Timberland’s latest man-boots have an interesting backstory. Their canvas-like uppers are recycled from plastic bottles picked up from the beaches of Haiti.
The outdoor apparel brand gets the material from a social impact startup named Thread, which works with about 1,300 bottle pickers in Haiti. Timberland’s four boots, which build on a previous set of Thread-infused products, range from the Men’s 6-inch Canvas (price $150) to the more sporty Newport Bay Thread Canvas Chukka Boots ($75).
Thread breaks down the bottles into flakes, heats up the mixture, then passes it through an extruder, like water passing through a showerhead. It then rolls and bales up the threads, so they can be spun into fabric. The material is like polyester–after all, PET plastic, like polyester, comes from oil.
Colleen Vien, Timberland’s sustainability director, says Thread’s material is a little more expensive than a comparable fabric. But the expense is worth it as it allows the brand to tell a compelling story about the product’s provenance (see the video above featuring three trash-pickers).
Timberland has a long association with Haiti. Working with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and the Clinton Global Initiative, it’s planted millions of trees across the island, helping farmers increase incomes and lay down sustainable seed banks. Recently, it committed to buying organic cotton from Haiti in a unique blockchain-powered project.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a conversation with our consumers that we definitely feel it’s well worth the price,” she says. “We are an outdoor company and customers expect us to do things that minimize our footprint and protect the environment. Improving people’s lives is beyond what’s expected–that’s what gets people’s attention.”