Labor Day: Project Repat

Yesterday, in the process of cleaning out my closet and donating a bunch of old clothes, I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: got going creating a t-shirt quilt for my old “sentimental” t-shirts.  I’m a bit of a t-shirt hoarder, especially when it comes to shirts that memorialize some special place or time in my life.  I’ve got shirts from basketball tournaments in high school, the video rental store where I worked in high school (long gone), the restaurant I worked one summer during college (also out of business now), bachelor parties, Clarence’s 40th birthday, from the “Free Bieber” campaign during the SOPA/PIPA protests, etc.  Lots and lots of shirts.  I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, and I also never wear almost all of them.

Step in Project Repat — as the name suggests their mission is to re-patriate textile jobs.  And the way they do it is by recycling people’s old t-shirts into quilts.  They’ve got two factories in the US (one in VA and one in MA), where they employ full-time factory workers who convert sentimental (but useless) piles of old shirts into useful and even more sentimental and actually useful quilts.  The quilts are the output, but the mission is really about creating high quality textile jobs here in the US.

Of course, this is a relatively niche business and a niche product, but they’ve scaled nicely, and according their website, have made over 175,000 quilts since 2012:

Project Repat co-founder Nathan Rothstein lays out some of their philosophy of building a successful online business — that’s appealing to consumers, competitive in the midst of Amazon, and fair to workers — in this post.

Clearly, t-shirt quilts are not the complete answer to bringing quality labor back to the US, but Project Repat seems to be doing a great job finding a niche where they can offer something unique and really excel.

   

  • LE

    I will tell you the psychological underpinnings of why this type of project works.

    People ‘hoaders’ (we all are generally) have a whole bunch of things that they don’t want to get rid of because they think they might need it some day and/or (as in your case) there is some sentimental value to those goods. Or both. I have an entire rear room in my office. So many items back there are really stupid to keep around. Like the rs232 breakout box when will I ever need that???

    As such taking your old tshirts and putting them into a quilt solves a few problems. It creates a somewhat useful end product (all neat that you can fold up and store) and it gets rid of clutter. Without making you feel bad for getting rid of something that you think might have value.

    This is also one of the reasons people have garage sales. They will sit all day to make a few hundred dollars if that. It just seems better than throwing things out. That seems wasteful. I am talking about people that don’t need the hundred dollars also. Not people who do. They might sell because they need money.

    If I have an old iphone worth $85 dollars I will never throw it away. But I might sell it on ebay for $85 even though my time is really better spent not selling it. With posting, packing, all the crap I end up with a loss time wise.

    I actually came up with a way to help ‘real’ hoarders. The family member simply hires someone to come in and not clean up but to actually but the crap that has been hoarded for real money. Of course the money comes from the family member but the hoarder doesn’t know it.

    In any case with hoarding there is always some rationalization with why it pays to keep things around. I also think there is a bit of aspergers in hoarding. Just loving to collect things.

    • interesting idea re: hoarders

      from what I have learned by watching that show, your idea would make sense — people are always holding onto some (usually detached) thought that these things are valuable and marketable

      • LE

        Noting that the storage industry makes its money from the hoarder that is in all of us. All of these mental conditions are just a matter of degree, right?

        That’s my other solution for hoarding. Simply move everything (for the hoarder) into storage. When I moved out of my old office in 2010 I had a bunch of stuff (also things at my house). I quickly realized that there was no way I could endure the pain to figure out what to keep and what to throw away (business records boxes and boxes). So what did I do? I rented a large storage unit ($86/month at the time) and simply moved everything into it. Everything. Then I didn’t have to decide anything. I still have that unit. Now it costs me $175 per month.

        So part of the issue with hoarder is also decision making. Looking at things and deciding is painful. So you simply remove that pain.

        The other hack is scanning. Instead of deciding if you need to keep a piece of paper or not (say receipts) you simply scan everything. I mean everything. It takes less time to scan something than decide if you need to keep it or not.

        • funny how we ended up how to treat hoarding here… ;-)

    • jason wright

      it does seem to be a brain function issue.

  • awaldstein

    I like this.

    Doesn’t apply to me and is definitely a suburban reality. Most people in the city simply don’t have room for anything. Why the disruption of the storage industry is making so much sense for city dwellers.

  • jason wright

    was your floor covering from the same project?

    • not sure I agree — 90% of the tshirts in my collection are from my childhood through early 30’s, all of which was in brooklyn….