February 26: Saving the Marine Ecosystem of Lake Michigan, One Discarded Plastic Bag At A Time

Speaker: Jackson Riegler is a LSA sophomore majoring in Economics, with a concentration in the Department’s Program for the Environment, and a minor in Entrepreneurship. His lifelong love of Lake Michigan motivated him to do something to help address the threat that discarded plastic packaging poses to the well-being of the marine ecosystem in the Great Lakes watershed and the environment’s health more broadly.

In July 2017, while a junior at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, Riegler founded Oshki, a sustainable apparel company that uses only 100% recycled plastic waste to manufacture all its products. The word “oshki” means “fresh” in the Native American Ojibwe language. It’s revenue to date is $49,435.00, representing a 48% growth over the last quarter, and a $68,816 run rate.

In 2019, as a freshman at the University of Michigan, Riegler redesigned Oshki’s supply chain to procure custom sustainable fabrics while locating Oshki’s actual apparel production entirely in the United States.

Companies preaching sustainability, he believes, must work towards it across the entirety of their production from resource extraction to final product. If production occurs in lower cost venues overseas, but the customer base is primarily in the United Stares, how “sustainable” is the final product? The fossil fuels used to ship their materials across the globe offsets a huge percentage of the claimed “sustainable methods” used in their marketing.

Oshki’s supply chain, from resource extraction to packaging to final product, now is located in the United Stares.

Recycled polyester waste from the Great Lakes is used to manufacture all its clothing. 22,000,000 pounds of plastic waste enter the Great Lakes every single year, a number set to triple by 2050. Recycled polyester has been produced overseas for about 25 years. However, it is a relatively new industry in the United States; China just stopped buying plastic waste from recycling centers in mid-2018. Oshki is the first apparel company to use 100% United States plastic waste in every garment.

Since Oshki uses plastic waste from the Great Lakes and other United States waterways in the fabric manufacturing process, all locations within its supply chain are situated here as well.

It’s design team and corporate headquarters are in Muskegon. A vinyl sticker comes with each purchase; the sticker is a way for Oshki’s customers to market its brand and telegraph what it means be working to preserve the Great Lakes. The stickers are manufactured in New York City. All its sustainable packaging comes from Louisville, Colorado, where Ecoenclose produces the recycled paper mailers and tissue paper that Oshki uses. Both  are made entirely of post-consumer or post-industrial content and are naturally biodegradable. The Repreve plant in Yadkinville, North Carolina, transforms the raw plastic waste into recycled polyester by processing it Into tiny chips, tiny plastic beads, and eventually polyester yarn. Lakewood, California, is home to the manufacturer which takes the polyester yarn produced by Repreve  and transforms it into long-lasting, sustainable fabric.

Following the redesign of its supply chain, Oshki then launched its 1:1 Tee, a t-shirt that comes in light blue and navy, in June of this year with a specific purpose in mind — to prevent from coming true the prediction that the seas will have more plastic in them than fish in the near future. They are manufactured in Hanahan, South Carolina, using a blend of 50% recycled polyester and 50% cotton. Some  350 of them were sold by early August. Riegler secured the start-up capital for this project by way of a $9000 grant from optiMize, a student-led organization at UM that offers workshops, mentorships, and funding for students to create self-directed projects that make a positive impact.

Riegler and Oshki have received media coverage on “Stateside” on WUOM. They were the subject of featured stories on the local news broadcasts of the ABC, NBC, and FOX affiliates in Detroit, as well as other television outlets. He is the embodiment of a core Rotary value: service above self. This afternoon, he will tell us about his effort to arrest and prevent the diminution of Lake Michigan’s marine ecosystem.