Stitching Together A Business: From Upcycling To Fair Wages

Transitioning to a product-based business

Before starting Project Repat in 2012, Ross Lohr and I both spent a lot of time attempting to convince people why our previous non-profits and startups were good for society. It was always important for us to do something that added value, but our patience was running thin convincing wealthy people why our non-profit was so much more worthy of their money, than the other million. We couldn’t have named it back then, but the goal we were working towards was creating a product – and therefore a product-based business – that added value, with the socially-oriented element automatically integrated in the purchase of the product. We found our niche when we realized that many Americans have too many t-shirts they no longer wear but can’t bear to get rid of. Before we started, there were no options to send your t-shirts away and have them repurposed for an affordable price. In our case, that repurposed product is a lightweight blanket. As we’ve learned over the years, it’s a product that customers want and requires little explanation.

Enforcing fair wages and eco-conscious practices

Once we found that product with market fit, it was still important for us to integrate the ‘social good’ into the business. Instead of donating something for every purchase, while paying pennies for production in the far east, we realized we could make a bigger impact by creating a supply chain with a mission: creating fair wage work in the US.

Every part of our product is 100% recycled. The fleece is made by Polartec, which makes high quality recycled fleece from yarn made from recycled plastic bottles. Each yard of fleece uses 23 recycled plastic bottles.  We also use Eco-Enclose, to make our biodegradable mailers, and a majority of our packages are sent by the Post Office, which provides good union jobs.

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Why did we choose worker-run spaces?

Since we make a one-of-a-kind product that can not be replaced when shirts are lost, we need production partners who feel empowered to do outstanding work, and are treated fairly in the workplace. Importantly, just because something says Made in the USA, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s the greatest work environment. Because of this, we didn’t want to create an apparel-related business that poorly treats its makers, so we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know our partners at Precision Sportswear and Opportunity Threads. Precision Sportswear has been around for over twenty years, and is based in what was once a thriving textile hub at the turn of the 20th Century, and still made lots of apparel before NAFTA helped offshore many of their jobs. In North Carolina, a place where many of those textile jobs went after they left Massachusetts, Opportunity Threads is a worker-owned cut and sew shop, where members own a percentage of the business. Ross and I have worked hard to grow the business, but we’re only good as the product we ship out.

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