Donations sought for start-up, bringing new vision to Flint



FLINT — When life gives you lemons, make lemonade is proverbial time-tested advice about making the best of a bad situation. In keeping with that formula, Genusee Eyewear, a start-up company, is planning to bring manufacturing jobs to Flint derived from the Flint water crisis.

Employing a circular economy business model, the company will make democratically designed eyewear from recycled plastic water bottles. Their mission is to do good for people and the planet, by making social and environmental impact in Flint.

Genusee will be the first sustainable eyewear brand to have their products made and assembled in Flint.

The company’s impact is focused on effecting change in four ways— reducing plastic waste, creating living wage jobs, encouraging circular economies, and building into the future of Flint by giving back to the kids and families who have been affected by lead poisoning.

Why Flint?

In early 2016, Genusee’s co-founder Ali Rose VanOverbeke was in her hometown of Detroit volunteering with the American Red Cross during the Flint Water Crisis. While there, she observed the community facing not only a man-made disaster but, also a localized environmental crisis due to the surplus of plastic being brought into the city by aid organizations to meet the community’s daily needs.

VanOverbeke shared her experience with long-term collaborator and co-founder Jack Burns, Together, they began working on a design solution to address issues of plastic waste that would simultaneously create living wage jobs in Flint.

Genusee was one of six companies to participate in the inaugural Elaine Gold Launch Pad program in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) of America and the Accessories Council.

The CFDA and the Accessories Council co-created a four-year partnership underwritten by a $1.5 million donation, to honor Gold, an accessories executive and innovator, who passed away in 2015, according to its website. The Elaine Gold Launch Pad supports early-emerging and young design talent and aspirational entrepreneurs, and encourages creativity within technology, sustainability, and innovation through six months of mentorship and milestone-based awards.

During their time in the program, the Genusee team was awarded a microgrant to further their business venture in Flint.

“We didn’t set out with the intention of building a business but, rather the desire to help,” said VanOverbeke “That desire led us to design a product of purpose and need that could bring a new manufacturing legacy to Flint and address the problem of plastic waste.”

Now Genusee is turning to the Flint community for support. Hoping to launch their first line of sustainable eyewear in late all, Burns and VanOverbeke decided to launch a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Contributions to the campaign can be made online at made-in-flint-from-recycled-water/

So far, since the start of the campaign on April 19, the company has raised $27,364 in pledge towards a $50,000 goal. This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Fri, May 18 2018 5:58 p.m. Preorders for the glasses are being taken and discounts are being offered to early contributors based on the amount donated.

Their first frame style, the Roeper, is designed to look great on everyone. It is available exclusively on Kickstarter as either prescription optical or sunglasses.

For every purchase, Genusee expects to be able to recycle 15 water bottles.

At the height of the water crisis, the city of Flint was using more than 20 million water bottles a day to meet their daily needs, according to Genusee. This resulted in a surplus of plastic being brought into the city. Post-use these bottles have been collected for recycling, re-processed, and resold outside of the city. Other corporations have been benefiting off of Flint’s disaster. rPET is a valuable recycled material that could be used to create jobs, boost the local economy, and benefit the community who has been without clean water since April 24, 2014.

Genusee also has pledged to donate 1% of its profits to the Community Fund of Greater Flint. Donations will be distributed to two funds that address children’s health and education in Flint: Flint Promise & Child Health and Development Fund.

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