The Story of How One Company is Making the World a Better Place One Textile at a Time

Sustainable Threads

1. No Poverty 2. Zero Hunger 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Overview

Sustainable Threads is a social enterprise in which the innovation is the entirety of the business model. The Sustainable Threads business model unites disadvantaged artisans including physically disabled individuals, survivors of domestic violence, and socially marginalized tribal communities with opportunities that are provided by the company’s founders, Poonam Abbi and Harish Hathiramani. They all collaborate to co-design the collection of products, marrying the modern aesthetic with traditional art techniques and textiles, to create a beautiful and original product. The business model creates the chance for the artisan partners to connect with opportunities that help them thrive in the world that they live in.

Authors

Julia Pikaart

Julia Pikaart

Christian Capuano

Christian Capuano

Eric Martinez

Eric Martinez

Liam Kelleher

Liam Kelleher

Katarzyna Kasztelan

Katarzyna Kasztelan

Ernest Goldberg

Ernest Goldberg

School

Fairleigh Dickinson University Silberman College of Business

Fairleigh Dickinson University Silberman College of Business

Professor

Gerard Farias

Gerard Farias

Innovation

Sustainable Threads is a social enterprise, a “social good project”, which produces fabric goods, such as napkins, table runners, placemats, kitchen towels, handkerchiefs, among other things, all produced under the Fair Trade standards. They are also a part of Green America, which is a non-profit organization that promotes environmentally aware, ethical consumerism. They exclusively promote fair trade, handmade products made with natural fibers, and in addition work in partnership with disadvantaged artisans including physically disabled individuals, survivors of domestic violence, and socially marginalized tribal communities. Disadvantaged women are a big portion of the workforce as well. They all collaborate to co-design the collection of products, marrying the modern aesthetic with traditional art techniques and textiles, to create a beautiful and original product. The business model creates the chance for the artisan partners to connect with opportunities that help them thrive in the world that they live in. This provides them the occasion to make long-term trade relationships, provide design inputs, maintain safe working conditions. This is all aimed at helping them improve their financial circumstances and self-esteem. The business offers high quality designed products to the retail partners and markets of Sustainable Threads products. The collective nature of this work enables people to come together, share their differences and also impact other dimensions of their life in a positive and new way.

The Sustainable Threads business model and the business itself is an innovation. The partnership between the artisans and the owners is unique and a great partnership of connecting strengths to work towards a shared project. Poonam said “Lending some support to these groups is our biggest contribution. This has been something that has helped us and helped them.” The mutually beneficial relationship is phenomenally beneficial to both parties, and it creates opportunities that would have otherwise not existed. The idea of working together is innovative in the sense because it brings together skilled artisans who are looking for opportunities with creative and savvy minded individuals that provide these opportunities. “We are making the bridges, as you will, for people who do not have the opportunity to do so for themselves.” The business model is also innovative because it connects the world and makes one corner of the globe directly connected to another part of the world.

The innovation emerged from the combined experiences and knowledge of Poonam Abbi and her husband Harish Hathiramani, which are vast and very specific.Their passion for rural development, entrepreneurship and social justice brought about an idea that turned into Sustainable Threads. Sustainable Threads works in partnership with disadvantaged artisans including physically disabled individuals, survivors of domestic violence, and socially marginalized tribal communities. Harish has more than 25 years of experience in merchandising and marketing. His previous work assignments took him to various parts of the globe, so this has opened his eyes to the opportunities that are available and how other people live. He has a Master’s degree in Business Administration. For Harish, this business is a way to find new and different ways to apply his experience to make a meaningful difference in the world.

Poonam is a trained social worker. She has been involved with the development sector in India for about 22 years, and the situations she saw inspired her to find a way to help these communities. Poonam has hands-on experience of living and working with the members of village communities, and knew that they were skilled, but needed something that would work for them. These communities needed a good source of income to strive and survive. Rural India is very vast and some weather conditions can ruin the income of a community for a long time. She also partners with the village groups by sourcing their products for Sustainable Threads. For her, Sustainable Threads is an extension of her interest and passion in social development, and the core of the business is to cultivate long term Fair Trade relationships with the artisans and artisan cooperatives. Poonam emphasized that they would like to expand and give more opportunities to these people. “We are very small in terms of scale, we work with 600 artisans and they are in the 12 cooperatives.” This is the sense of meaning and mission. Sustainable Threads provides a voice and strength to these artisans. “Us being a part of Fair Trade and Green America is a large part of giving a voice”, Poonam said, and she highlighted the fact that this business is a “social good project” in which there is the ability to do good for others, for themselves, as well as do good for the planet.

The Story of How One Company is Making the World a Better Place One Textile at a Time

Inspiration

The idea for Sustainable Threads came about through the work that founder Poonam Abbi and her husband, Harish Hathiramani, have done for the development of rural India. Poonam’s background as a social worker and volunteer for Seva Mandir, which is an organization that works in rural and tribal villages in India, along with Harish’s background in global merchandising and marketing, allowed for Sustainable Threads to become the perfect mix of their two passions and careers.

