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C-Suite: Model No. CEO on Sustainability in Home Textiles

B8ta co-founder and former president Phillip Raub is the newly minted CEO of Model No., and will leverage his skill set from the software-powered retailer he started to help scale the technology-centric, customizable furniture start-up.

Raub was head of global channel marketing for Nest at Google before co-starting experiential retailer B8ta. He’s also served as co-CEO of Toy Retail Showrooms, where he led the vision to transform Toys “R” Us U.S. stores into an experiential retail brand.

As he looks at how to best disrupt the antiquated furniture industry in his new role, he’s also keeping tabs on what’s new on the textiles front. Sourcing Journal recently caught up with him to find out what he thinks is interesting in fabrications that are both new and sustainable.

Sourcing Journal: Your past experience combined technology with commerce, but Model No. is more at the crossroads of technology and sustainability. It appears to be a totally different direction for you. Let’s talk about that.

Phillip Raub: For me, as I started my next role, I wanted to make sure I would be doing something aligned with my values and what’s important to me. Sustainability, for sure, is one of those things. There’s so much [to be done] in the textiles space, so much waste. A big focus has been in apparel with industry consumption. There’s also a focus on reusing textiles, and resale in the secondhand market, which is thriving. For us, we looked at something we all have, which is furniture in our homes…. Nobody is doing anything innovative, and disruption is more about pricing and experience.

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The manufacture of furniture has mostly been done the same way [where] everything produced is excess inventory. At Model No., we customize based on need, which ensures that there’s no carried inventory. Everything is produced through automation, which reduces lead time by one to two weeks for smaller items (from order to shipment).

SJ: Tell me about the materials used, and where do you source them from?

PR: For textiles, we’re using traditional 3D printing and taking food waste like cornstarch, which is root based, and grinding it to non-petroleum-based PLA (a biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid). Then we add wood fibers and filament to create a more natural look, such as applying a wood top to a coffee table.

The cornstarch or any sort of root-based foods are sourced from suppliers. It’s mostly corn, but could be from cassava or other root-based excess waste like the husks from the product. The PLA is the fermented plant starch, which could also be from sugarcane and sugar beet pulp. We build our 3D machines and take the plastic pellets to turn them into larger items that we manufacture into furniture.

Another way is to produce through CNC, or computer numerical control. Imagine laser cutting in fabric, but cutting wood the same way one laser cuts fabric. You automate the manufacturing process to cut down on the production time. That’s the core of how we’re disrupting the space. I was hired to bring products to the market. The company’s been around a little over a year-and-a-half, and has been developing the technology behind the scenes.

SJ: What’s next on expansion plans?

PR: My goal is to expand the product roadmap, and we’ll be offering a lot of new things not on our site today. In October, we’ll be offering more seating options. I’m starting to look at sourcing. We want to source as much of the materials as we can in the U.S. as possible.

In this C-Suite report, Model No. CEO Philip Raub talks about newness in home textiles and sustainability.
Model No. CEO Phillip Raub says pineapples and mushrooms make sustainable plant-based leather options. Adobe Stock

SJ: As you look at seating and maybe even fabric options, what are you seeing that looks interesting?

PR: Leather and faux leather by product has been interesting. There’s a company in Hong Kong taking excess leather, scraps from producing bags, and putting it together for a leather substrate that can be used on a dining room chair. Also, in leather there’s pineapple leather and mushroom leather as plant-based alternatives. Some are softer than others and it’s been fascinating to see what’s going on to make it more sustainable by using excess material.

SJ: Have you made any decisions on what type of fabrication you might want to use?

PR: We haven’t gone into that area yet regarding fabric. Eventually, we’ll be spending a lot more time [working in the area]. As I think about my team and building it out, who we’d be hiring for sourcing of material will be high on my list.

SJ: 3D printing isn’t so new anymore, so what’s different about your direct-to-consumer brand?

PR: PLA is very strong, and this is taking it to the next level by creating an entire item where the table and base of the table is all done with 3D printing. The layering of a hardwood table top gives it a more natural feel to it…. What’s unique for us is that our chief technology officer Jeffrey McGrew, one of our co-founders, has figured out how to scale the manufacturing process into larger scale items.

SJ: Can your proprietary technology and the layering process be adapted to other industries, such as apparel?

PR: Absolutely. There are applications available for use in other categories and industries. We’re not using them because right now our focus is on building [Model No.] in furniture. Retail fixturing, for example, is one area where it can be used.