Grow Michigan

 Today’s startup companies don’t look anything like the giant corporate profit-making machines that drive much of the U.S. economy. Instead, these small companies are driven by dreams and innovation, starting small and sticking true to the vision they started with. Here are a few examples less than an hour away from the tri-county area:

Genusee Eyewear

made in Flint

 What do empty plastic water bottles and eyeglasses have in common?

 They are one and the same thing through the vision of Genusee Eyewear made in Flint.

 This “genesis” of turning the environmental leftovers of the Flint Water Crisis into fashionable eyewear came from the vision Detroit native Ali Rose VanOverbeke had when she volunteered in Flint in 2016.

 After the federal government declared a state of emergency in Flint, this Parson’s School of Design graduate began lugging cases of bottled water throughout the city. That was just a drop in the bucket of the 20 million bottles of water that were being used every day by Flint residents during the height of the water crisis.

 This resulted in a surplus of plastic being brought into the city. Soon, corporations benefitted from Flint’s disaster by recycling, reprocessing and reselling the plastic out of the city.

 VanOverbeke discovered soon with her friend and fellow Parsons graduate Jack Burn that the problem of the Flint Water Crisis ran deeper than just water.

 People in this poverty-ravaged city needed jobs. Although neither VanOverbeke nor Burns had experience in starting a business, they had the passion to learn the process from the ground up.

 Using this valuable recycled material could create jobs, boost the local economy and benefit the community that has been without clean water since April 24, 2014.

 Thanks to a financial boost from a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign that raised more than $100,000, Genusee became the first eyewear brand made in Flint from single-use plastic water bottles. This local startup began to bring a new manufacturing legacy into the city of Flint.

 Genusee products include eyeglasses, sunglasses, blue light filter eyeglasses and readers. All lenses are anti-scratch, anti-reflective, UVA and UVB protective, priced from $99 on up.

See grow on 28

 Each pair of eyeglasses from Genusee is manufactured out of 15 plastic water bottles. The eyeglasses are made from post-consumer plastic pellets, from bottles sent to a processor in Dundee. The pellets are then turned into frame parts by an injection molding facility in Warren.

 The Genusee staff does post-processing from sanding to assembly. Lenses are purchased separately, but are ground to buyers’ prescriptions and tinted in-house.

 The main eyeglass style is a unisex, vintage-inspired round frame that has been designed to suit a wide range of face shapes and sizes.

 Young people especially embrace this socially conscious model, fashioned around giveback brands like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker eyeglasses.

 For more information about Genusee eyeglasses, go to

Detroit Denim Co.

made in Detroit

 People tend to form a special attachment to their jeans, and that was the driving force for Eric Yelsma when he opened the Detroit Denim Co. in 2010.

 Ever since he was a self-described skinny teenager with jeans that never fit, he yearned to make his own pair of jeans. When he studied the U.S. jeans-making market, he discovered only 1 percent of jeans worn by Americans are manufactured here in the U.S.

 Yelsma set out to change all that.

 He went on a mission to create a high quality pair of jeans, starting by making them in his garage and basement, which lasted for about a week. He soon realized that it was a complicated process to manufacture jeans, requiring 13 machines to accomplish.

 Yelsma began renting space in Detroit’s Ponyride creative incubator in 2010, making all the jeans himself for about a year. When his popular brand outgrew the space, he rented a property in the Rivertown area in 2016, where it remains today.

 Expect to pay about $200 for a pair of jeans that just might last a lifetime. Why the high price tag? Detroit Denim Co. uses all domestically sourced materials, hires and trains Detroiters and pays his employees a living wage, according to a recent story in USA Today. Customers also get free repairs and a lot more wear than from a mall pair of jeans, said Yelsma.

 Detroit Denim Co. did about $1 million in revenue in 2018, with 65 percent of sales from its physical store at 2987 Franklin St., Suite B in Detroit, and 35 percent from online sales.

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