Wednesday 16 March 2016

The Mensch of Malden

When the girls Dau.I and Dau.II were little and still living at home, ALDIDL would periodically sell blankets of polyester fleece under the trade-name Merediso.  They were brightly coloured, super-warm and very cheap, so I bought them each a blanket to wrap up in while they were educating themselves sitting on the sofa watching Masterchef.  We have a stack of them now; red blue and brown but I never thought to enquire what they were made of or where they came from.
Well it turns out that fleece was invented in 1979 by a company called Malden Mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  They took an existing thermoplastic called polyethylene terephthalate [Above for structure] and extruded it as an ultrafine fibre that could be woven into fabric. The company called it Polartec and marketed it as a synthetic wool: water-repellent, with good TOG value for its weight and capable of taking colourful dyes. It was wildly successful and helped make PET one of the most widely produced polymer/plastics in the world, in megatonnage only exceeded by polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  Aaron Feuerstein, the 3rd generation CEO of Malden Mills refused to patent the process because he felt it was immoral to profit excessively from such a wonderful invention. For those god-hating readers, I put it to you that religious belief is not without value. Feuerstein was a regular reader of the Torah and took his moral compass direct from the word of god: "You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he's poor and he's needy . . ."  He continued to make the stuff and make a lot of it, making himself wealthy and his 3,000 employees comfortable  . . . until one night in December 1995 the mill went up in smoke in a huge conflagration that vaporised the building and everything in it.  Feuerstein didn't use this as an opportunity to shift his manufacturing base to Bangladesh and slash his wage-bill.  On the contrary he called an employee meeting and pledged to keep everyone on full pay for 30 days; and then another 30 days, until the factory was rebuilt and back in production. These 'non-productive' wages cost him and the balance sheet at least $25 million. Rebuilding the factory as a going concern cost $300m insurance + $100m borrowings.

An interviewer asked him why he continued to pay the employees when there was no factory, let alone no product.  "Surely the correct business decision for a 70 year old guy is to take the $300 million insurance pay-out and retire?"
Feuerstein replied "What would I do with the money? Eat more??"  I guess you could call him, like Nicholas Winton, a Mensch.

Although most (60%) of the PET polymer produced finishes up in fabrics like Merediso - trade names include Dacron [US], Terylene [UK] & лавсан [USSR] a further 30% is used to make bottles for water and fizzy drinks.  Unless the manufacturing process is rigorously quality-controlled QC, acetaldehyde can be generated as a by-product and this dissolves in the molten plastic when it is blown into the bottle moulds.  No problem in most cases, but the market for bottled water is so enormous now that QC can get a little slack and you may well have noticed a sort of guck taste off cheap bottled water as it approaches its sell-by date - the acetaldehyde is leaching back into the water. This is one reason why fashion-accessory water is often marketed with a Hint of Lime/ Orange/ Guava/ Kumquat to mask the off-taste.  Bottled water is the biggest scam that ever duped the gullible: €1 a bottle when a generous glass of Chateau Tap costs 0.1c. The €1 subsumes the cost of manufacture and disposal of the container and having paid for it, most people have no compunction in firing the empty bottle out of the car-window as it passes over a bridge. Bottle goes bob bob bobbin' along until it reaches the sea where it rubs shoulders with millions of its sort in one or other of the Ocean Gyres.

1 comment:

  1. spent the morning gathering up lots of drink bottles from Woodstown beach, it was fun doing it as part of a group, it would be more fun walking it without having to clean up after our neighbours!