TrashSwag: Products designed for global impact

One man’s trash is another’s (T-shirt) treasure. That’s the adage behind TrashSwag, a recycled product retailer whose shirts spent their past life as plastic water bottles and discarded fibers. For Founder Desiree McLaughlin, the transformation of trash to swag puts her personal goals of conservation and sustainability into action.

“So many quality items can be made out of recycled plastics,” she says. “Our oceans are sick; this is one way we can help.” 

The term ‘ocean pollution’ brings to mind vast expanses of plastic water bottles bobbing in the surf. According to Plastic Pollution Coalition, the oceans will soon contain more plastic than fish by weight -- and that’s estimated to occur by 2050. McLaughlin, an avid kite surfer who lives in Crystal Beach, sees the problem firsthand. 

TrashSwag aims to provide a solution. An online retailer, it features small-batch shirts that spark conversation and provide silky comfort. Their ‘Save the Turtles’ tank is emblazoned with -- you guessed it -- a large turtle. A water bottle is front-and-center in another; a kite surfer hovers above. A ‘Protect Florida’ design with ‘Protect Our Playgrounds’ outlining the Sunshine State hints at TrashSwag’s origin story.

Seven years ago, McLaughlin took a Creative Thinking Class through USF St. Petersburg’s Business Entrepreneurship program. Originally, she hoped to develop clothing for female kite surfers like herself. She reworked the idea, searching for the right angle, the right time. When she found a U.S. manufacturer to produce the shirts that also donates to national parks, TrashSwag began to fall into place. That manufacturer would become her co-branding vehicle, allowing her to cut costs and increase production.

“It’s actually expensive to make recycled shirts,” she says. “You have to clean and sort the plastic; it has to be remade into something new.”

Today, is an amalgam of recycled eclecticism. McLaughlin partners with other eco-conscious entrepreneurs to feature their wares as well. That means products such as bike tube backpacks fashioned from 100% recycled tires. Brightly colored bracelets of recycled glass laced by women in Ghana. Discarded wetsuits reincarnated as yoga mats. Autism bracelets are hand-made by McLaughlin herself, who works with Face Autism Inc. Proceeds from the bracelets are donated to the organization. 

“I love featuring other ‘do-gooder’ brands doing amazing things,” she says. “These are unique products, and they all help the environment.”

TrashSwag celebrates its first year anniversary in July. What comes next could include a brick-and-mortar store, additional t-shirt designs and more community events to raise awareness. McLaughlin also hopes to increase her donations to the Ocean Conservancy, to which she gives 5% of all profits.

“Water is a source of life,” she says. “We need to protect it.”

She invites consumers to do just that by choosing TrashSwag apparel for their wardrobe. Those who purchase cheap, mass-produced clothing only to discard it soon afterward could instead keep a well-made TrashSwag T-shirt for years, she says. The ink used to color the designs is plant-based; production generates zero wastewater. Basically, it’s the Earth’s favorite shirt.

“It’s a unique, quality product,” she says. “And that makes me -- and the Earth -- happy.”

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Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.