02/12/2020 ASHLAND, Ohio – One wants to work in a lab, the other one is after a career in event planning.
They say they’re there for their friend, who’s a philosophical Lorax of sorts.
Together, the trio – JT Siurek, Cillian Donahue and Anna Orange – hope to do their part to re-forest the planet, all while building a business and maybe making a profit along the way.
The three Ashland University students are the engine that drives The Jack Flannel Co., a clothing business with an environmental mission. The brainchild of Siurek, a Brunswick native who is in his final year as an entrepreneurship and business management major, the company launched in late 2018 and has become self-supporting, even as it has been run alternatingly between his dorm room and the basement of his parents’ home.
Now, Siurek is hoping Jack Flannel might get a big financial boost through Outdoor Weber, an outdoor recreation idea contest for college students sponsored by Camping World and headquartered at Weber State University in Utah. In order to compete for the $30,000 grand prize, Siurek already has submitted his 90-second video pitch.
Now, he and Donahue and Orange are hoping to get out the vote. Supporters can go to https://www.weber.edu/entrepreneurship/Outdoor_Weber.html each day through Friday, Feb. 14, to cast a ballot for Jack Flannel. The top 25 vote getters will be announced Feb. 17 and the judges will announce the 10 finalists on Feb. 24. After that, the competition goes onsite to Utah March 18-21 to make final pitches and announce the winner.
Should Jack Flannel win, Siurek said, that cash prize will go right back into the business.
And all of this came about because of Siurek’s passion for trees, which started while he was still in high school. “I love spending time in nature,” he said, and recalled that he was on his way to visit family outside Atlanta in the immediate aftermath of a tornado. “It made me really sad,” he said, to see all the trees lost to the storm.
At the same time, Siurek also knew he wanted to follow in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps. It wasn’t just about turning a profit, but “what could I do to make the world a better place,” he said. “What can I do to help?”
So, he started researching. Siurek said he considered clothing, “but I was no expert in clothing.” And he wanted his business to give back through tree planting, but he didn’t know much about what that involved.
After padding around the online world, Siurek came upon the Vermont-based nonprofit One Tree Planted, which collects donations and works with a list of reforestation partners in North America, Latin American, Asia, Australia and Africa to ensure that the resulting plantings have an 80 to 90 percent survival rate.
The cost, according to One Tree Planted: $1 per tree.
So, with every Jack Flannel sale, a donation – between five and 10 percent of the price – goes to the nonprofit. Someday, Siurek said, it’d be nice to allow customers the option of deciding on which continent their tree would be planted, but for now, “We primarily want to keep it in the United States,” he said, “because they’re in rapid decline here,” due not only to industrial cutting, but also because of natural disasters, particularly in California.
The business side was a bit more complex, but worked out in large part, Siurek said, with help from the faculty in the AU Dauch College of Business & Economics. “I got good advice and questions from the professors here” on everything from business law to sales tax, he said. “They drove me crazy, but they asked all the right questions. They made me realize I needed help.”
And Orange and Donahue – both of whom knew Siurek through the AU Campus Activities Board – have been there every step of the way.
Donahue, a toxicology major with an environmental focus from Strongsville, said she’s the yin to Siurek’s yang. He’s the dreamer, the big idea guy and “I’m the planner, the organizer, the behind-the-scenes person,” she said. “I send a lot of emails.” And even though her long-term goal would have her working in a lab, Donahue said “J.T. is my best friend, so whatever he needs help with, I’ll be there.”
Orange, a junior fashion merchandising and hospitality management major from Pittsburgh, is watching the style trends and offering branding advice. And eventually, she said, she’ll be organizing events.
While the vast majority of sales come through Jack Flannel’s online presence, the apparel is also available locally at Fig & Oak in downtown Ashland. “I want people to be comfortable, fashionable in our clothes,” Siurek said, each one of which bears the tree-anchored logo he designed.
“He’s a great guy. He’s really built this business and figured out a way to give back to the community,” AU Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurial Studies director Tom Sudow said of Siurek. “He joins more than 70 other people who have left Ashland not only with a degree, but a business.”
And Siurek plans to do even more, once he doesn’t have to juggle being an entrepreneur with a full-time course load and an active life on campus. But as graduation nears and the sales continue, he said, “It makes it feel that much more real. Every single day, I wake up and it’s more and more real.”