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UF student entrepreneur gives back with reusable water bottle line

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Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012 12:45 am | Updated: 12:13 am, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

Inspirational sayings make popular Facebook statuses. On Tumblr, powerful quotes layered over equally powerful images are constantly reblogged.

Inspired to keep spreading positive messages beyond the Internet, 19-year-old English junior Sylvia Lai created “Today I Will,” a line of stainless steel reusable water bottles with uplifting words printed on them.

Lai’s bottles are available for purchase at www.bambouheart.com.

After noticing an influx of inspirational statuses on her Facebook news feed, Lai realized the same concept could be applied to a reusable water bottle design.

Each bottle is inscribed with a phrase meant to boost the bottle owner’s spirits such as “Today I will care” or “Today I will be me.”

The bottles’ shape is the same as old-fashioned milk bottles, which Lai said were the first reusable bottles in history.

Lai started her company, Bambou Heart, with the help of her father, who is her business manager. As an English major, Lai had no previous experience in production but has learned along the way.

“Things do not go the way you plan them, and you have to adjust,” Lai said. “I have definitely learned to adapt.”

Her father put her in contact with some of his business associates in China, who agreed to manufacture the bottles overseas. The biggest challenge Lai had to face was financing her product, which has been out of pocket so far.

Even with her struggle to find funds, Lai has linked her bottles to worthy causes. Half of the proceeds from her sales go to charity. She is fundraising for Enchanted Weekend at Give Kids the World, an event that provides all-expense paid fantasy vacations to sick children and their families.

Lai’s philanthropic ventures began her freshman year at UF when she founded a nonprofit organization, Wish Upon a Crane, to raise money for disaster relief in Japan.

She and her former roommate, 20-year-old prepharmacy junior Audrey Kandzer, made paper cranes by hand, which they sent to people who donated to the cause. All proceeds went to the Red Cross, which then sent them to Japan.

“[Lai] is a statement to our campus community that we as students have just as much potential for greatness as anyone else,” Kandzer said.

Outside her charity work, Lai designs a line of workout clothes manufactured from bamboo fibers that is sustainable, chemical-free and antibacterial, making them ideal for exercise clothes.

“I thought that maybe if I just switched the material and made it stylish and comfortable, maybe people would choose a different way of dressing while still helping out the environment,” Lai said.

Lai views her work as a fun hobby that requires great effort. She plans to attend law school and possibly study business law, she said. With her business still in its infancy, she continues to run her website and searches for ways to market her products.

Lai encourages other students to find their passions and become self-starters.

“Find the good in everything, and you will be inspired by what you can do and what you can do for others,” she said.

Welcome to the discussion.