Product, Service & Design Innovation
True to Its Name, Thread Now Spinning Plastic Waste Into Fabric

In the lead-up to this year’s SB Innovation Open, we’re catching up with some of our favorite paradigm-disrupting startups from past years. This week, we have an update from Thread.

When we last met SBIO 2013 finalists Thread, the burgeoning social enterprise had taken up the task of transforming the tons of plastic waste littering Haiti not only into local jobs but also quality products for consumers in the US and eventually around the world.

The ambitious venture, spearheaded by CEO Ian Rosenberger and COO Lee Kimball, continues to work towards its “big, hairy, audacious goal” of collecting, recycling and transforming 1 billion lbs of trash into useful products by 2032. Most importantly, Thread continues to detail its progress with meticulous metrics and captivating graphics, which continues to set apart the company from its competitors.

There are three facets to Thread’s operation:

1. Collect and process plastic waste into rPET flake (Recycled by Thread);

2. Sell the flake to businesses to be used in their supply chains (Powered by Thread);

3. Use the recycled materials themselves to create consumer products, such as fabric (Made by Thread).

Among the many achievements in its four short years, Thread, now a certified B Corporation, has collected 1.3 million lbs of waste, created over 1,600 jobs in Haiti, and eliminated 13,911 miles from the typical supply chain per shipment. See a snapshot below:

Thread 2013 impact

Candice McLeod: Did being a finalist in SBIO help with Thread’s progress?

Ian Rosenberger: SB set the context for us. It was our first big conference as an organization where we were forced to talk about our story to a wider audience. The one thing that we realized is that we actually need to sell something. Last year, we had ideas; now we are rolling out our first fabrics — Made by Thread — for business to business this spring.

CM: Thread has a pretty impressive impact report. Looking through the metrics section, you seem to have either met or exceeded your goals. What drivers have helped you get there?

IR: CSR is not separate for us. The nature of Thread is that the better that we do as a company, the better is business. Also, our competitive differentiator is the metrics. We even give scores to our supply chains.

CM: Last year, you told me that you had a mission of telling your story “breadcrumb style” using GPS monitors to track how materials are sourced, processed and distributed. How is that going?

IR: We have developed a name for that platform: “Ground to Good.” It allows Powered by Good partners to trace social, financial and environmental metrics, such as stories behind the people in the process, like the names of a family, to quantifying how much less CO2 was emitted during transport because of Thread’s process.

CM: Do you plan on setting more aggressive goals?

Lee Kimball: Depends on which of us you’re asking that question. Ian wants to jump off the cliff, I want us to have a parachute. We are trying to bite off the right amount. For example, we are looking at moving into other countries and increasing our partnerships. A partnership that we are particularly proud of is with Pittsburgh-based Moop bags, local to our headquarters. We are also in talks with national brands.

CM: Has it been particularly challenging to work in Haiti?

IR: Working with the Haitian people has been a perk. While working in Haiti has its challenges, it’s not arduous. Not only are we working in Haiti, but have begun work in Honduras which is considered the murder capital of the world. These places get a bad rep because it is often easy to create a bad headline, but life goes on. Building businesses such as Thread helps.

CM: What are you most proud of so far?

IR: I’m most proud of our team’s persistence. We have had success operating in developing countries, which is something that takes a little longer to develop and makes success a little sweeter. We are proud that we can get up to go work everyday

LK: I think we have created something that didn’t exist before. We spend a lot of time at the bottom of the supply chain and work in literally the dirtiest business on the planet but we think that we can make a big difference in the people and the companies that

CM: Anything in particular that you would like our readers to know?

IR: Our fabric is for sale, and we are open for business.

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