Branching Threads: a student's passion for the environment creates change

By Claire Desmarais | September 4, 2017 6:18pm

Ainsworth shows off his special Fourth of July Branching Threads t-shirt. 

Media Credit: Jeffrey Braccia / The Beacon

Surrounded by Sitka spruce trees and the Chilkat Mountains, Grant Ainsworth takes in the beauty of his hometown, Juneau, Alaska. But while he and his friends enjoy their home, something about it is changing: The Mendenhall Glacier is melting in their backyard. 

With the glacier melting as a result of warming global temperatures, Ainsworth, a junior economics major, does not want to see part of his home disappear. His impact on the environment didn’t occur to him until his freshman year environmental science class when he and his peers participated in a carbon footprint test.

The test calculated the participants' consumption of the earth's resources, and how many planets would be needed if every person on earth lived like them. Ainsworth explained most of his classmates calculated three or four earths for themselves. He calculated seven. 

“That’s when it hit home,” Ainsworth said. “Man, I’ve got to change something.”

And he did. During the spring semester of his sophomore year at the University of Portland, Ainsworth founded his own clothing company, Branching Threads. For every dollar in sales, Branching Threads plants a tree through Trees for the Future, a nonprofit company that plants trees in sub-Saharan Africa and empowers impoverished farmers. Ainsworth said he created Branching Threads to help make students more aware of how the clothes they buy impact the environment.

“It’s a movement or kind of a culture I’m trying to create,” Ainsworth said. 

Branching Threads sells two types of shirts made from bamboo. Ainsworth sources his merchandise from the manufacturers Alibaba and Alphabroder. Bamboo is sustainable because it continues to grow after it has been cut without having to replant. Ainsworth said the bamboo also creates a soft material that differs from common clothing materials like cotton or denim.

“If you’re able to have this clothing that is more environmentally friendly, more sustainable, but also crazy comfortable, why wouldn’t you do that?” Ainsworth said.

Branching Threads shirts also have a unique design. Bekka Ord, a friend of Ainsworth and studio art major at Macalester College in Minnesota, creates the designs for Branching Threads with the inspiration of her hometown, Juneau, Alaska. One shirt displays Sitka Spruce trees and the other shows a mountain range close to Ainsworth’s home. 

“I knew I wanted to have Alaskan landscapes,” Ainsworth said. “And the Chilkat mountains are just outside of Alaska and one of the prettiest things to look at.” 

Grant Ainsworth poses with his A Branching Threads t-shirts. 

by Jeffrey Braccia / The Beacon

Ainsworth worked all summer to buy the materials out of pocket for Branching Threads. Most of the revenue goes toward Trees for the Future and supplies for making the products. As of now, Ainsworth keeps little of the revenue for himself, which his friends find admirable. 

“Grant has a great sense of humor, very driven, spontaneous and can focus in when he has to get stuff done,” John Rousso, a friend of Ainsworth, said.

Ainsworth said that the drive he feels when working on Branching Threads stems from passion for the environment and the appreciation he feels toward his home state. 

For the future, Ainsworth sums up his goal in one word: happiness. He hopes to reach a point in his life when he can do what he loves and be happy, without needing a lot of money or “material goods.” He’d rather appreciate the simple things in life. Like Alaska’s beautiful landscapes. 

“I really identify with Alaska, and I think it’s just a place with so much natural beauty that I want to protect,” Ainsworth said.