Most Boston University students take an entry-level writing class during their freshman year. Alexa Pisano did. But unlike most students, she started a business because of it.
BU offers multiple writing seminars that focus on an array of themes, and Pisano, 19, had taken one with the topic "Oceans: Past and Present." The course inspired her to launch Shop Deep Blue.
"We learned about how abundant oceans once were and how different they are now," Pisano said. "It was super inspiring, and I had no idea that oceans were at the state that they are, so I wanted to spread awareness about it somewhere."
When Pisano signed up for the course, she didn't realize it would literally be about the oceans. She thought she'd get to write about the ocean in a more "metaphorical" sense. Instead, she learned that the way things are going, there might not be any fish left in the ocean by 2048.
"I didn't know it was literally about fishing and the ocean's history, so that was a bit of a surprise," she said, "but I'm happy I took it."
That summer, Pisano launched Shop Deep Blue, a website that sells clothing and accessories featuring her own designs. Ten percent of every sale is contributed to conservation efforts—currently, Pisano is donating to Oceana, an international ocean conservation nonprofit, but she wants to keep her options open and eventually donate to multiple groups.
Pisano also makes sure to practice what she preaches. All the shipping and packaging is either completely biodegradable or completely recyclable, she said. She also included a tab on her website that details conservation efforts she practices along with suggestions for things other people can try.
"I want people to realize that you don't have to drastically change your life," she said. "Just adjusting something super small or learning something and sharing it with someone else can make a huge difference."
When Pisano completed all the necessary legal documents and launched her website, she sent it to her writing teacher, Bu graduate writing fellow Benjamin Kochan, and told him how inspired she was by his class. She said that he bought a shirt right away, her first sale.
"As a teacher, I find it quite gratifying that Alexa credits my class for inspiring this project," Kochan said in an email.
Kochan explained that the class challenges students to write about historical and contemporary marine environment problems like overfishing and invasive species. This prompts students to ask how they can make a difference, and Kochan tells them change probably won't come from the government or fishing industries. It's on people like them.
Alexa took this suggestion to heart with Deep Blue. Of course, I love that she's donating a percentage of her profits to worthwhile non-profits," he said. " But I'm even more impressed by the website itself, which has a tremendous amount of well-researched information about threats to marine ecosystems. Alexa's attempt to educate her customers shows that she understands how change can occur from the bottom up, but it requires an informed citizenry."
The ocean has been a special part of Pisano's life for a long time, she said. The college sophomore grew up on Long island, New York, and went to the beach constantly.
"My grandfather used to swim every single day in the Long Island Sound, literally until the day he passed away," she said. "He loved it and he loved animals, and when I got this idea, I knew he'd be so supportive of it."
Pisano's parents helped her through the process and gave advice as business owners themselves. Though Pisano has yet to declare a major, she's currently taking Questrom School of Business classes and thinks she'll move toward marketing or entrepreneurship.
"My mom always used to say that no matter what I ended up doing, it's always cool to have a business on the side," Pisano said. "I'm really glad I started [Shop Deep Blue] just for the experience, and I hope to grow it and make a huge difference."