GV alum founds sustainable apparel company aimed at protecting the Great Lakes – Grand Valley Lanthorn

More than a year after its initial launch, an eco-friendly and sustainable clothing line created by graduates of Grand Valley State University has a huge future ahead of it as it aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

Chad Howell, GVSU alumnus and CEO of Forever Great, launched the company with one of his fellow students on Earth Day 2021. Howell now runs the company alone.

The idea for Forever Great was born a few years ago during a walk along Lake Michigan.

Howell said he was shocked by the amount of litter he saw laying on the shore. As a Michigan native, this wasn’t the first time he’d seen litter on the beach. However, this was the first time he felt he had to do something about it.

“I stopped and wondered what issues the Great Lakes face when it comes to climate concern,” Howell said. “We hear a lot about wildfires and the ocean, but nobody really talks about the local impacts on the Great Lakes.

Concerned about the lack of awareness, Howell searched for ways to solve this problem which he believed was close to home.

Between 80% and 90% of wastewater is discharged into the environment without any treatment, depending on the United Nations World Water Development Report 2020. The link between fast fashion and freshwater pollution inspired Forever Great.

At the drawing board, Howell needed the resources to make this dream a reality. He worked with the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) at GVSU’s Seidman College of Business. Through the CEI, he participated in the 77 IdeaLab, which offers student entrepreneurs advice and financial support.

Through competitions reminiscent of the popular entrepreneurship TV show Shark Tank, Howell secured funding to launch Forever Great. According GVMagazinethe company ran out of initial stock within the first three days of launch.

The company’s success inspired Howell to take Forever Great to the next level.

“Last summer was like a testing time, and people were receptive and liked what we were doing,” Howell said. “It gave me the motivation to go back to the drawing board to come up with more products and take the business more seriously.”

He continued to work at the company throughout his senior year and graduated in December 2021. Since graduating, he has been running Forever Great full-time with the help of team members Nic Sagodic, Donte Epps and Chris Hitchcock.

While researching new ways to work towards sustainability, Howell said the team had come up with an all-new line, using 100% recycled cotton from a manufacturing company in California. The new line will not use additional water or resources to create the fabric.

Once the product is manufactured, it is printed and finished in Grand Rapids by Unitas Printing.

Once sold, 8% of the proceeds will go to the Great Lakes Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes. Forever Great is partnering with the nonprofit to organize beach cleanups.

The company enjoys additional visibility through its online presence and pop-up stores.

According to Howell, the company had two pop-ups last summer. Now they usually put out two or three a month.

“It’s a great way we connect with our customers and our community,” Howell said. “We host many in-person events because there’s so much more to business and customer interaction than just internet engagement.”

As Forever Great decided to expand its operations and engagement, their efforts resonated with the local community.

Although GV student Miranda Wojda discovered Forever Great through social media, she said she still felt connected to the company.

“I was looking for sustainable Michigan-based brands when I found Forever Great,” Wojda said. “I like how they seem to really care about the Great Lakes and post things other than their products.”

Howell’s passion and dedication to Forever Great supports a bright future for the company and for the Great Lakes.

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About Lonnie G. Mitchell

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