We first introduced Jackson Riegler to our community when he was just a high school student developing a brand new, inspiring idea to help preserve the Great Lakes. He won our Up & Coming Entrepreneur Contest at the tender age of seventeen, back in 2017. Today, he’s a student at the University of Michigan with a full-blown business to run.
Riegler’s Muskegon-based company, Oshki, designs and sells apparel. Right from the beginning, a portion of the proceeds went to entities that were working to keep our lakes clean. Now, his approach to environmental impact is much more strategic and sustainable.
As an economics student with a minor in business and sustainability, Jackson Riegler has developed a much more prolific vision of what his company, and dedicated following can do. During his freshman year, he decided to entirely redesign Oshki’s supply chain, after taking a course on “Business & the Environment” in just his second semester.
Fortunately U of M also offers a lot of resources for budding entrepreneurs, one of the most unique of which is optiMize. The student-led organization offers workshops, mentorship, and even funding to students that have ideas designed to help change the world. Last year it provided about $300,000 in funding to 65 students, including Riegler, who had an idea to repurpose plastic waste into clothing.
Last summer he organized three beach cleanups in Michigan to help restore those gorgeous natural environments, and to collect the raw materials for his apparel line. Attendees combed the shoreline picking up an average of 40 lbs. of wasted materials each cleanup. Working with the Padnos recycling center in Grand Rapids, the material was sorted between plastic and non-plastic and shipped to a manufacturing facility.
Unable to find a supplier in Michigan that could turn the plastic into useable apparel material, Riegler researched supply chain options and found a facility in North Carolina that could convert the collected plastic into yarn and manufacture clothing from it, blended with cotton from South Carolina. In fact, his entire supply chain is transparent and U.S.-based. The designs, tagging and order fulfillment happen back in Jackson’s hometown of Muskegon. Oshki now even does custom-branded work for other organizations.
Approximately 16 plastic bottles worth of plastic waste is recycled into each shirt, making Oshki the world’s first sustainable clothing brand to use 100% United States plastic waste. It seems like Jackson Riegler’s creativity, resourcefulness and passion are also woven into each product.
“I am lucky to live in this generation where I can put myself out there the way I am and have as much response from around the country, said Riegler. “I took the internet for granted before. It makes me confident being able to spread that passion. There are a lot of people in the world who want to listen. I’m very encouraged by the connections I’ve built, and by finding like-minded individuals around the country.”
His next big goal is to increase the number of Oshki beach cleanups to 50 or 60 a year. When we chatted there were already 36 scheduled, but given the social distancing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number may be fluid.
In addition to knowing an Oshki purchase has rescued plastic from our waterways, it is still true that each time a customer buys a product, 5% of all proceeds are donated to non-profits working to preserve the Great Lakes through community action, governmental reform, and intensive research.
There is no shortage of ideas on how we can preserve our planet for future generations, but there does seem to be a scarcity of action. If you have a notion, Riegler offers up this piece of advice.
“I wish I would’ve known sooner how open to questions people are. I was intimidated at first that a certain question or opportunity would sound stupid to someone. If I were starting again, I would put myself out there more from the gitgo.“