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.