be part of a movement revolving around sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, and community.
Fette’s ambassadors are given free cups, but that’s just the starting point. According to Mittal, the real appeal for college students is exclusive access to a virtual speaker series featuring young entrepreneurs and activists, networking opportunities with food and beverage companies in the form of happy hours and meet-and-greets, and the ability to personally get involved and watch a female, person of color, and queer-founded and led brand like Fette being built from the ground up.
In exchange for these benefits, ambassadors serve as campus liaisons, connecting Fette with social chairs and student-run organizations at their schools that may be interested in partnering or purchasing a bulk cup order. They also help spread the word about Fette through their own social-media platforms.
Fette’s in-house sales team of 10 is responsible for forming partnerships with local and sustainable food and beverage businesses, creating outreach strategies to connect with students at different universities, and managing the growing team of ambassadors.
“Our company and the #fettefam community was built upon the idea of voting with your wallet and allowing Gen Z to showcase the issues they care about by the products they consume,” Mittal said.
“We are way more than just a cup,” she added. “One in six people who purchase Fette either send us a picture of them using Fette or post a picture themselves. Holding a Fette cup in your hand allows people to say, ‘I care about the environment and campus safety,’ and that’s pretty powerful.”
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