Not only am I in a sorority, I also have an obsession with tacky tourist tees and anything Boston Bruins. To say every single drawer in my apartment is full of t-shirts would be an understatement – they also inhabit closets, cabinets and some drawers at my parents’ house. What’s worse? The amount of t-shirts I toss in the trash. It’s atrocious.
Luckily, Nathan Rothstein and his business partner Ross are here to change all of that. The pair founded Project Repat in 2012, providing a solution to your unwearable tees. Recently, they teamed up with an American-based, female-run textile mill, 99 Degrees Custom Manufacturing, on Kickstarter. Their aim: to help refurbish your most precious memories, while providing fair wage jobs on American soil.
They set a goal for $15,000 and with just over a week left they are about $5,000 away from reaching that fundraising goal! I spoke with Nathan a few days back about his company, weird shirts and this awesome Kickstarter partnership!
First off: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where’d you go to school?
I grew up in Lexington, MA and then went to Umass-Amherst. When I graduated in 2006, I joined Americorps and did relief work in post-Katrina New Orleans, where I lived for the next four years.
How did you meet your business partner?
Ross and I met during my first (and last) semester at Brandeis in the fall of 2010, where I was making an attempt at getting a graduate degree in social entrepreneurship. We linked back up in the fall 2011. He was working on turning t-shirts into new products in Kenya made from the millions of t-shirts that wind up there, and we started thinking about how to prevent all the t-shirts from getting dumped in landfills in the developing world.
We believed strongly that people would find an upcycled t-shirt product interesting. Our first product got a lot of compliments, but nobody bought it. We picked out random shirts and made them into circle scarves and tote bags, but when we went to sell them at markets, everyone asked us, “What can you do with my shirts?” After hearing it enough times, we came up with an easy and fun way for people to upcycle their clothes.
Have you always had a passion for t-shirts?
My friends and I in high school came up with a very, very limited run t-shirt business- we had two shirts, one with Questlove and black thought, and one with d’angelo. We made two shirts and the brand was called ‘Lyrically Handsome’ – So yes, I always knew I was going to sell upcycled t-shirt products.
Actually, I had no idea. I’ve always enjoyed t-shirts – especially t-shirts that reference mid-’90s NBA basketball players – but I’ve always been interested in finding creative solutions to solve big problems. Millions of Americans have t-shirts stored away that they no longer wear, but they can’t bear to give away.
What’s the weirdest or craziest t-shirt you have ever upcycled?
We process thousands of t-shirts each week – and I’m amazed sometimes what people are willing to put on a t-shirt. My favorite (weirdest) blanket is someone who had all koala bears– it’s pretty wild… or the person who had all wolves because that was her mothers spirit animal.
You make a bunch of products, what was the first design and which is your personal favorite?
I always really liked our first totes and circle scarves, but the most popular has been the t-shirt blankets. The tie comes out really well too. We also tried turning t-shirts into underwear, that they didn’t go over as well.
In college essay fashion: If you could describe your company in 3 words, what would they be?
Preserving t-shirt memories
What was your reaction to the response from Kickstarter?
We created the Kickstarter to help our friend Brenna, who was starting an innovative textile manufacturing business that empowered its workers, and also to test out what are some new products that people would want. It’s always interesting for us to see what the market responds to, and that’s also the great part of Kickstarter.
What would you like to say to all of your Kickstarter backers?
We are really thankful for everyone who has supported the campaign – and for each new product we sell, it creates more fair wage work in the USA.
What is your vision for the company?
There [are] a lot of t-shirts out there that are buried away in people’s closets. We want [to] unlock those memories for millions of Americans, and turn those billions of shirts into fair wage jobs [to] prevent them from getting dumped in landfills.
I might be biased because I love EVERYTHING Boston-based, but what these folks are doing is amazing. (And the ties are SO COOL! Hello, Father’s Day!) So what are you waiting for? Head on over and donate, even if it is only $1, and help out Project RePat and 99 Degrees Custom Manufacturing!! You won’t regret it! I mean, look at those smiles above! You can donate here!