christian birky, founder, lazlo
Christian had an early interest in social innovation, from youth-led grantmaking to a pony-powered, emissions-free lawn service started at age 11.
After graduating from Princeton in 2013, he founded the sustainable luxury menswear brand Lazlo. Lazlo hired someone who spent 22 years in prison to produce shirts in Detroit.
He is a founding board member of the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center, a Detroit nonprofit working to launch the first sewing apprenticeship approved by the Department of Labor. In 2016, he was recognized as a leading young innovator with the Youth Prize in the global Ashoka Fabric of Change Challenge. Christian is a co-chair of the Nexus Ethical Fashion Lab.
jennifer guarino, vp manufacturing, shinola
As an accomplished executive and a leading voice for the advancement of domestic manufacturing, Jen Guarino led the creation of the Detroit-based manufacturer Shinola's leather manufacturing unit. Guarino's responsibilities have grown to include more categories as well as key manufacturing partnerships.
Guarino is sought after as a speaker and thought leader. Speaking at varied audiences from Ted talks to industry groups her message advocates for change and innovation. With a futuristic and human-centric eye towards manufacturing Guarino is on the forefront of global shifts towards sustainable and responsible supply chains. Guarino is fully committed to quality domestic manufacturing and passionate about the return of valuing tradespeople and the work they do. A robust leader in all aspects of manufacturing, Guarino is as comfortable on the floor interacting with line workers as in an executive suite.
In 2012 she was named Minnesota Manufacturing Awards CEO of the year. In 2016, she was recognized by Crain's Detroit Business as one of Michigan's 100 Most Influential Women. She currently serves as President of ISAIC, Founding Chair of The Makers Coalition and Chair of the Fashion Accessory Design Advisory Board for the College of Creative Studies.
Jen holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma, where she competed as a Division I volleyball athlete. She completed special study programs at the Academy of Arts, San Francisco. Her early career focused on fashion illustration, creative direction and product design/development. She eventually transitioned to business development becoming Vice President of Brand Management for The Sak in 1998. In 2003 she became CEO and co-owner of JW Hulme, a struggling 100-year-old leather manufacturing firm. While there she righted the company and set a new direction of success.
brenna lane, co-owner, detroit denim
Brenna Lane is co-owner of Detroit Denim Company, a brand manufacturer specializing in men's and women's jeans and other mid- to heavy-weight woven apparel, where she oversees production and operations. She has been sewing clothes since she was 9 years old. Brenna holds a Master's Degree in Economic Anthropology from Wayne State University and is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program.
david merritt, founder, merit gooodness
David Merritt was born on February 26th, 1986 in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in West Bloomfield, MI and attended West Bloomfield High School, where he graduated with academic honors and was an All-State basketball player. Merritt then accepted an academic scholarship to the University of Michigan, and later was selected as a walk-on to the Men's Basketball team in 2006. During his last year in 2008-2009, he served as a Captain, and Michigan reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eleven years. Merritt graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors degree in Sports Management and also served as a Radio Color Commentator for the Michigan IMG Sports Network from 2009-2013.
Since his time at Michigan, Merritt launched a cause-based fashion brand called Merit. Every Merit purchase shapes the fate of students in need and helps send them to college (20% of the company’s profits fund Merit’s youth program, FATE). But it's more than just clothing - Merit possesses a militant desire to level the educational playing field, and to ignite youth with a fire for learning and higher education. Merit’s FATE Program partners with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in the city of Detroit, preparing underserved youth to embrace their education and become world-class citizens.
David Merritt serves as an Associate Pastor at the Straight Gate International Church, under the leadership of his parents, Bishop Andrew & Pastor Viveca Merritt, in Detroit, MI. He is also part-owner of the Narrow Way Café & Shop. Merritt's passions consist of being all that God wants him to be. Every single day, he asks God that his will be done and strives daily to bring into being those things that he can see, however, cannot touch.
mike miller, Owner & Chief Executive Officer, the airtex group
Mike Miller is the owner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Airtex Group. Mike works with his executive and leadership teams to set strategic direction for the company as well as mentoring the management teams responsible for manufacturing and sales for the organization.
