Mike Draper, owner of RAYGUN, talks environmental sustainability and t-shirts


Mike Draper clarifies why using recycled polyester and recycled cotton were a good combination for his line of shirt designs for RAYGUN, a Des Moines-based clothing company. Draper presented in the Sunroom of the Memorial Union on Oct. 4.

Leila Doric

Mike Draper, owner of Des Moines-based clothing company RAYGUN, spoke about ways he keeps his business environmentally sustainable in the Memorial Union Thursday in his lecture “Making T-Shirts Out of Pop Bottles.”

Mike Draper graduated from Penn State in 2004 and began selling t-shirts on busy college campuses. Draper opened his first store in Des Moines in 2005 and was the only employee.

Today, RAYGUN has 75 employees, with four different stores and makes four million dollars in profit.

Draper discussed how RAYGUN takes as much responsibility as they can when it comes to reducing their waste. RAYGUN sells higher quality t-shirts, replaces damaged shirts for free, recycles damaged shirts, does not participate in storewide sales and suggests shirt alternatives to custom products.

“The single biggest impact on the environment with clothing is what people never use,” Draper said.

In trying to deal with this crisis, Draper said RAYGUN throws away less than five pounds of clothing every year. While the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year, Draper said.

Draper also talked about the importance of the process in which his t-shirts are made. RAYGUN t-shirts are fair trade certified and made up of 50 percent organic cotton and 50 percent polyester.

Draper said he also considers where his stores are located.

“Everything is slightly more complicated than you think,” Draper said.

Due to the heat parking lots create, the temperature in runoff increases and enters into streams which changes the temperature of the stream water.

Draper said he takes that into consideration and purposely moves stores to older locations of cities.

“You are at least borrowing from existing infrastructure,” Draper said.

When asked about why he makes environmentally sustainable decisions for his company, Draper said each business has their own responsibility to be sustainable for their customers.

“With the environment, you are not making the perfect environment you are making the best version of the environment,” Draper said.

RAYGUN has created Live Green! inspired t-shirts and those will be available for sale at the bookstore in the Memorial Union for $23.99. Half of the profits will go to supporting the Live Green! Initiative at Iowa State, said Merry Rankin, director of sustainability.

Draper’s lecture is part of the Live Green! Initiative’s sustainability speaker series for the month of October. The speaker series is just one of the ways the Live Green! Initiative is celebrating 10 years at Iowa State.