Picture it: Kenya, in the middle of a big traffic jam. On the side of the road, there’s fruit and vegetable vendor wearing a shirt that reads: “I danced my ass off at Josh’s bar mitzvah.” This is the scene Ross Lohr took in as he sat in that traffic jam, and it gave him an idea. He was surprised by how many American T-shirts he was seeing over there, and it seemed like there was definitely an opportunity. So he started a business.
At first we were upcycling America’s old T-shirt into new products like bags and scarves in Kenya, paying local artisan to manufacture and design them. But when we brought them back to America to sell, the feedback was, ‘Well that’s great, but what can you do with MY shirts?’ Turns out what people really wanted an affordable way to preserve their T-shirt memories … and thus the Project Repat T-shirt quilt was born!
The company, founded in 2012, with Ross Lohr as CEO and Nathan Rothstein as president, currently employs about 20 individuals at its two textile production partners in Fall River, Mass., and Morganton, N.C. The name Project Repat came about because they are helping to “repat-riate” some textile jobs that those partner companies lost in the late 90s.
“It’s a good thing we have great production partners,” Lohr says, “Because neither Nathan nor I have any sewing skills whatsoever. But what we lack in sewing skills, we have in the ability to be flexible entrepreneurs who had an idea and were willing to listen to feedback from customers enough to find a product that customers were actually willing to pay money for.”
Lohr muses, “I suppose this is my advice to most makers: don’t get too hung up on an idea that you think people are going to want. Put something out into the world, and let customers give you the feedback that will allow you to reform your product until you’ve found a market fit!”
Here at MAKE, we sent Project Repat some of our MAKE and CRAFT shirts, and they turned them into this awesome blanket: T-shirts on one side, fleece on the other. Our photo editor Jeffrey Braverman took the blanket to Dolores Park in San Francisco for a picnic photo shoot, and everyone loved it.