Mike is a third-generation entrepreneur who started his career learning the manufacturing business from the ground up, first on the factory floor of the then Miller Bag Company (started by his Grandfather in 1918) and then selling and servicing major OEM accounts such as Toro, Lawnboy, Honda, 3M, TSI and Phillips Medical. Today The Airtex Group still services the OEM markets, but they also have a retail division which services and sells retailers such as Pottery Barn, West Elm, Pottery Barn Kids and Restoration Hardware.
In addition to leading Airtex Design Group, Mike has been a founding member of several successful start-up organizations, most notably Minnesota Thermal Science, which was recently purchased by Pelican Products (a leader in protective cases and temperature sensitive storage and shipping systems) He is currently actively assisting in the growth and direction for Acme Made San Francisco and Pallet Wrapz.
Committed to giving back, Mike dedicates time to several nonprofit organizations, including Loaves and Fishes (a meal program serving hot meals to those in need throughout seven counties in Minnesota), Adath Jeshurun and Marnita’s Table (a training and consulting organization helping organizations and communities find common ground across race, class and culture).
Mike attended Ithaca College where he received a Bachelor of Science degree and San Diego State where he studied Exercise Physiology and received a degree with the American College of Sports Medicine.
Tracy reese, designer, tracy reese
Tracy Reese is an American designer whose signature rich, daring colors and unique prints are crafted into joyful, feminine clothing and accessories for the modern woman. Tracy Reese’s design philosophy is rooted in a commitment to bringing out the beauty in women of all shapes, sizes and colors. Stimulated by the world around her, Tracy Reese takes inspiration from nature, art, dance, travel and global cultures.
A Parsons The New School for Design graduate and former instructor, Tracy Reese launched her eponymous collection to rave reviews in 1997. By combining bold hues and prints with modern silhouettes and shapes, Tracy Reese creates fresh designs perfect for the confident, sophisticated woman. Her distinct point of view has also made her a celebrity favorite. Notable fans of the brand include former First Lady Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tracee Ellis Ross and Mindy Kaling. Her secondary line, plenty by Tracy Reese, was introduced in 1998. Plenty embodies the modern bohemian spirit, offering a distinctive combination of joyful color palettes and playful details. plenty by Tracy Reese is all about versatile everyday essentials with effortlessly, sexy styling.
A member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America since 1990, Tracy Reese serves on its Board of Directors and is the head of the Philanthropy Committee. Tracy is a champion for many organizations and social causes including Planned Parenthood, Jackets for Jobs, Garden of Dreams, Bottomless Closet and Hearts of Gold. She is an advocate for HIV/AIDS charities and has served on the AIDS Fund Committee for the New York Community Trust for five years. She is also part of the Turnaround Arts program through the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities as the Turnaround Artist for Barnum School in Bridgeport, CT.
Tracy Reese and plenty by Tracy Reese are sold nationwide and internationally in top department stores and specialty boutiques including Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s.
GRETCHEN ROSE VALADE, CARHARTT, INC.
Some would say that apparel manufacturing is in Gretchen’s blood. Representing the 5th generation of Carhartt, Inc., the iconic 129-year old Dearborn, MI-based apparel manufacturer, Gretchen has immersed herself in all aspects of the family business. From consumer insights to product conception, from garment creation to product delivery, Gretchen's value lies in her intimate knowledge and insight into all aspects of the retail manufacturing process.
After graduating with a business marketing degree from DePaul University in 2012, Gretchen gained exposure to the supply chain and global sourcing sides of retail while working at Li & Fung’s Hong Kong offices and visiting manufacturing facilities in China and India.
Returning to Carhartt, Inc. in 2013, Gretchen moved to New York City to hone her visual merchandising and product presentation skills at the Carhartt sales showroom. After returning to Detroit, where she currently resides, Gretchen has rounded out her skillset to include competitive brand analysis, consumer insights, product development and merchandising. Gretchen is currently a Merchandiser for Retail Stores. No stranger to hard-work or hard-working people, Gretchen continues to seek opportunities to expand her knowledge while looking for new and exciting ways to serve both customers and the community at large.
Outside of her love for apparel, Gretchen is an advocate for the arts in Detroit. She currently resides on the boards of the Detroit Institute of Arts Founders Junior Council and Signal Return, a community letterpress print shop located in Detroit’s Eastern Market.