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Little River company recognized by Coca-Cola for turning recycled plastic into apparel

Teressa Sinkler of bFIVE40

Teressa Sinkler, a seamstress with bFIVE40 in Little River, works on a corporate polo at the company's headquarters. bFIVE40 won a "Pitch Perfect" competition, sponsored by Coca-Cola, for the difference they are making through bringing modern brands sustainable alternatives.

LITTLE RIVER — Tucked off S.C. 90 among buildings with gray exterior walls, the rapid sound of sewing machines fill the lit offices of bFIVE40.

Team names and sponsor logos are being pressed on youth baseball jerseys in another room while the design of can koozies is being meticulously measured before being printed. On the surface, bFIVE40 — led by founder and CEO Donna Brin — is a typical printing shop. But bFIVE40, much like Brin, is anything but typical.

Brin and her company recently won the “Pitch Perfect” competition, sponsored by Coca-Cola, for the difference they are making through bringing modern brands sustainable alternatives.

The name bFIVE40 is a play on the power of dimensionality. A circle’s circumference is 360 degrees and when an object breaks that plane, it goes 540 degrees. Brin, a New York native, said she came up with the name to show that the 7-year-old company is about adding depth and that its customers are investing more than just buying a product, they’re investing in a company that believes in sustainability.

“Recycling has always been very important to me and so I wanted my business to reflect my own personal values,” Brin said.

In 2013, Brin began by making fabric coverings for inflatable stand-up punching bags that her boisterous young sons could grapple with. She took three prototypes of the biodegradable polyurethane inflatables with the fabric cover made from recycled plastic fibers to a toy show and had 500 sold in three days.

“I realized then that I had something,” Brin said.

By 2014, bFIVE40 started in Brin’s garage shortly after moving to the Grand Strand. She was filling orders from the likes of walmart.com, Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon and through their own ecommerce site. She then faced some manufacturing obstacles, and went from outsourcing the manufacturing to opening their own manufacturing facility in 2018.

The business was popping. It was working with Unifi — a Greensoro, N.C.-based company that is a leading provider of recycled fibers. Unifi collects plastic bottles and then breaks those bottles down into chips. The chips are then extruded into fibers and then the fibers are sold to fabric mills that produce the fabrics that bFIVE40 uses to create the products.

Both 2018 and 2019 were banner years for bFIVE40. And then COVID hit.

The business of banners, flags, table coverings and event signage came to a halt. Teams weren’t hitting the field, so jersey sales were down. So Brin was able to shift gears and make face masks and gaiters, of course with recycled materials, and secured a big contract with Dominion Energy. Then Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs hired bFIVE40 and sales of his masks and gaiters have raised more than $250,000 for his charity mikeroweWORKS. And Brin didn’t stop there, as she secured a contract to work with golfer Dustin Johnson to supply his golf school gear.

“Working with corporations, it becomes a big differentiator for us, as a company, because lots of people make banners and masks and custom apparel. But not everyone uses sustainable fabrics and not everyone works with Unifi who can substantiate the amount of sustainability in the products being produced,” Brin said.

And the lost art of sewing is certainly not lost within the walls of bFIVE40, which now employs 20 people. Brin also works alongside Horry Georgetown Technical College through a seamstress apprenticeship program that teaches students the art of sewing.

“It’s an exciting story,” she admits. “It’s a story that’s very deeply rooted in this community. It’s all about this community. It’s all about Little River and the impact we were able to make and continue to make on Little River and how much Little River has supported us.”

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