FALL 2021

From Trash to Thread

The sustainable impact a Pitt Business alumna is making worldwide

// Alumni Feature

Kelsey Halling
Head of Partnerships
First Mile
BSBA ‘09

In 2011, Kelsey Halling (BSBA ’09) joined a founding team at Thread International that focused on transforming waste collected in underserved communities into income opportunities and products that people love. In the 10 years since, her team has grown the business to work with multinational brands and source-recycled material from Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan, while keeping their headquarters in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

The idea for Thread International started when their CEO, Ian Rosenberger, went to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake for relief work. His first journal entry during that time became the foundation for the business model— “taking waste and turning it into jobs and useful stuff.”

Halling serves as the head of partnerships for First Mile, an initiative between Thread International and WORK, where she helps global brands make better products by connecting them with recycled materials. Her team leads the development and execution of product supply chains from Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan to the U.S. that are both human-centered and more profitable.


Halling at a recycling partner site in Port au Prince, Haiti.

“I’m able to work directly with our brand partners to help them understand the impact that they’re having by using these recycled materials and how they can tell that story to their consumers,” says Halling.


The recycling process

“First Mile got its name from the fact that we work directly with the waste reclamation network,” says Halling. “So, the individuals and small businesses are responsible for actually picking up the plastic material and keeping it from ending up in oceans or landfills. We’re able to provide insight and transparency all the way down to that level of the supply chain—the very first mile of recycling supply chains.”

Halling’s team, which is based all over the world, oversees the different points of the supply chain, as well as the waste collection networks made up of the men and women picking up and sorting the recyclables—a part of the supply chain that is often overlooked. She also works closely with the company’s brand partners, which include HP, Puma, Aerie, Day Owl, and Ralph Lauren. 

“I’m able to work directly with our brand partners to help them understand the impact that they’re having by using these recycled materials and how they can tell that story to their consumers,” says Halling. 

Not only does Halling’s team oversee the supply chain and operations of First Mile but they’ve been in the trenches dealing with ocean-bound plastic for more than 10 years. First Mile considers its team to be global experts on human-powered ocean-bound plastic chains and have helped their clients divert more than 110 million plastic bottles from their supply chains. 

Her team has been focused on strategy to help their brand partners develop plans to hit 2025 and 2030 sustainability goals. And in 2021, First Mile will be expanding to five new countries to support income opportunities around the world with a mission to help their international employees out of poverty through good, dignified jobs.

Trash collection in Taiwan

A collector brings recycled materials via scooter to be weighed and sold at a collection center in Hualien.


Professor Ray Jones

Halling’s interest in ethical business practices and sustainability initiatives goes back to her time as an undergraduate student at the College of Business Administration, where her participation in the Certificate Program in Leadership and Ethics (CPLE) gave her the opportunity to explore more non-traditional business experiences and internship opportunities.

Halling believes that her participation in CPLE, combined with Professor Ray Jones’ enthusiasm and teaching style, made her a more engaged student and provided her with the opportunity to learn and practice skills she still relies on today.

“It was through Ray’s network that I was introduced to the organization where I had my first professional internship opportunity, which led to a job offer upon graduation,” says Halling. “However, it is my time since graduating where I feel Ray and the Berg Center have made even more substantial contributions to my professional role.”

As an alumna, Halling has been actively involved in giving back to Pitt Business through the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, led by Jones, and the Center for Sustainable Business, led by Professor CB Bhattacharya.

She has worked on projects with CPLE classes through their service learning courses, as well as with graduate students through the Woodcock Fellowship at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Halling’s company has consistently hosted undergraduate summer interns year after year who are interested in less traditional internship opportunities.

“Kelsey has been an engaging mentor for our students,” says Jones. “She is always highly motivated to include our students in the new and interesting work being done at Thread and First Mile. Kelsey puts them right out in front of cutting-edge issues like emerging global partnerships, making a business case for sustainable products, and pushing for attention to ethical concerns throughout a company’s supply chain.”

Halling believes that having access to high-performing interns has been an investment in her company that she hopes to continue by offering professional development opportunities for current and future Pitt Business students.

“As a student, having faculty that connected us with opportunities and businesses outside of the traditional corporate finance and accounting opportunities enriched my education and helped inform my career choices,” says Halling. “As a business owner, being able to work with this level of talent and provide learning opportunities is personally rewarding, as well as valuable to my company.


Haiti trash collection

Nadine Phillipe is a recycling collection center owner in Les Cayes, Haiti. She has been working in recycling since 2012, and now runs four collection centers.