Eco-warriors aren’t the only people passionate about recycling plastic bottles into fabric.
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh-based start-up Thread, which enlists Haitian and Honduran workers to collect those countries’ discarded plastic products and turn them into synthetic fibers and materials, announced it had closed a $2.8 million Series A funding round led by Draper Triangle Ventures, DNL Capital, Riverfront Ventures, BlueTree Allied Angels and Bill Besselman, head of strategy at Under Armour.
The investment brings the company’s total capital raised to date to $3.5 million, which it plans to use to expand its production capabilities and increase its impact on the ground, while growing data and content collection throughout its transparent supply chain.
“People base their buying decisions on which brands they can trust. Unfortunately, the apparel and accessories industry is still among the dirtiest in the world. Customers want to know how their products are made and who makes them,” said Ian Rosenberger, CEO and founder of Thread, who got the idea for the company after visiting Haiti about six weeks after 2010’s deadly earthquake in Port-au-Prince, where roughly nine million pounds of plastic waste is generated each month. “We know the people who make Thread fabric possible and how their lives are changing because of the process. We can trace that process with a lot of precision.”
Thread partners with Ramase Lajan (which literally means “picking up money”), a cash-for-recyclables program managed by the non-profit Executives Without Borders, that works with Haitian owned and operated plastic-collection centers to spur sustainable jobs for locals.
Sorted recyclables are sold to Haiti Recycling, which bales and stores the plastic for the production line where it will be washed and shredded into “flake” and shipped to production facilities in the U.S. That’s then spun into synthetic fiber and woven into fabric to be sold to apparel and accessories manufacturers.
Every yard of fabric is the equivalent of one pound of waste; to date the company has exported 1.26 million pounds of waste as raw material, as well as created income opportunities for 2,700 people in Haiti and Honduras and generated nearly $300,000 for businesses in those countries.
“With little innovation in the textile industry over the last 100 years, apparel companies are having a tough time meeting market demand for transparent, socially conscious materials,” said Jay Katarincic, managing director of Draper Triangle. “We believe Thread’s unique production process creates an incredibly powerful story that can strengthen the trust and authenticity of a brand to help meet market demand.”
Besselman echoed this attitude. “Textiles are changing at a rapid pace, beyond just the introduction of wearables and integrated technologies. With a revolutionary approach to manufacturing and supply chain, Thread is poised to disrupt the market in a completely new way,” he said.