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Turning Great Lakes plastic into clothing

What to wear

An early July morning. Fifty-five people of all ages. An hour-long cleanup of a two-mile stretch of Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Beach.

The result? Nearly 44 pounds of waste collected—half of it plastic that will be turned into sustainable clothing.

Behind this transformation was University of Michigan student Jackson Riegler, who defines himself as a “Great Lakes lover.” The 19-year-old is founder of the first company to use 100 percent U.S. plastic to produce clothes: Oshki, which means “fresh,” in Native American Ojibwe. His ambition is to shift the fashion industry and help preserve the coast of Lake Michigan.

Children are the future

Riegler started the company two years ago, with four unisex shirt designs. He was a junior in high school and became aware of issues like pipelines, invasive species, plastic waste, and the U.S. administration’s $3 million cuts in Great Lakes funding.

“I grew up by the shores of Lake Michigan in Muskegon and really wanted to do something to help preserve our water,” he says. “The Great Lakes are really special and tremendously important to Michigan and our country.”

Riegler, who is studying economics at U-M, recently launched the 1:1 Tee—named with a specific mission in mind: to prevent the prediction that the seas will have more plastic than fish in the near future. According to a report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the ratio between fish and plastic in Earth’s waterways is predicted to be 1:1 by 2050.

“This threat to the environment and to the lakes that I have always been passionate about inspired us to name our new collection,” Riegler says. “It is our commitment to end this possibility. What we do in the next few decades will shape the future of the human species.”

Doing business

The t-shirts are a blend of 50% cotton and 50% recycled polyester with an embroidered center logo piece. (Image: Oshki.)

Oshki has sold about 350 of the new t-shirts, available in light blue and navy, since they became available for purchase in early June.

“I’m overwhelmed by the sales and extremely happy,” Riegler says. “I was able to reach this number because I had the money on hand to do the upfront inventory.”

This capital—$9,000—came from optiMize, a U-M student-led organization that offers workshops, mentorship and funding for students to create self-directed projects that make a positive impact.

“Besides the financial resources, optiMize has been really important to move my business forward,” Riegler says. “Their mentorship is inspiring me along the way. They believed in my vision since the beginning of this process. They really empower you and make you believe, ‘Why not me?'”

Oshki’s supply chain now consists entirely in the United States, from resource extraction to packaging to final product. The company donates 5 percent of all profits to nonprofit groups working to preserve the Great Lakes, already totaling more than $1,200 in donations. Each month, after a final profit statement, Riegler donates to a local nonprofit organization.

“Every month I choose one nonprofit where I believe the money will be more beneficial,” he says. “I donate to different areas and companies to help maximize the impact of the money and because I don’t want them to become dependent on donations.”

Riegler already is working on the company’s new line of fully recycled clothing, including women’s’ leggings and men shorts.

“As plastic waste continues to build up domestically, we hope to inspire other companies to use U.S. plastic waste in their supply chains by taking charge as a leader in the industry and inspiring customers to live more sustainably,” Riegler says.

(Top image: University of Michigan student Jackson Riegler founded Oshki, the first company to use 100% United States plastic to produce clothes.  Here, he works with community volunteers on a Muskegon Pere Marquette Beach clean-up; they collected 43.5 pounds of waste. (Credit: Personal archive) 

Comments

  1. Andrea Riegler - 1996

    Keep up the great work, Jackson!

    Reply

  2. Joel Siegel - 1976

    This is superb. Question: Any byproducts of the manufacturing process?

    Reply

  3. Kathleen Gallagher - 1984

    Excellent work -keep expanding to other products using reclaimed recycled plastic
    Looking forward to all single use plastic bottles having fee to recycle it since most plastics are now being landfilled due to the recycling restrictions in Asian recycling markets

    Reply

  4. Russell Lyons - 1983

    While I admire the intent of Oshki, it is not clear that using recycled plastic for clothing is, in fact, a good idea. One concern is that when washed, microfibers go back into water (see, e.g., http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/recycled_plastic_clothing_solution_or_threat/). Another concern is that there are many chemicals in the plastic that may be harmful to human health (see, e.g., http://ohganix.com/recycled-polyester-clothing/). I did not see either of these issues addressed on Oshki’s website (nor in this article).

    Reply

  5. Marshall Smith - 1962, 1963

    NPR story this week: Micro-fibers from plastic clothing are leaching into washing machine rinse water and finding their way back into the water supplies. I’m not sure this entrepreneurial effort is solving anything and it may be adding to the problem.

    Reply

  6. Brenda McGadney - 1973, 1975

    Awesome innovative “sustainable” project! I will likely share the projects benefits with eco-conscious friends, students, and colleagues through my affiliations with higher ed institutions and artists in Accra, Ghana where I now reside! Plastic is dumped most everywhere here!

    Reply

  7. Denise Peltz

    Amazingly innovative! Keep up the great work!

    Reply

  8. Brandon Turnbull - 2009

    Congratulations Jackson! I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the microfiber issues raised by some of the other commenters. Wishing you the best of luck!

    Reply

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