Let’s face it, many of us collect T-shirts, often unintentionally. We get them at school events, road races, fundraisers and as travel souvenirs. Those T-shirts may be valuable to us because of the memories associated with them, but oftentimes sit unworn. To keep these T-shirts from going to waste, Project Repat, a Massachusetts-based company, takes your old t-shirts and turns them into blankets.
The company’s founders, Nathan Rothstein and Ross Lohr, began upcycling T-shirts after Lohr was doing overseas development work and witnessed how many American T-shirts wind up in markets in East Africa.
“When you’re there, you see the American excess,” Rothstein said of his partner’s experience. “[This secondhand clothing] plays into a market, but it also prevents those countries from developing a textile industry. The idea of where all the T-shirts wind up, it was definitely inspiration for us. We thought about how we prevent all those T-shirts from either getting dumped in landfills or getting shipped back overseas.”
Currently, 97 percent of T-shirts in the United States are made elsewhere, according to Rothstein, so he and his partner wanted to find a way to create fair wage jobs out of T-shirts that were often manufactured abroad in non-living wage conditions.
The company manufactures all their T-shirt blankets in Massachusetts and they have teamed up with a new manufacturing business called 99 Degrees Custom of Lawrence, Mass. for a Kickstarter campaign that runs through June 6. As part of the collaboration, 99 Degrees Custom will make Project Repat’s new products, which include T-shirt tote bags, ties, laptop cases and baby onesies, in addition to some of their classic T-shirt blankets. Rothstein and Lohr wanted to help out a local entrepreneur whose business model will empower workers, while also repatriating textile manufacturing jobs, and this collaboration will allow them to do that.
Project Repat also chooses to manufacture their products locally because it wouldn’t make sense to do it anywhere else.
“The product is made of people’s prized memories, so they’re not going to allow us to ship them to China and then ship them back,” Rothstein explained. Additionally, using people’s memories as material gives manufacturing employees incentive to make the product as good as possible.
So far, Project Repat has upcycled over 150,000 T-shirts into blankets.
After a customer orders a T-shirt blanket on the website, Project Repat sends the customer a prepaid envelope to put shirts in and drop off at the post office. Because of the Kickstarter campaign and collaboration with 99 Degrees Custom, a wider range of products will also be available in the future.
Visit the company’s Kickstarter campaign to learn more about how you can preserve your T-shirt memories and American manufacturing at the same time.
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