The purpose for creating Sustainable Threads was really to give back and do some good in communities that needed help with development and social justice, all while creating a profitable business. They wanted to be able to create a type of entrepreneurship for the artisans who are disadvantaged in some way either physically, mentally, or socially. Sustainable Threads is a way for these people to have a steady income, safe working environment, and foster long-term bonds for opportunities. On top of all of these wonderful reasons, gorgeous, high-quality products are also made and sold to consumers who will definitely be satisfied, not only because of the beauty, but because of the responsible shopping choice they made.

A beautiful story that Poonam shared in our interview with her was one that left an impact on all of us and really explained the power this company has to do good and change lives. Poonam described how in the remote, tribal areas in northwest India they are very prone to monsoons and flooding. Some people may be land owners, but if a monsoon destroys their land it can be unusable for up to twenty years. By partnering with artisans in these remote areas, the income from Sustainable Threads orders provide for their livelihood for four months out of the year. Poonam explained how this motivates her to continue as she said, “That kind of contribution comforted me with the idea that however small we are [as a company], in somebody’s life it is important and big.” Due to the floods and other uncertainties that can sometimes delay shipments of the products, Poonam explained how that can sometimes feel like things are out of her control and can be discouraging. However, when she remembers the impact they make on the lives of artisans it inspires her to get through it. She even said that about 70% of their customers work with them and understand the challenges that might possibly come with working with these artisans, however they are outweighed by the rewards of sustainable and fair trade shopping. Sustainable Threads will always accept the orders from the artisans even if deadlines have passed.

Overall impact

Sustainable Threads really focuses on their impact on society and the environment. For society they open up jobs for many artisans who do not have to travel to do work. They hire local artisans which gives artisans a chance to generate an income for themselves without the hassle of traveling to a larger city to find a job or sell their goods. Not only that but they will train individuals to become artisans and give them the necessary skills to become part of their group. Not only that, they treat their artisans well by giving them up to a 50% advance to buy the materials so they do not have to worry about coming up with sufficient funds to produce their order. Sustainable Threads really tries to create a positive impact on their artisans. Not only that, they do not sell to a mass market, they focus on individuals who may not necessarily have access to the goods they sell, they want to get their product out to those who cannot access them.

Sustainable Threads also really cares about the environment. They are a certified fair trade company. They only use natural materials and fabrics in order to create their products and use recycled materials in order to package their goods. Also, they always try to minimize their output so they do not mass manufacture and only use their artisans to fulfill their orders.

Sustainable Threads was founded on the basis of sustainability for the environment and society. They did not go into business to mass manufacture their product but to make their goods special and with a green label. Since they were founded 10 years ago they hope their business will grow as time goes on.

Sustainable Threads is committed to cultivating long term trade relationships with low income artisans in India. They strive to help those who face challenges, aspiring to provide them fair wages, larger markets, and certain livelihoods. They focus on the effects of social sustainability dealing with the short- and long-term effects on low income artisan communities in India, creating opportunities and never before possibilities for these artisans and their families. These short- and long-term effects can be seen by the concrete evidence provided by the Fair Trade Federation (FTF). Every business that is Part of the FTF has to be eligible for it through their eligibility requirements which require these organizations to have all products in compliance with all nine FTF principles, and fair trade must be part of the applicants organizational mission, structure and daily operations. Members must also report their sales to a taxing authority in the USA/Canada and have an operational presence. The concrete evidence of this occurring also came from Poonam Abbi herself during our interview. She mentioned the connection between Sustainable threads and their artisans, she said it is unlike other companies they’re one big family and they know keep in contact. They care for them, during times of storms and monsoons she keeps in contact with the families to make sure everyone is safe, the relationships are different and prove that their work provides beneficial effects to these communities.

Business benefit

The business benefit that is provided to Sustainable threads through their sustainable efforts include an organic product label as well as the ability to use unique textile styles from individuals. Sustainable Threads is able to market their products on these differentiators compared to most textiles. Provided that all products are organic and sustainable the Sustainable Threads will be able to charge more for their products compared to traditional mainstream manufactured products. Because of the unique textile styles coming from artisans all over the world Sustainable Threads will have fresh products routinely that couldn’t be found in any ordinary store.

Social and environmental benefit

Sustainable threads is a certified fair trade company that does more than pay fair wages, they support their producers in many other ways. For example, when an order is placed sustainable threads will give the artisan assigned to the order a 50% advance in order to give them a starting point, without this advance many of the artisans wouldn't be able to work due to a lack of funds for materials. Once these orders are shipped and reach their destination Sustainable Threads shares any reviews and praise the product received in order to give the artisian a sense of pride for their work. Sustainable threads dedication to the community can also be seen through the acts of teaching people new skills to give them the opportunity to work over someone who has the natural talents or skills already. Many of their disabled artisans needed to be taught skills such as weaving, printing or carpentry depending on their abilities and restrictions giving them the opportunity to earn where they couldn't before. Even once the workers grow older and can no longer word Sustainable threads continues to support their previous workers with a pension like system where a certain percentage of earnings goes to those who can no longer work to keep them on their feet. Even though Sustainable Threads is more focused on social impact they do also use natural materials and fabrics as well as recycled materials for their packaging doing their part environmentally as well.

Interview

Poonam Abbi, CEO

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Sustainable Threads

Sustainable Threads

North Brunswick, New Jersey, US

Business Website: https://sustainablethreads.com/

Year Founded: 2008

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Sustainable Threads is a textile business that deals exclusively in handmade products by local artisans in India using natural fibers and is Fair Trade and Green America Certified.