Phil Pastore, founder and managing director of GlobEcoMaine LLC, knew he had a good idea when he realized wood pulp could be made into strong cloth that was biodegradable.
Pastore had experience working with specialized materials at his former company, Fiber Materials Inc. of Biddeford, which makes strong composites for space craft and other high-tech applications. He knew strong materials could be applied to more common settings, like the kitchen.
He founded GlobEco in 2014 and started selling cloth made from biodegradable wood fiber in July 2015, backed by a $240,000 Community Development Block Grant that was matched by more than $300,000 from CEI.
He says a package containing two of GlobEco's Durafresh 9-1/2-by-11-inch cleaning cloths can replace 40 rolls of paper towels. The idea for an illustration on the product's packaging came from a demonstration at Whole Foods in Portland.
The company, with offices in Scarborough and Dover-Foxcroft, now sells the cloths, which average about $5.49 per package, in 1,400 stores, including Hannaford, Paris Farmers Union, True Value and Wegmans. That's up from 100 stores nine months ago. Revenue is under $500,000, and the company is not yet profitable. It has eight full-time employees.
The challenge for Pastore and Jeff Laniewski, chief operations officer, who also has an extensive background in materials at former company Tex Tech Industries Inc. of Portland, is to grow by bringing most of the production for the cloths to Maine. They currently use trees from Canada that are shipped to Vietnam for pulping and then other parts of Asia to be woven and spun into material before they are finished in the company's Dover-Foxcroft factory.
Pastore and Laniewski recently talked to Mainebiz about future products and plans to move more of the business to Maine. An edited transcript follows.
Mainebiz: What stimulated the move to Maine?
Phil Pastore: One example is Walmart, which came to us for a production order and offered us less money than our cost in Asia. Our supplier there said if they used Asian trees [to trim costs], those are laden with chemicals and the product would be of lesser quality. We're moving some of the fabric here now. We have an opportunity to grow our supply chain so it is U.S.-based rather than offshore.
MB: Are you talking to local companies?
Jeff Laniewski: Yes, we want to do the cutting, sewing and packaging here as well as the spinning and weaving. We were talking with True Textiles Inc. of Guilford to produce the cloth, but they were taken over by Duvaltex Inc., [a holding company based in Quebec, Canada]. We'll meet with them in April. We also are talking to a private investor who is a large land owner who would like us to use their trees. I can't say who. The closest pulping/dissolving facility is in New Brunswick, Canada, 18 miles from Houlton, which we could use instead of doing that in Asia.
MB: Is there other funding behind the company?
PP: We've raised more than $1 million so far, including from CEI and the CDBG. But we're working now with the Northern Forest Center on a $1.94 million New Market Tax Credit for which we also have to raise $1 million in equity. We'll start this over the next four to six months.
MB: What distinguishes your cloth from a sponge or paper towel?
PP: It's biodegradable, which means it degrades to dust in 12 to 16 weeks in a compost pile. And it rinses 99.9% clean. A sponge only rinses 15% to 20%, which means a lot of dirt remains in it. And compared to 40 rolls of paper towels, you only need two cloths that you can reuse and reuse. There's a $10 billion primary market now in the United States for cleaning and sponge wipes.
MB: Any other expansion plans?
PP: We'll go into new markets like cruise ships and hospitality. We plan to make an antimicrobial version.
JL: We'd like to grow into being active in the commercial arena, to help other bio-based companies in Maine.