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From the Mailbag: How about these bottles?

The question takes a myriad of forms, but the message is often the same.

It comes from the volunteer collecting trash along the highway, the well-intentioned traveler, and the big-thinking study abroad student in a far-off corner of the developing world.

“I love what you’re doing it Haiti,” they offer, “so when I saw all of the trash in [Location X] I thought of Thread. You should go come here and do something with it!”

It pains us to say it, but there is far too much waste in the world for our team run off to a new country, campus, or gated community each time we hear rumors about some hot new trash. But that’s the quick answer. Here’s the deeper dive into what we look for when sourcing plastic or building a supply chain.

We don’t just take plastic for the sake of plastic

“But I thought you were into recycling?!” We are. We so so are. In fact, our team weighs each bag of garbage and recycling that leaves the office, so we can quantify just how much we believe in recycling. Then again, making the most of our local waste management system is a far cry from establishing a brand new supply chain that alleviates poverty.

That’s the first hurdle any new source of plastic really has to clear: Is there formal waste management or a recycling program already operating there?

In Haiti, there’s no widespread infrastructure to deal with waste. Reusable resources sit alongside the garbage in a landfill, the burn pit, or the street. It also happens that Haiti has jaw-dropping level of poverty. These two conditions aren’t just a coincidence that Thread stumbled upon. They’re precisely why Haiti emerged as the origin of our first supply chain. In Haiti, these materials have a value that can make an impact on people’s lives.

We’re not your everyday recycling company; the goal is to provide dignified income opportunities for people in poverty by bringing them into our supply chains. In more developed countries, recycled plastic garners the same exact price on the commodities market – but that income doesn’t go nearly as far.

We’d need a tonne (… or 18 tonnes)

In order to supply the yarn spinning and fabric knitting facilities who make our fabric, we have to deliver a mind-boggling amount of plastic flake. How much exactly? Each shipping container contains ~40,000 pounds of plastic. To create a consistent and reliable pipeline for our partners, we deliver roughly one of these containers each month.

Shipping containers containing plastic flakes from our transparent supply chain in Haiti. These flakes are used to create our sustainable fabric.

Every bottle that goes into that shipment is 100% post-consumer – cause that’s how we roll. But that’s not always enough. Our recycling collectors have got to deliver the right kind of plastic (bottles in some areas include PVC and other chemicals that don’t mix with the fabric-making process).

So why do we go to a small country for our plastic? Because we need a small country’s worth of plastic to make the entire chain run smoothly. Anything less would result in hiccups that might very seriously jeopardize our reputation, and ultimately our impact.

The big picture: We’re building supply chains.

Where our plastic comes from is important, yet that’s not the only part of the picture that we’re interested in. Thread is committed to an unprecedented amount of responsibility and transparency throughout our supply chain. For our team to build a successful and sensible pipeline for each product, we have to be wise about every step we take on the journey from Ground to Good™.

In the textile industry, deals are struck on cents if not fractions of cents. Unnecessary shipping would inflate the cost of our flake, yarn, or fabric while increasing our carbon footprint. Those are the rock and the hard place we have to manage in this notoriously competitive market.

Haiti’s proximity to the US textile industry makes it the right choice for today’s products and today’s partners. Collaborating with new brands in distant places would require us to find convenient manufacturing partners as well as sources for more plastic.

No snark. No shade. Thank you for all of your suggestions. Just please don’t be cross that we probably can’t take the plastic from your business, your favorite beach, or that epic birthday party you threw. At least not yet.

We need the right plastic. And we want a lot of it. Plus, it needs to make a positive impact on the people who collect and process it. If you know a place that has that kind of supply chain triple-threat, please drop us a line.

Otherwise send us your questions about sustainable fashion, the circular economy, or just about anything else.

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