Entrepreneur for the Environment: Fullerton College’s Jody Davies Student Spotlight

August 30, 2019

What can you do with a wetsuit that only lasts two surf seasons, then takes more than 80 years to biodegrade in a landfill? That’s what environmentally-minded Fullerton College student Jodie Davies wanted to find out.

Davies quit her full-time corporate job in the tech industry to put her passion for surfing and saving the ocean to work. Originally, she wanted to upcycle ocean plastic into beanbag toss games, but found the manufacturing process too pricey. The dead end didn’t daunt Davies.

“It got me in this headspace to reusing things we have,” Davies recalls.

As an avid surfer, Davies had a stockpile of old wetsuits piling up in her garage. She always wanted to upcycle them in some way, but wasn’t sure where to start. When she saw a YouTuber recycling denim into rings, she knew she could do something similar with wetsuits.

“To me, a ring is kind of symbolic of a commitment,” she relates, and Davies is committed to giving back to her beloved ocean. It was the perfect way to marry her creativity with her passion for environmentalism.

After hacking her way through powdering old wetsuits with liquid nitrogen and a coffee grinder, she was ready to mix the processed neoprene with resin to make rings. There was only one problem. Among other machines, she also needed to use a lathe, which required expertise that she couldn’t learn on her own.

“Lathes are kind of dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing,” says Davies. “I looked at the machine and went: ‘I have no idea how to use this thing.’”

Davies looked into private machining courses, but they were expensive. When a friend recommended community colleges, she was excited to find the hands-on skills she needed at an affordable price. She reached out to Fullerton College’s department coordinator and instructor Dan O’Brien with questions, and they clicked right away.

“Dan called back within the hour,” Davies says. He answered all of her questions and gave her the advice she needed to choose the right class. The two-credit Machine Tools course turned out to be just the thing to fit her schedule and give her the exact skills she was looking for.

“I’m juggling kids and a business, and I was able to find something here that I could fit into the rest of my crazy life that worked,” relates Davies.

The Machine Tools course met in the middle of the day, which harmonized with Davies’ commitment to shuttling her kids to school. The instructors were also very accommodating: If she couldn’t make a class, she could simply visit another section that met during a different time.

“You could sort of go when you needed to,” she says. “I couldn’t find anywhere else where you could do that!”

When she started class, she worked closely with instructors O’Brien and George Bonnand, and was struck by their dedication. “They love what they do, and they want everyone to succeed,” says Davies, who, as someone with no previous experience with community colleges, says she was blown away by the quality of the instructors and classes. “Both George and Dan come with years of industry experience.”

In fact, O’Brien still runs an active machine shop, and Bonnard only recently left the industry to follow his passion for teaching. That combination of experience and dedication is evident to students like Davies, who attributes much of her confidence around machines to the work of her instructors.

“George and Dan and all the guys that work here, they’re very particular that you have the right safety equipment, that you’re using the tools correctly,” says Davies. “And that’s really what I wanted to learn.”

Davies needed to master multiple tools to make her rings, including the drill, bore, and lathe—each part of the Fullerton College Machine Technology program toybox. She took to the drill immediately, but initially struggled with the lathe.

“Up until a few months ago, I’d never even used [one],” says Davies. “The majority of the shaping that I do on a ring is on a lathe…so that was really my main purpose in coming here.”

Thanks to the small class size, Davies received a lot of individual attention from the instructors. Her lathe skills improved by leaps and bounds, and she even got one-on-one advice on how to improve her rings, which Davies says put her on the fast track to starting a new business.

“I’d go to George and say, ‘I’m getting a really rough finish,’” Davies recalls. “He’d say, ‘your machine bit is not sharp enough. Here’s what we need to do.’”

By the end of the Machine Tools class, Davies was able to perfect her manufacturing process to make eco-conscious rings under the business moniker Next Session. It’s been a resounding success. In the very first day she posted her wares to Instagram, in May, she sold 30 rings through direct messages.

“It kind of happened before I was even ready,” says Davies, who is currently developing her website and hopes to have a storefront soon. “It’s been totally bootstrap.”

The rings themselves are stunning. The two outside black bands are a mix of resin and wetsuit powder, while the center is made of clear resin with pigmented micro-powder and a sprinkle of the powdered neoprene. When you hold the rings up, they are almost translucent, which captures the effect of light on the ocean, according to Davies.

Davies is earmarking 10 percent (or $5) from every ring sold into a fund to help protect the ocean. She’s currently looking at youth-inspired organizations that are preventing ocean pollution. Her plan is to make the donation when she reaches her first sales goal of 5,000 rings.

“My belief is that the youth will do more to change things,” says Davies.

In the future, when her kids are older and her business is established, she plans to take more classes at Fullerton College. She’ll have plenty to choose from, as her interests include welding, woodworking, advanced machining, and more.

“One thing I want to do is to make bigger pieces using recycled metal, wood, wetsuits, plastics, and resins,” says Davies, who continues to receive donated wetsuits, and is making plans to expand her environmentally friendly empire.

Her ideas include manufacturing upcycled beads, bracelets, and mats. She’d also like to return to her original plan of building beanbag toss games, finding a way to create them using more affordable techniques.

Davies has come a long way in her new career, and she continues to credit Fullerton College as a vital springboard for her business career.

“I was an IT executive—I wasn’t in the garage using tools!” says Davies.

“Community college…gave me the confidence to keep trying and to jump in and learn something completely new.”

See the bling for yourself! Check out www.instagram.com/nextsession for a look at Jodie’s career-education-inspired work.