Genusee: Investing in a Circular Economy
See what happens when fashion meets sustainability
We are excited to announce our Program Related Investment (PRI) in Genusee, a company located in Flint, Michigan, that upcycles plastic water bottles into cool eyewear. Founded by Ali VanOverbeke, this company embodies the spirit of a circular economy and is proof that fashion can be impactful. Alis’ efforts and impact have already been featured in Elle, The New York Times Style Magazine, and Vogue, and she is just getting started. Clearly, being good is the new cool.
In 2016, while Ali was a volunteer for the American Red Cross, she witnessed the tremendous amounts of bottled water being distributed to Flint residents for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. “At the height of the water crisis, Flint was using more than 20 million water bottles daily,” Ali explained. She spoke to members of the Flint community and sought a way to provide for their greatest need: jobs. They knew that an NGO or charity would be only a partial solution, so they decided to start a business that would not only tackle the environmental concern of single-use plastics but also the economic concern of unemployment in the area. They established Genusee with the following goals: (1) reduce localized plastic waste (2) create living wage jobs (3) encourage circular economy and (4) give back to Flint.
“Advancing environmental sustainability can be effectively achieved with creative deployment of artistic expression: in this case, in the form of a lifestyle product. A positive and fun sustainability message can penetrate society easier than guilt. These glasses spread awareness that our consumer choices can be powerfully regenerative. The innovative manufacturing, supply chain, and local economy uplift behind the scenes are an extension of a simple and elegant sustainability solution,” Boryana Straubel shared.
Each pair of Genusee glasses is upcycled in Flint, Michigan from 15 single-use plastic water bottles. They are reducing waste by preventing mountains of plastic from entering landfills and they are creating jobs for the people of Flint by ensuring that production happens as close to the city as possible. To encourage a circular economy, Genusee offers a buy-back program that allows customers to send their old pair of glasses back for credit towards their next pair. The old pair is then used again as material in their circular supply chain. Once the plastic is first saved from the landfill, it should never have another chance to end up there.
The Straubel Foundation investment is a strategic way of making a difference by supporting ideas in under-invested areas of the U.S. that are uplifted by local business efforts. We are inspired by Genusee’s commitment to “tackling issues of social and environmental injustice by using collaboration as part of the solution”. With this investment, we have the following impact goals:
Upcycle at least 20,000 single-use plastic water bottles annually; continue independent water bottle collections to help divert single-use plastic from landfills
Employ low-income residents of Flint, Michigan
Continue to spread community environmental awareness and conservation efforts
Participate in and fund a yearly environmental awareness event with the goal of attracting economic development and fostering community pride
Collaborate with local and national water projects to help bring to the city of Flint safe drinking water that does not require single-use plastic
“I am excited to support Genusee as they contribute to what I believe is the next important and necessary step in the sustainability revolution: a circular economy. I look forward to helping spread awareness and tell their story,” JB Straubel said.
We are excited to be a part of the Genusee mission. Wearing cool sunglasses has never felt better.