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Strangers On A Train

Earlier this week, I was on the Blue line to Chicago from O’Hare explaining Thread’s business model of providing complete transparency into supply chains to a stranger. (He asked, I didn’t just ambush a stranger… well… maybe a little.) My obnoxious proselytizing to a captive bystander notwithstanding, the gentleman was asking great, albeit suspicious questions. I realized early in the conversation that he was one of the few people we talk to that outwardly doesn’t buy the premise and wrote me off as an idealistic tree-hugger. Here’s how it went down. (Names and likely salient details have been changed to protect the innocent and for better storytelling.)

BlueShirt McManPurse: “If I really cared about that sort of thing, I could just go to the company website and look it up. I’m sure they have to disclose that sort of thing to sell into the U.S.”

Lee “got up at 5am to catch a plane so I’m grumpy” Kimball: “nuh-uh”

BSMcMP: “Excuse me?”

LRK: “I said, excellent point. You would think that’s true, but there are very few companies that try to provide that information, and most of those fail to provide full transparency.”

BSMcMP: (obviously writing me off as a biased witness & politely trying to end of conversation) “Interesting.”

LRK: (realizing the train has 25 more minutes and choosing to ignore overt social queues) “It IS interesting, you’re right. Try to find info on some info about what you’re wearing on that iPhone you’re engaged with instead of me.”

(LRK curses under breath when he notices BSMcMP slung a Patagonia raincoat over his murse, hoping he doesn’t pick that item because they do a decent job.  BSMcMP takes the bait, and luckily chooses his JCrew shirt. After a few minutes on our smart phones, neither of us find sufficient supply chain information.)

BSMcMP: “Wow, you’re right. this is amazing, here’s a million dollars to invest in Thread.”

… ok, maybe I’m misremembering some of those final details, but when we parted ways, I wanted to commit some real time to the exercise to see if the theory holds when given more time and effort.  THEN I realized we have two interns who also happen to be baby geniuses* from Carnegie Mellon. So even better, I committed their time instead of mine.

The assignment:

In 1/2 hour (seriously, go hide, turn off facebook, and set a timer): can you please find supply chain information for the following items to answer the questions:

-where was it made

-where did the material come from?

-any sustainability initiatives at the source?

-who made it (factory and any info about the people who work there)

-what were their conditions?

Their results are below. Seriously, they made a cool graphical presentation in Adobe Illustrator under their own initiative… I would have been happy with a snapchat* or scribbled piece of paper.  A for effort, Bremmy.

Summary: Big, common brands do not do a sufficient job telling consumers where their goods come from, who made them, and where the source material comes from. If only a company existed from which these brands could source… a company that could provide that information, as well as a huge social, environmental, and economic value to those that needed it most… hmmm…

* = Not actual babies, they just make me feel old by being in college and doing things like knowing what the heck Snapchat is.

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