Commitment to sustainability breathes life into partnership to create face-mask accessory

April 21, 2021
Three companies devoted to recycling come together to produce a frame designed to make face masks more comfortable and effective; proceeds from sales benefit ocean cleanups.

A partnership involving three companies has given birth to a new product that is designed to protect human health and provides benefits to the planet, too.   

Start-up Breathewire LLC, Mequon, Wis., launched last year with the goal of making cloth face masks fit better. Its solution — a plastic support frame — contours against the face, creating a seal that the company hopes will better inhibit virus transmission.

To distribute frames, Breathewire chose 4ocean, a for-profit company that recycles resin recovered from cleanups funded by some of the profits of its sales of products that include bracelets and water bottles. Sussex IM, a molder committed to using recycled resin, is making the frames.  

The partners agree that the frames are a product that can make a difference — even as the world embarks on an arduous climb out of the depths of the pandemic.   

“The 4ocean face-mask support-frame sales have helped fund the recovery of hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash from the ocean, rivers and coastlines globally, said Tim Bender, VP of brand for 4ocean, which funds the removal of 1 pound of trash from waterways for each four-frame pack it sells.   

Doing good is an important part of Breathewire’s mission, said Brian Davis, the company’s CEO. 

“Our target for Breathewire is to be good for peoples lives,” Davis said. “We take that responsibility seriously and wanted a product solution that is part of the full-circle sustainable ecosystem.  As such, we have a fully Green Circle-audited material process utilizing 4ocean ocean plastic blended with 100-percent post-consumer recycled plastic.”  

4ocean recycles the plastic it removes from waterways, turning it into the resin that Sussex IM uses to make Breathewire’s frame.  

The Sussex, Wis.-based custom molder’s comfort with using recycled resins was just one of the advantages it offered to Breathewire when the company went looking for a manufacturer. It also supported the startup with a plethora of other services, helping with design, tooling, processing standards and logistics.  

“Sussex IM’s commitment to growing production capability in recycled resins is a reflection of the company’s mission to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Corey Jacak, a Sussex IM sales engineer. “Many injection molders have the capability, but few the willingness to commit resources to assist in developing the concept to a production-ready part.”  

According to Alex Schulze, co-founder and CEO of 4ocean, Breathewire and Sussex IM’s use of recycled resin made them appealing partners for his company.  

He was inspired to create 4ocean with fellow Florida native Andrew Cooper after the two of them took a surfing trip to Bali, Indonesia, in 2015. On trash-clogged beaches, they confronted firsthand the enormity of the ocean plastic problem.  

BreatheWire offered us an opportunity to make a useful product made from 100
percent post-consumer recycled plastic, including 50 percent recovered 4ocean plastic. Right now, were all wearing masks, and this product benefits everyone,” Schulze said. 

Beside the Breathewire mask frames, 4ocean also sells bracelets, water bottles and other products. Since 2017, its full-time sea captains and crews have removed 14 million pounds of plastic from the world’s oceans.  

While 4ocean combats one crisis, the world awaits the resolution of the pandemic. Davis said Breathewire anticipates the world’s demand for masks will persist.   

“In Asia, masks have persisted for 20 years following the initial SARS outbreak. We believe that, although mask use will drastically reduce following the pandemic (and we look forward to the pandemic coming to a close), many people will find masks useful in their life for many years following,” he said.  

Breathewire’s project is a win-win, according to the partners.   

BreatheWire needed a partner that can spread the word about how great the product is to the market. In 4ocean, we were able to connect on many levels, and they bring vertically integrated distribution and fulfillment capabilities, strong ecommerce platforms, and, most importantlyrecycled ocean plastic supply and global cleanup operations. Together with 4ocean, the Breathewire product is directly contributing to sustainability around the world,” Davis said.    

Karen Hanna, associate editor

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Sussex IM, Sussex, Wis., 262-246-8022,