This April 25 marked the fourth anniversary of the Flint water crisis. The crisis has left a tremendous number of recyclable plastic water bottles in the city, estimated at close to 20 million per day. Two entrepreneurs have jumped at the opportunity to upcycle these bottles into hip, functional eyeglasses and sunglasses.
Ali Rose VanOverbeke, a Detroit native and professional designer, volunteered in 2016 with the American Red Cross outreach in Flint. While there, she recognized a need to do something with all that plastic. She contacted a colleague in New York, Parsons School of Design professor Jack Burns, who told her that the recycled bottles were being processed by a few large corporations, then sold out of state.
What was happening to the recycled bottles wasn’t benefiting Flint’s economy, and Burns and VanOverbeke wanted to change that. Thus was born the concept of Genusee, named after our county. In addition to providing eyeglasses and sunglasses designed to look good on most face shapes and sizes, Genusee is providing jobs for displaced workers. Within two years from inception, the goal is to have a vertically integrated, closed-loop manufacturing facility in Flint and to self-source all materials. Current suppliers are all located within 80 miles of Flint, with the glasses being post-processed and assembled at an optical lab in Flint. The frames have “Made in Flint” stamped on them.
Genusee has been funded by microgrants from the Elaine Gold Launch Pad program, which partners with the Council of Fashion Designers for America and the Accessories Council. However, most of Genusee’s funding comes from its Kickstarter campaign, which has raised, as of this writing, over $74,449, more than the $50,000 goal. As soon as the goal is reached, Genusee will begin the hiring and training process for everything from sourcing to logistics to assembly.
“We will be working with M.A.D.E. Institute when hiring our first employees,” VanOverbeke says. “M.A.D.E. Institute works with training and job placement for displaced workers and returning citizens. Our first hires will be trained in assembling the glasses as well as shipping and logistics. Our goal is to be able to create jobs in diverse areas from manufacturing to creative positions in marketing and design, but this is all dependent on the success of the Kickstarter.”
Much of Genusee’s Kickstarter has been funded by preorders of the glasses. As of this writing, they are offering a Kickstarter special: one pair for $99 and two for $189. They normally sell for $129 per pair.
“Our glasses are exclusively available on Kickstarter right now,” VanOverbeke says. “If the project is successful we will be launching an e-commerce platform in early 2019 and selling direct to consumers online. We will begin shipping orders from the Kickstarter to customers December 2018.”
VanOverbeke and Burns have a goal of upcycling at least a million bottles in the first two years of their business. In conjunction with their company’s purpose, they plan to educate their customers about repurposing items instead of throwing them away. When a customer needs new eyeglass frames, they’ll buy back the old ones and upcycle them again. With every purchase, 15 bottles are upcycled. The frames, case and polishing bag are all made from recycled water bottles. Genusee will also give back to the community and help with the water crisis recovery.
“We have publicly committed 1 percent of profits to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint,” VanOverbeke says. “The donations will be split between the Child Health and Development Fund as well as the Flint Promise Fund.”
Learn more about Genusee at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/genusee/genusee-eyewear-made-in-flint-from-recycled-water/.
Portraits by // Rebecca Alaniz | Instagram // @rebeccalaurastyle | Website // rebeccalaurastyle.com
Product shots by // Sam Gold | Instagram // @samgoldiloxx | Website // samgold.com