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Haiti one year later: Got trash? Make thread.

One year after Haiti's devastating earthquake, Pittsburgh entrepreneurs aim to help Haitians turn garbage into high-performance fabric.

By Jeanette MulveyBusinessNewsDaily Managing Editor / January 12, 2011

In this Jan. 17, 2010 file photo, people walk down a street amid earthquake rubble in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A year later, Pittsburgh entrepreneurs want to help Haitians to turn garbage into high-performance apparel.

Gregory Bull/AP/File

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One year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, the country is still in the early stages of recovery. While financial aid, food and medical supplies have made it to the island nation, which is considered to be one of the poorest countries on earth, many argue that little has been done to improve Haiti’s long-term economic stability.

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A Pittsburgh-based group of entrepreneurs is trying to change that. Known as THREAD (The Haitian Redevelopment Directive), the organization is committed to building a factory that turns discarded plastic bottles into fabric for use in high-performance apparel. They hope the factory will be operational by year-end.

The Haitian factory, which plans to initially employ 10 to 15 workers and pay them a fair wage, would be able to supply the fabric to end users at a lower cost than companies located in other parts of the world, while providing jobs and a de facto sanitation system for Haiti’s people.

“I’ve been all over world,” said THREAD’s president and CEO Ian Rosenberger. “The two things I see most are poverty and trash.”

THREAD’s factory would address both problems. By paying locals to recycle their trash, while providing skilled jobs for Haitian citizens, the business would create an economic system that addresses the need for jobs, infrastructure and hope for the future development of Haiti into a country that can compete economically and stand on its own one day. It would also provide a roadmap for the birth of a business that could be used to build factories in other parts of Haiti and in other developing countries.

“There’s not a lot to restart economic engines in the developing world,” said Rosenberger, who works full-time as director of business development for the Pittsburgh-based advertising firm Strategic Images.

The technology to recycle plastic into fabric already exists. Companies such as Patagonia and Nike, already use fabric made from recycled plastic in their high-performance apparel.

The key to making the technology work in Haiti would be re-engineering the production process so it could be done in smaller factories.

“The technology exists,” said Rosenberger. “It’s just a matter of scaling it down, producing a bolt of fabric and getting it on someone’s desk.”

Rosenberger and the rest of the THREAD team — which is made up of business people, individuals from the nonprofit sector and educators — hopes to start raising money for the first THREAD factory this spring.