North Shore Vibe aims to remove 20,000 pieces of trash from the Lake Michigan Shoreline


Courtesy of Jay Townsend

Sunrise at the North Shoreline beach in Evanston. Jay and Elise Townsend founded The North Shore Vibe, a company whose goal is to preserve the beauty and health of the lake.

Nandipa Siluma, Reporter

When Evanston residents Jay and Elise Townsend founded North Shore Vibe — a clothing company and environmental movement to protect Lake Michigan — last October, they had one goal in mind: to preserve the beauty and health of the lake and promote environmental sustainability. 

The company sells sustainable apparel in order to reduce the overall water and chemical waste that comes from fast fashion. Since its launch, North Shore Vibe has removed 6,500 pieces of trash from North Shore beaches.

“We wanted to create eco-friendly because it’s all about protecting our land, being mindful of carbon emissions, and that’s to make sure that what we’re doing is as ethically and sustainably as possible. So our apparel is eco friendly,” Elise said. 

Around 22 million pounds of plastic — the equivalent of 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of plastic bottles — are entering Lake Michigan each year, according to a 2017 study by the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Jay and Elise hope to remove 20,000 pieces of plastic from the lake by 2021. The organization hosts clean-ups multiple times each month, and are planning to host other community events like paddleboard meet-ups. 

Jay is originally from Zionsville, a town north of Indianapolis, and Elise is from Northern Michigan. Growing up, they both spent a lot of their time hanging out by the lake with family and friends.

“The best memories I have are either with amazing people or in a beautiful place,” Jay said. “Going to Lake Michigan was always the combination of both because we always had friends and family with us. It’s a beautiful place to be so we grew up doing that quite a bit.”

They eventually moved to Evanston when Jay got a job offer as a graduate assistant at Northwestern. Currently, the two live in Southeast Evanston, about three blocks from the lake. 

Living so close to the lake, the couple said they have experienced the full beauty of Lake Michigan,but have also seen an uglier side: litter. Evanston is the most populated northern suburb of Chicago, and the city’s beaches see many visitors.

Jay said growing up, the lake was beautiful. But now, he said, kids see dirty beaches as normal.

 “On a nice summer day, the beach can get pretty gross,” he said. “It almost felt very unnatural to me that a kid who’s growing up and trying to have a good time with their family, they might think that the beach just looks like that, that there’s supposed to be bottles outside and pieces of plastic and paper.”

To solve this problem, the couple worked with other Evanston residents to form North Shore Vibe.

Currently, North Shore Vibe has an online store where it sells sustainable clothing made from recycled plastics and organic cotton, including t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, as well as stickers. The company also uses its website to dispel myths, answer questions and feature community environmental work in blog posts. 

Jay said he was looking to build a brand that united people. 

“When you see somebody wearing a North Shore Vibe clothing item, the whole narrative on sustainability comes together,” he said. “It says a lot more than just what the logo and the words may be.” 

Evanston resident Chaz Richart heard about the company through friends, and he said he liked the group’s mission of preserving the land and its beaches. Richart, who is originally from southern Indiana, said he comes from an area where there is a lot of wilderness, and often conducts his own clean-ups driving down the street and picking up garbage.

An active participant in the North Shore Vibe beach cleanups, Richart said his experiences with the organization have been rewarding, and encourages everyone to be a good steward of the natural resource. 

“Even if it’s picking up three pieces of trash or a couple of cigarette buds, it makes a difference,” Richart said. 

According to Elise, there is a lot of opportunity for people to give back to Lake Michigan and its greater surrounding communities — and working together as a community is important. 

“Everybody doing their part to keep our land beautiful and keep the lake beautiful goes a long way,” she said.

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Twitter: @nandipasiluma

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