Charlotte Business Journal: How a SustainU is building business on fluff

Chris Yura calls it fluff.

That’s the material made from used plastic bottles and cotton scraps. Yura has built a company called SustainU that fashions the fluff into T-shirts in a new type of textile he’s producing in North Carolina.

SustainU’s shirts are made from discarded clothing, post-industrial textile scraps and a polyester thread made from recycled plastic bottles. Yura’s company contracts with manufacturers including Unifi Inc. in Greensboro, which melts the plastic into a usable yarn.

“It’s pretty amazing,” says Yura, founder and chief executive of SustainU. “They basically melt it down to a little ball and extrude it into yarn.”

SustainU also donates to nonprofits through clothing drives on college campuses. Yura says he’s collected about 16.2 tons of clothes through the program. This year so far, about 90 schools in 35 states have participated.

His company has private-label contracts to produce shirts for NASCAR and the Boy Scouts of America and he is signing licences to supply stores at universities and colleges across the country.

Last year, SustainU was producing about 2,000 shirts a month.

That has risen to 20,000, and Yura hopes to quadruple that figure next year.

The Morgantown, W.Va., native has set up the headquarters of SustainU in his hometown. But he’s established a 3,000-square-foot logistics center in Huntersville and is working with factories in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

Instead of outsourcing textile work overseas, he’s contracting with local yarn knitters and fabric producers, cutters and sewers.

Manufacturing and textiles are still alive in North Carolina, says Tony Crumbley, vice president of research at the Charlotte Chamber. Mecklenburg County is still the largest manufacturing employer in the state. The region claimed almost 58,000 manufacturing jobs last year. However, he notes the county claims only 18 textile and four apparel companies.

Kati Hynes, the chamber’s vice president for economic development, says local textile jobs have evolved for new applications.

“People say textiles are dead, but it’s still here in Mecklenburg,” she says. “It’s just more advanced. It’s become more high-tech like what (Yura) is doing.”

Yura says his journey into sustainable clothing originated in his days as a model. He says the best and worst part of the job was that other people thought he wasn’t paying attention. But he listened to how the executives bought fabric and paid factory workers — often at extremely low costs — and sold at incredible markups.

“I just soaked it all up,” he says. “I’d write things down and Google them later or go to the library.”

In 2009, he launched the company. His staff is about half a dozen, but the production work for his shirts supports more than 400 jobs.

“The grand scheme of SustainU is that the North Carolina region can really be revitalized by this technology,” he says. “There is so much pride and skill that goes into making clothes here. People want to work. The quality is impeccable.”

Source: Charlotte Business Journal