Michigan Teen Turns Plastic Trash Into T-Shirts

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Looking for a feel-good story to counterbalance all the negative news swirling around you? Try this one on for size. Jackson Riegler is a Michigan teenager who is putting his education to work building a business that uses the circular economy model as its basis. He is committed to making and selling clothing that is 100% US made.

Oshki T-Shirt uses recycled plastic
Image credit: Oshki

“People ask me what is my motivation for producing 100 percent in the U.S,” Riegler tells Detroit’s Channel 2 News. “In a class called Business and the Environment, we focused on a circular economy, on having a sustainable supply chain. If 99 percent of your customers are in the U.S., the best thing for the environment and the economy overall is for me to produce 100 percent in the U.S.

“I never thought it would be growing to this point. It’s so mission-driven and was at such a basic level when I started it out,” Riegler says. “It was more of a project than anything else. Two years ago, I would never have thought this is something I would have as a career. But the past six months have changed it into a viable option for a career.”

His business is called Oshki, which means “fresh” in the Ojibwe language. “Our entire supply chain is located in the US — from resource collection to final product. Our recycled polyester is produced in North Carolina, our cotton is collected in South Carolina, and our design team resides in Muskegon, Michigan,” the company says on its website. “It’s not about American exceptionalism, It’s about creating the most sustainable product possible,” Reigler adds.

The fabric for his apparel includes polyester yarn made from recycled plastic bottles, some of which have been collected from the shores of Lake Michigan. Reigler hopes someday all the polyester used to make his clothing will come from plastics reclaimed from the Great Lakes. Riegler is vitally concerned with the preserving the Great Lakes and so 5% of the profits from his company are donated each month to groups working to preserve them through community action, governmental reform, and research.

In a global economy, raw materials can travel tens of thousands of miles to manufacturers in foreign countries before being shipped somewhere else for final assembly before being shipped again to distributors. Even if the final cost is low, there are fossil fuel emissions resulting from the transportation of goods around the globe, emissions that are leading to a warming planet.

“Reusing plastic will be key in the next 30-40 years, in terms of preservation of environments,” Riegler says. “It’s damaging to our personal streams and we’re continually eating more and more fish that have plastic in their stomachs.“

Jackson Reigler is someone who is building a business based on sustainable practices that support a circular business model. Those who claim that model doesn’t work have just been proven wrong by a teenager. It’s time to stop saying what can’t be done and start doing.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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