GV alum founds sustainable clothing company aimed at protecting Great Lakes


Courtesy / Nic Sagodic

Payton Brazzil, Staff Writer

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

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

The idea for Forever Great sparked a couple years ago on a walk along the Lake Michigan. 

Howell said he was shocked at how much trash he saw stretched across the shoreline. As a Michigan native, this wasn’t the first time he saw litter on the beach. However, it was the first time he felt he had to do something about it.

“I stopped and wondered what problems the Great Lakes are facing when it comes to climate concern,” Howell said. “We hear a lot about forest fires and the ocean, but no one’s really talking about the local impacts on the Great Lakes.”

Concerned with the lack of awareness, Howell researched how to help this issue that he felt was close to home.

Between 80% and 90% of wastewater is discharged into the environment without any treatment, according to the 2020 United Nations World Water Development Report. The connection 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 provides student entrepreneurs with consulting and monetary support.

Through competitions reminiscent of the popular entrepreneurship television show Shark Tank, Howell gained funding to launch Forever Great. According to GVMagazine, the company sold out of its initial inventory within the first three days of the launch.

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

“Last summer was like a test period, and people were receptive and liked what we were doing,” Howell said. “That 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 on the business through his senior year and graduated in December 2021. Since graduation, 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 came up with an entirely new line, using 100% recycled cotton from a manufacturing company in California. The new line will use no additional water or resources to create the fabric.

After the product is made, it is printed and finished in Grand Rapids through Unitas Printing.

Once it’s sold, 8% of the profits will go to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes. Forever Great partners with the nonprofit to host beach clean-ups.

The company gets additional exposure through its online presence and pop-up shops.

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

“It’s a big way we connect with our customers and community,” Howell said. “We do a lot of in-person events because there’s a lot more to business and interacting with customers than just internet engagement.”

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

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

“I was looking for Michigan-based sustainable 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 just their products.” 

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