Reflecting back on origin stories, I founded Oshki before my senior year in high school. It wasn’t a scripted idea where I had everything laid out in a 50-page business plan. It wasn’t an attempt to boost my resume and increase my odds of college acceptance letters. It wasn’t even due to a passion that I had for fashion or a desire to fix the fashion industry. I saw a problem in my own backyard and wanted to do my part to help address it.
In 2017, the Trump administration proposed a $300 million budget cut to Great Lakes funding. With the knowledge I had gained from an internship at the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute fresh in my mind, I wanted to raise some sort of funding for nonprofits that were working to preserve the Great Lakes. I went to my local screen printing shop, had my friend Jimmy Cobb draft some designs, and started selling some shirts on an online store I set up. The business began with less than $500--money I had saved from landscaping work that summer.
Media coverage enabled me to share my story,causing Oshki to grow beyond what I ever thought it would be. When I began college at the University of Michigan, I realized the potential to grow Oshki and increase its positive impact on the Great Lakes. I joined an amazing entrepreneurial community, optiMize, that focuses on developing social impact organizations. I redesigned my supply chain to use United States plastic waste, some of which comes from Oshki-sponsored beach cleanups. Everything seemed like it had fallen into place.
I was studying for my econometrics exam when I found out that U of M would be transitioning to online classes for the remainder of the year. It was all due to this thing I found out about called “coronavirus”. I’m sure everyone remembers where they were at this moment and can recall just how disorienting it was. I couldn’t organize beach cleanups and I couldn’t run Oshki effectively due to major supply chain disruptions. Add in the most difficult personal situation I have ever faced and continued isolation due to Covid and you have the first time in my life that I had no clue where to turn, how to operate, and how to move forward.
One of my closest mentors always emphasizes the direct tie between entrepreneurship, personal wellness, and mental health. The past 2 years have taught me just how true that relationship is. By working through these situations, I realized that there was no way I could successfully achieve my Oshki goals without first working through my personal issues.
Fast-forward to this summer, when I was a fresh college graduate weighing my career options. Most of my friends already had return offers from their previous internships and were signing apartment leases in big cities across the country. I wanted to go where my heart was and see if I could make something more of Oshki. When is it easier than when you haven’t started a family and have few commitments at play?
Thanks to our artist Jimmy Cobb’s design skills and Trout Unlimited editor-in-chief Kirk Deeter’s strong belief in Oshki’s mission, we landed a partnership with Trout Unlimited (TU) to produce 7,500 custom-branded shirts for their end of year fundraiser. The long-sleeve performance shirts, like the others sold by Oshki, are made of fully recycled plastic. Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization that works on river conservation efforts across the country. TU was founded in Michigan in 1959, so this partnership was a natural fit. The organization has grown to engage over 300,000 members and leads the charge in fighting for salmon and trout conservation. The link to their end of the year fundraiser is here.
My 5 years building Oshki have rewarded me with this opportunity. I can't thank Trout Unlimited enough for their support and willingness to work with a company of our size. In the latest edition of TROUT Magazine, TU published a full page article on Oshki and the journey I took in starting it. I have decided to “put all of my eggs into the Oshki basket” and truly pursue this full time.
I’m excited to announce that Oshki will be releasing a winter line of clothing on Wednesday, November 23rd! The line will feature a new sturgeon performance design, with 5% of proceeds going toward conserving the oldest fish in the Great Lakes -the sturgeon. It will also feature the first Oshki solar hoodie, a simplistic design that highlights the classic Oshki logo. We are also doing a rerun of a customer-favorite Oshki design--the Michitrout. Lastly, we are starting a pre-order of new, trucker hats made with recycled content. Stay tuned for more details. This is an exciting step for Oshki and will provide great gift-giving opportunities for friends and family during the holiday season. Thank you for your continued support.
Founder - Oshki