Philip Curry '95 launched Lotus Designs in 1993, with the aim of designing a life jacket specifically for kayakers. Many people credit him with setting the industry standard. The Lotus product was so good, in fact, that it soon caught the attention of outdoor equipment giant Patagonia, which eventually made Curry an offer he couldn't refuse. The lucrative sale gave him the freedom to take a three-year sabbatical. But in April 2002 - one day after a three-year, non-competition clause in his deal with Patagonia expired - Curry launched Astral Buoyancy. "I already knew I could design a functional PFD. This time I wanted to do it sustainably."
Curry reinvented kapok, a material used decades ago in PFDs that is harvested from the ceiba tree found in rain forests. Once the material is removed from the tree’s seedpods, the pod flowers again and a new crop of kapok grows. In addition, kapok produces little waste, is easily recycled, and can be grown chemical-free. Astral also played a key role in developing another PVC substitute, Gaia, developed in the lab.
"Warren Wilson is small enough to have a certain family dynamic that a big school can't" says Curry, who worked in the greenhouse as a student. He credits his success as an eco-entrepreneur to the school's culture. "I have definitely been inspired by the focused people at the school who walk their talk and do good work for the planet," says Curry. "I strive to maintain that kind of environment in my business - where we are always learning and making good things happen."
On the web: astralbuoyancy.com