"Thread has gone from an idea in Pittsburgh to a company employing people around the world.”
In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Ian Rosenberger wanted to do something to help. A native of Ambridge, Beaver County and a Penn Stater who worked in TV production in New York, he had an opportunity to travel to Haiti soon after the quake. The volume of trash in the streets, much of it plastic bottles, astounded him – and gave him an idea that became Thread International.
Since its 2011 launch, Thread has created employment opportunities for nearly 4,000 Haitians (and also Hondurans) who collect plastic bottles for transport to in-country recycling facilities. There, the bottles are converted into plastic flake that are shipped to North Carolina mills for conversion into a variety of yarns and fabrics, including high-end performance materials used by international brands like Kenneth Cole and Timberland. In mid-2017 Thread began partnering with HP to supply plastic for the computer giant’s ink cartridges, its first foray beyond textiles.
“It’s been amazing to see something go from an idea in Pittsburgh to a company that has employees around the world and continues to grow,” says Rosenberger, who divides his time between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, NY when not traveling.
The team in Thread’s East Liberty headquarters is a dynamic mix of people excited about making a global impact. Ben Pawsey, a native of Bristol, England who earned a degree in industrial design at Brunel University, met Ian during a startup competition devoted to environmental sustainability that he was leading. Ian tapped him for Thread’s creative director job a few years later. “I knew I wanted to spend my career working on global challenges,” Ben says. “With Thread, we are not only doing less harm but creating positive impacts in the creation of products. It’s a great feeling.”
The region appeals to Ben and his wife, a San Francisco native. “Pittsburgh is more aligned with who we are as people,” he says. “We’re not ‘keep up with the Jones’ ‘people. We were about to start a family and we wanted to be in a place we could afford and that felt welcoming with cultural diversity and opportunities. Pittsburgh is a place we knew we could flourish.”
Kelsey Halling is part of the founding team, now director of impact and sales. She enjoys using her business smarts to solve real-world issues. “We focus on measuring the effect we have on people, planet and profit at every step of our supply chain. I travel quite a bit to Haiti and Honduras for production and across the U.S. to ensure that brands understand the value of using Thread material. When they share that story, it increases their marketability and our impact.” Kelsey was also part of the 2014 team that ran 230 miles across Haiti to raise money for Team Tassy, a partner organization that helps prepare Haitians for employment. “It was the best thing I never want to do again,” she says, of the now-annual event.
Kelsey relishes the mental challenge of being a part of a startup. “I’m constantly learning and growing,” she says. “There are always new things to explore -- across different countries, cultures and languages.” A Philadelphian who came to east to earn a business degree at the University of Pittsburgh, she was in love with the city by her sophomore year, and resolved to stay.
“The cultural offerings for a city this size are pretty astounding, if you like the ballet or the symphony -- and even if you think you don’t -- you can buy a ticket for $15 and see if you might change your mind. In many cities, that’s not an affordable option.”