By: Cristina Ramírez Ellín & Cristina Correa Franceschi
It was 6:00 p.m. and it was already dark in this April afternoon at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez. In a peaceful outdoor environment, overhearing the chirping of birds, Gerardo Lebrón, 23, a fourth year student majoring in philosophy at UPRM and founder of Olita “an eco-friendly apparel,” sat with his legs crossed on a bench. He is a tall, surfer-type, blonde white young man with a broad smile. His clothes are simple and sporty: black shirt and beige shorts, high socks and closed shoes. His voice is soft and soothing.
Gerardo, lives in Cabo Rojo, which he likes because it is “remote.” He was born in Dallas, Texas because his mother faced challenges during her pregnancy but he considers himself Puerto Rican.
He is the second of four siblings, he grew up in San Germán; he describes his childhood as very “entertaining.” In his teen years he moved to Mayagüez and on the weekends he went to different places in Puerto Rico to play basketball with his brothers. He had many adventures with his siblings and cousins; “it was madness,” he says.
Gerardo, describes his life with his parents as “the best.” He recalls that his parents were very good with all of their children and they never lacked anything because they were taught the values of education and work. His father is an example to him and his mom always worried about him and his other siblings.
From his childhood he specially recalls that his father had a boat, and later bought a banana boat and all the siblings had a lot of fun in them.
Nowadays he likes to surf because he thinks it helps him connect with nature.
Gerardo, founder of Olita, started in early March this year and did a pre-launch by Crowd Founding at Antrocket page. According to the website of Antrocket, Olita “is an eco-friendly apparel store that uses 10 percent of the sales of every product for social causes, starting in the community La Vía in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Olita sales generate profit for the common welfare. Gerardo, adds that he envisions Olita as a means to create art that educate and make people reflect upon society. The four pillars of Olita are: education, international solidarity, environmental protection, and physical and mental health.
Lebrón, faced many challenges in launching this initiative and the hardest ones have been to find “textiles and suppliers, because I had to ensure to buy certified eco-friendly textiles from suppliers who practice Fair Trade,” he said.
Moreover, Olita and Puerto Rico Industries for the Blind (PRIFB) are in the process of investigation of suppliers of certified eco friendly textiles with the objective of starting the manufacture of products. The t-shirts will be worked on materials such as hemp, bamboo, organic cotton, soy, among others. That’s why he wants the clothes are made here in Puerto Rico.
Today, Olita collaborates with the Business Development Center at UPRM, under the program EnterPRize of Guayacán. They won a Social Impact Prize 2013 from EnterPRize, and they helped them for one year on financial matters and mentoring. They also collaborate with “Tierra Unida” (Earth Unified), which is a community- oriented ecological organization devoted to sustainable development, among others.
Gerardo’s motivation to start Olita dates back to when Gerardo, was in eighth grade and went on a mission to Lirios, Costa Rica. As he recalls it now, “it was the first time I saw the needs of people.” He started thinking that they are poor but at the same time are happy and maybe the poor one was him and he could learn to live with less.
At that moment, his life changed and he saw the need to help the neediest people. “The feeling of giving is for me the ecstasy of my life,” said Lebrón.
The name of Olita started because he had a friend called Paola, and she had a painting of a van with a surf table in the top of the van and the license plate said Olita. He liked it because it was simple. “Simplicity is beautiful,” expressed Lebrón.
Today his professional goals are to study human rights and specialize in environmental laws. He wants to take Olita to a global brand through collaboration.
Besides Olita, Gerardo has made other personal, daily choices to save the environment: he bathes with cold water in less than 5 minutes, he doesn’t sleep with an air conditioner, he has lowered his meat consumption, he tries to eat organic as much as possible, he recycles, and he avoids buying bottled water. “He tries to live by example, as not giving the fish, but teaching how to fish,” as mentioned in the Antrocket page.
Throughout his journey to create Olita, Gerardo never thought of giving up his dreams but he did get frustrated and overwhelmed at times. “There are external forces that can broke my future dream but I mulish.” said Lebrón.
Gerardo, advices college students to “concentrate in creating something. The idea that you have create it, but first think how this idea contributes to the common welfare. Dedicate your life to collaborating and helping others,” expressed Lebrón.
On the other hand, a difficult example in his life was when he was in first year of college. He went to play volleyball in the United States and his roommate died in a car accident. That was really hard for him because it was the first death of a person near him. The situation make him reflect a lot and he didn’t manage the situation in that moment very well.
Finally, he had learned that peace is found in the silence…