Beaver County native turning garbage into jobs at former Pittsburgh factory
Beaver County native Ian Rosenberger is turning garbage into jobs for local residents at an old Westinghouse factory in Homewood, one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods.
The founder and CEO of Thread International said the company is using recycled material — plastic bottles collected by workers in Haiti, Honduras and Taiwan — to create fabric for shoes, clothing and a new line of high-end backpacks that he plans to manufacture in Homewood. A native of Economy, Rosenberger, 37, is also known for a 2005 appearance on the reality show, Survivor.
Rosenberger founded Thread in 2012 and has been selling fabrics to the likes of Timberland, Reebok, Marmot and Aerie. In April, a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation allowed him to open a facility on the top floor of the former factory at 7800 Susquehanna St. in Homewood with the idea of manufacturing backpacks and other items there for retail sales. He said the company has so far recycled 40 million plastic bottles. The bottles are ground up into flakes and made into fabric.
“It’s like what if a company could create those products made entirely out of recyclable and sustainable materials and create jobs in a local community, and that’s where we started,” Rosenberger said Monday while giving Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto a tour of his facility. “We picked the backpack because we felt that was the first entrée into it.”
The backpacks and accompanying “cord pouches” are now available for sale on Kickstarter, which bills itself as the world’s largest crowdfunding platform for creative projects. They will be offered for sale to retail stores in 2019.
Backpacks are being manufactured in China, but Rosenberger said he plans to move the operation to Homewood. Local workers are making cord pouches onsite. It takes 25 plastic bottles to make a backpack.
“In August, we released to the general public for the first time,” Rosenberger said. “That went out on Kickstarter, which over the course of a day we hit our goal, which was originally $50,000 in sales. As of this morning, we’re at $410,000 in sales. It’s going to allow us to reinvest all of those dollars into the facility you see behind me and eventually to make all of our products right here in Pittsburgh.”
Thread is making large and small backpacks, which sell for $119 and $129, respectively, on Kickstarter. The cord pouches, made for storing electronic cords and equipment, cost $20.
Rosenberger said he employs 30 to 35 people at the Homewood factory, 12 of whom are Homewood residents. He declined to specify the wages, but said it’s “good pay” and the company offers each employee health care benefits and a 401k retirement plan.
“Thread’s the perfect example of how a sustainable company can create a mission to lessen the amount of pollution in third-world countries, but at the same time help people to have sustaining jobs with family wages right here at home.” Peduto said. “It’s how the new economy can help everyone.”
Rosenberger said he’s working on another product line for manufacture at the Homewood plant.
“But I’m not telling you,” he said, laughing. “We’re going to work really hard to make sure we can manufacture it here.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.