Great Lakes Proud
Adhering to the Great Lakes
The outline of Michigan is surrounded by the saturated shapes of each of the Great Lakes. These shapes are often seen in a variety of colors plastered on the back of a Jeep or even alongside the “Baby on Board” sign on the back of a mini-van. Tagging our insulated water bottles, laptops, phone cases, and Yeti coolers, these decals are not only designated for the gear-junkies or outdoor adventurists. They resonate with all who have dipped a toe in frigid Lake Superior, spotted a Petoskey stone in the clear waters of Lake Michigan, caught their first walleye on Lake Erie, kayaked along the shores of Lake Huron, and crashed through the waves of Lake Ontario. The decals are a reminder of the nostalgia carried through generations and priding the natural resource that is the Great Lakes.
Austin Holsinger grew up in Indian River, Michigan as the eldest of six children. His connection to the outdoors began in early childhood as his time was spent running free outside with his siblings and friends. After college, Austin moved around and eventually landed in Montana where he repeatedly saw a sticker of a crescent moon and palm tree — representing South Carolina’s flag.
“It’s kind of like an artistic rendering or use of something that only people from South Carolina would know it,” Austin explains. “And I thought, I bet I can do that for Michigan using the Great Lakes.”
Detroit & Traverse City
Stickers, apparel and accessories
15 percent of sales is donated to nonprofit organization's coastal conservation efforts
They slapped one on the front door of the café and placed a pile of twenty-five stickers on the counter to sell.
With this idea in mind, Austin connected with a graphic designer and had a thousand stickers of the drafted design printed. As he made his way back to Michigan — specifically Traverse City — he began knocking on doors of local retailers, discussing his product and asking if they would attempt to sell the five-dollar Great Lakes sticker. “No one really caught the idea, no one could grasp the concept of what I was trying to sell or create with this sticker of the Great Lakes,” says Austin describing his couple month stint of marketing his product to retailers.
Austin caught a break when he asked one of his good friends who manage Roast & Toast, a small café based out of Petoskey if he would attempt to sell the simplistic sticker there. They slapped one on the front door of the café and placed a pile of twenty-five stickers on the counter to sell. “It was either the next day or at the end of the weekend and he just said ‘hey, those 25 sold in like an hour, so we want a couple hundred. Put us down for an order’,” Austin smiles as he continues. “That just gave us a little momentum, and pretty soon retailers from all over the state were saying yes.”
Great Lakes Proud took form, and the brand featuring the Great Lakes is easily spotted throughout Michigan. While the product line has grown to include branded apparel and accessories and over 500 wholesale retailers, the Great Lakes Proud movement all started with a mission-driven sticker design.
“We want to be able to give back and support the health of those resources and the communities,” Austin pauses and looks up. “And if at the end of the day, if Great Lakes Proud is old and tired, and we can sit back and say we’ve done a little bit of that, I’ll be thrilled.”
Since the first Great Lakes sticker sold in the local café in Petoskey, 15 percent of those sales go directly to Great Lakes conservation efforts. The list consists of 14 organizations including, The Alliance for the Great Lakes, The Little Traverse Conservancy, The Michigan Environmental Council, FLOW for Water and many more. More recently, Austin launched the Great Lakes Proud Community Project, where members pay 12 dollars a year to receive monthly benefits and discounts to outdoor retailers. A percentage of the membership proceeds go to one of the 14 organizations each month.
“That’s the goal, to create something where every dollar that comes in through subscription, goes out at the end of the month to support an organization or nonprofit that’s educating, supporting, and trying to save our lakes,” says Austin describing the mission behind the project.
Austin’s goal for the Great Lakes Proud Community Project is to have 30,000 to 50,000 members, who love and celebrate the Great Lakes, and whose giving’s will total upwards of $12,000,000 a year. With their remarkable and dedicated following, those numbers don’t feel like a far stretch. “My vision for it is massive, and I think it can be an incredible tool for private giving support of the Great Lakes,” Austin shares. “If people can get behind it and we can get a community built and have a significant amount of people, we can have a huge impact.”
Great Lakes Proud was built around a simple design and an even bigger mission; stickers that save the lakes. The growth, accomplishments, and giving in the past nine years truly speaks for itself. “We want to be able to give back and support the health of those resources and the communities,” says Austin as he pauses and looks up. “And if at the end of the day, if Great Lakes Proud is old and tired, and we can sit back and say we’ve done a little bit of that, I’ll be thrilled.” A sticker may tear and fade, but what remains is a dedicated support system striving to leave a legacy and protect the Great Lakes.