From injured turtles to sustainable clothing: finding inspiration in unexpected places

LOS ANGELES — Like many accomplished football players, Glenn Love Jr. never worried much about life after the game. When he started playing professionally, however, the uncertainty set in.

That changed after a visit to the Turtle Rescue conservation program at the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale.

“They were like missing some limbs and I was like, ‘What happened? Why are they missing limbs’? ” said Love, a former Chandler Hamilton High School standout who plays linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Love learned the turtles had been injured by plastic debris, including plastic water bottles in the ocean. The aquarium had to remove their limbs in order to save the turtles from dying.

Around that same time, in May of 2017, Love launched IInner Vision Apparel company, a sustainable clothing line. He wanted a business that could also make a social impact. Inspired in part by the turtles, the apparel is made from 95 percent recycled material, and shirts specifically are constructed from five to 10 plastic bottles, recycled cotton and eco-friendly water-based ink.

Plastic that is not recycled often ends up in a landfill or ocean. According to a study by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, plastic takes about 450 years to decompose into the earth. If it lands in the ocean, it can potentially add to an island of trash debris in the Pacific that has grown up to 600,000 square miles, according to a study in the Nature the International Journal of Science, which is twice the size of the Texas.

Glenn Love Jr. plays linebacker in the Canadian Football League. He was a standout at Hamilton High. (Photo courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

In addition to the harmful effects of plastic, the fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment, experts say. Whether it is the practices used overseas to grow cotton or the transportation used, the apparel industry leaves a substantial carbon footprint. That motivated Love to focus on recycled cotton.

“The carbon footprint is seen in transportation and where it’s grown and how it’s grown. Most fibers are being grown with pesticides,” said Nicole Darnall, a professor of management and public policy at Arizona State’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “They are chemically grown. And most synthetics fibers are derived from petroleum.”

Before Love had a passion for sustainable fashion, he was a football standout at Hamilton High. He lettered in four sports at the varsity level and holds the school record for most interceptions in a season (10). He also secured a 5A MVP title and a state championship.

After graduating from Hamilton, he played four seasons at UCLA where he was converted from defensive back to linebacker. He is playing his seventh season in the Canadian Football League.

Once Love started his professional career, he said he felt it was his duty to show that athletes can make a positive impact on society.

“I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just me that (my future) was affecting but it was affecting other people, too, in a positive way,” Love said.

A visit to an aquarium gave him direction.

“Seeing those things swim sideways because it had one arm, that’s because of us not because of them. They didn’t do anything wrong,” Love said. “It is because of us. Millions of sea creatures and sea life dies because of us. That really changed things.”

Love was looking for a manufacturer to produce his clothing line around the same time he visited the aquarium and found Brett Matheson, the owner of Yoganastix, a company in Arizona that produces clothing material from recycled plastic bottles.

Glenn Love. Jr. works out in clothing made from IInner Vision Apparel, the sustainable clothing company he owns. (Phot courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

“He (Matheson) really showed me some materials … polyester, cotton, the blends and all that kind of stuff. Last one he showed me was like recycled bottles so I am like, ‘what’? ” Love said.

In that moment Love knew what he was going to do.

“When you see those turtles and me seeing this material, it was meant to be,” he said.

Although it is a good start to becoming more sustainable, it does have unintended consequences, said George Basile, a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Microfiber pollution, which is the shedding of microplastics from synthetic fabrics used to make clothing, can occur.

“It’s not a bad step. You’re building a business on the idea of cycling, and cycles and surfaces and recycling. … That may position you better for using other materials that need to be recycled that are OK that leak into nature,” Basile said. “I think overall it’s a good step toward where you want to go but it’s incomplete. We want business that are interested in heading toward completeness but also are not trapped by having to be perfect.”

More than a year has passed since Love launched IInner Vision Apparel. The company has expanded from being online only to being included in Kalloni’s Closet Boutique in Gilbert.

“Immediately, he reminds me so much of myself just from his personality. Just like out how he operates,” owner Keller Ziegler said. “This is absolutely going to work out.”

The lack of a business background and fashion acumen created a few setbacks for Love, who has struggled to adjust to unexpected obstacles.

Glenn Love Jr. wears items from his clothing line. Recycled plastic bottles are used to make his shirts. (Photo courtesy Glenn Love Jr.)

“Now I’ve got to learn how to deal with people overseas, that when I was going to bed they were getting up,” he said. “So I was getting up at 3 in the morning. You cannot speak the same language and you might say one thing to someone from here and they might interpret it as something else.”

