When Robert Luo ’19 first told friends about his idea for a premium duffle suitcase made of cork and recycled ocean plastic, they were skeptical. “Nobody believed this product would come to life or that anyone would buy it,” he said.
But he and his Mi Terro co-founders, all USC students, thought otherwise. In January 2018, Luo, Joshua Xiao ’20, Eesen Sivapalan (business and accounting) ’19, Primo Mu (computer science) ’21 (left to right in photo) and Ploypatchara Tangpanitanon MSEI ’19 set to work. They had a prototype ready for show by August.
Fast-forward to February 2019 and the launch of Mi Terro’s duffle suitcase on Kickstarter. Suddenly, people were interested indeed.
“We were fully funded in less than 22 hours,” Luo said. “We hit the $5,000 goal in three days and surpassed the $10,000 goal in less than 15 days.”
Apparently, a travel bag made of cork and plastic is a good idea. Clinical Entrepreneurship Lecturer Albert Napoli loves the bag so much, he made a testimonial video for the Kickstarter page. So far, Mi Terro has backers in 24 countries.
“The most exciting part is we are over 370 percent funded at this point,” Luo said. “And the number is still growing rapidly.”
A self-avowed environmentalist from childhood, Luo thought fashion would be an ideal industry to get into and change from within. “Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world,” he said. He wanted his bag to be sustainable, environmentally friendly and cruelty-free.
Luo learned about Portuguese cork (a sustainable resource from the bark of cork oaks—the tree isn’t cut down) in a KPMG competition he participated in. Cork is lightweight, resilient and water resistant. Plastic from the oceans is recycled and repurposed for the handles, zippers, linings and utility pockets.
“For each bag, we remove three pounds of plastic from our oceans,” Luo said.
“I care about the environment from deep down in my heart,” Luo said. “I believe that my generation, millennials, and the generation after us, care deeply about global climate change.”
In addition to Mi Terro and taking 22 units of classes, Luo is running a green tech company called Reo2, a mobile app that encourages users to reduce their daily CO2 emissions.
Mi Terro will plant a tree for every bag purchased. If customers ever want to get rid of the bag, Mi Terro will send them a mailing label to return it for recycling, and throw in a coupon for a discount on their next order.
“My eventual goal for Mi Terro is to become the biggest green lifestyle brand in the world—and plant one million trees,” Luo said. “We want to inspire more people to join us. We want to teach other generations that we can pursue our dreams and care for our environment at the same time.”