This Tennessee startup is leading the denim industry’s green revolution

Launch Tennessee
Oct 15 · 3 min read

Season 2 of Disrupt the Continuum kicks off with Stony Creek Colors founder Sarah Bellos. In a conversation with Kevin Roddey of Pinnacle Financial Partners, she shares how her company is bringing sustainable agriculture to commercial fashion.

Sarah Bellos, live at 36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival

As founder and CEO of natural dye manufacturer Stony Creek Colors, Sarah Bellos believes the fashion industry is due for a revolution.

“The clothing that we wear and the colors that are part of our everyday life should be clean and nontoxic and from a transparent and traceable supply chain,” she shared with Kevin Roddey, Pinnacle Financial Partners senior VP. In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, Bellos discusses scaling her startup and how LaunchTN connected her with a vital network of resources to help her company grow.

Scaling for mass production

Stony Creek Colors’ key product is natural indigo, an organic blue dye made from indigo plants, which replace the synthetic dyes currently used in the denim industry.

“Synthetic dyes have completely permeated the industry because they’re easy to use and they’re very widely available,” Bellos explained. But they’re created using toxic chemicals, she said, “including cyanide, formaldehyde, and benzine.”

To accomplish her goal of using only natural plant products, Bellos knew she needed to first invest in the agriculture that would provide for it. To do this she turned to local farmers. “When we were designing the business model, we knew we really wanted to lower the barriers for farmers to get into growing an alternative crop,” she said. Stony Creek Colors provides farmers with indigo seeds, then harvests the plants and processes them in their factory.

This approach has helped Stony Creek Colors find success in the marketplace. Today, they produce natural indigo dye for brands like Levi’s, Wrangler, Patagonia, and Lucky Brand.

“The brands that we’re working with really recognize the long game,” Bellos said. “We can’t continue to pump fossil fuels out of the earth’s core and use them for producing chemicals that we could otherwise get from renewable resources. Really, in the big picture, that’s what we’re fundamentally out to change.”

Connecting with the LaunchTN ecosystem

Bellos points to LaunchTN as instrumental to her company’s growth. “When we got into the LaunchTN ecosystem, it really helped us to think more broadly about how we could scale a company,” she said.

After completing a 2013 accelerator program sponsored by LaunchTN, one of the most crucial resources Bellos found was a supportive community of entrepreneurs. “Resources really are first and foremost peers going through the same growth stage as your company,” she emphasized. “So that’s really one of the benefits, when we went through The TENN, for example, or Village Capital ag cohort.”

“There’s really, in my experience, nothing like being able to pick up the phone and call a fellow entrepreneur.”

To hear these stories and more, subscribe to Disrupt the Continuum wherever you get your podcasts. This season of Disrupt the Continuum is powered by Pinnacle Financial Partners. To learn more about LaunchTN programming and events, visit launchtn.org.

Launch Tennessee

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