The water crisis in Flint, Michigan began in 2014 when the city switched water providers, inadvertently contaminating its water supply and infrastructure with lead in the process. Since then citizens have had to rely on single use plastic water bottles for their drinking water. These interlocking crises—health, safety, environmental—inspired Michigan-born fashion designer Ali Rose Van Overbeke to leave her life in New York City and start Genusee, a direct-to-consumer brand that recycles Flint’s single-use plastic water bottles to create fashionable eyewear named after Genusee county, where Flint is located. Hyundai partnered with BuzzFeed to share how Genusee is helping to make the community of Flint better.
I don’t know how to solve a water crisis,” she explains. “But I know how to make things.
At the height of the crisis, Flint was using more than 20 million single-use water bottles a day. While these bottles were collected for recycling and reprocessing, most of the plastic was being sent to companies outside the city. These companies profited off of Flint’s disaster without putting any money or value back into the community. Van Overbeke saw this and decided to bring the value of those recycled materials back to the community: Genusee’s entire supply chain is located within a 180-mile radius of Flint.
Each pair of Genusee glasses is made from locally processed plastic pellets that are then molded into frames. Equivalent to 15 bottles of water, each set of frames are then hand-buffed and hand-finished by workers in Genusee’s headquarters.
Providing the community with good jobs and valuable skills is an important way Genusee is making Flint better. In the 1970s, when Flint was an industrial hub, over 50% of the population worked in manufacturing and could support their families doing so. Today, many of Flint’s workers live below the poverty line. Van Overbeke wants to honor the city’s manufacturing legacy to create a more sustainable future.
Genusee also works with local organizations like New Life Center to train and employ people who face barriers to steady employment (lack of education, criminal records, etc.) to give them job skills and put them back to work; New Life Center, for example, trains women in the community how to sew and Genusee employs those women to create polishing bags. Partnerships like this allow Genusee to invest deeply in the community.
While Flint is still recovering, Genusee is leading the way to a brighter future. “Genusee is prioritizing people and planet,” says Van Overbeke. “We need to create sustainable solutions so that we can protect our resources and have a future.”
You can also help Flint by supporting other community organizations by donating to the Community Fund Of Greater Flint.
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