This has not deterred Love, who hopes to one day have his own brick and mortar storefront for IInner Vision, as well as be a distributor for other apparel companies looking to use sustainable materials for their clothing. He is looking to develop a business relationship with fitness brand SoulCycle and to expand into Canada.

“Maybe have a store where its all eco-friendly brands. Might be local. Might be from Zimbabwe,” Love said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I want to have eco-friendly clothes so everyone can see that we can compete with the rest of the world with making good quality clothes.”

Water just right: HOAs strive for green fields and conservation

PHOENIX – Jose Alvarez, a supervisor at R. H. Dupper Landscaping, stood up from changing a sprinkler nozzle on a large grassy field at a homeowner’s association in Chandler, Arizona. He surveyed the turf, a patchwork of green and brown.

“It looks terrible,” he said. “The sprinklers, they don’t have enough pressure, and they spray, like, a little bit.” He noted the rings, like miniature crop circles, created by uneven watering.

Josh Dupper said they get a lot of business fixing this kind of problem.

“Their water bills were through the roof because they were essentially flood irrigating,” Dupper said. “It still looked bad, even while they were spending a ton on water. And their landscaper just did not know what to do.”

Revamping the irrigation plan is the first step. Then, Dupper’s company uses historical evapotranspiration data and homemade software to determine how much a field gets watered. He has crews come to each site monthly to take readings and adjust settings based on the forecast.

Josh Dupper of R.H. Dupper Landscaping in the Phoenix area says his industry lags behind in the technical knowledge needed to finely-tune water use to weather conditions. (Bret Jaspers/KJZZ)

It’s a Goldilocks approach to landscape watering: not too much, not too little, but just right.

Lawns and landscaping are polarizing symbols when we talk about water use in the desert. Some communities are paying homeowners to rip out their grass. Others, like this Chandler HOA, are trying to save water on the green fields that residents adore.

In nearby Gilbert, Arizona, Jeff Lee is trying to nudge HOAs to look at watering that way.

Lee, a water conservation specialist for the town, traces an HOA’s landscape area using Google Earth Pro, converts that to square footage, then uploads the HOA’s monthly water usage to a vendor. The vendor, Waterfluence, analyzes the data using that month’s actual weather — not the historical weather conditions Dupper uses. HOAs and landscapers can see the results on a web portal.

“We can actually show them the cost comparisons,” Lee said. “How many dollars they should’ve spent on water and how many dollars they actually did spend on water based on what the landscaper was doing.”

Lee doesn’t want HOAs to underwater their large fields, trees and shrubs. The point is to let them know if they’re hitting that Goldilocks volume of water that maintains lush grass with low levels of water waste.

This homeowners' association in Chandler, Arizona overspent on water and still had patchy results. (Bret Jaspers/KJZZ)

The Gilbert program is free for HOAs and voluntary. Lee said about 30 percent of the town’s 205 HOAs are enrolled. He estimated Gilbert saves over 200 million gallons of water a year through the program.

If you’re using too much water, though, getting on track can be expensive.

Kayte Comes is a board member of her HOA in Peoria, northwest of Phoenix. When her community, the Village at Vistancia, chose a new landscaper, they hired a firm that prioritizes conservation. Upon that firm’s recommendation, the board decided to replace parts of their irrigation system.

“Not every HOA, unfortunately, has the funds to do that,” she said. “But it’s gonna save your HOA in the long run.”

She added that a lot of businesses are willing to work with customers to help them afford upfront costs.

Some HOAs and landscapers are turning to so-called “smart controllers,” devices that adjust watering levels automatically. But Lee, Dupper and others say the smart controller is only as smart as the landscaper who programs it. Landscapers in Arizona can get a license if they pass two exams and have four years of experience.

“Part of the problem with the industry is it’s not advancing as fast as it should in the technical aspect,” Dupper said. “Because there’s no accountability or requirement to have it.”

The state of Arizona puts a water limit on HOAs in so-called “active management areas” in the middle of the state. Even then, it only applies to those with ten acres of landscaping or more. But with an increasing awareness of tech tools and water scarcity, more HOAs may be looking for that Goldilocks volume.

This story is part of a collaborative series from the Colorado River Reporting Project at KUNC, supported by a Walton Family Foundation grant, the Mountain West News Bureau, and Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between public radio and TV stations in the West, supported by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.