“Hopefully we can show with our success that you can make money but do good as well,” Project Repat President Nathan Rothstein says.
Rothstein and fellow co-founder Ross Lohr have a simple goal in mind: “upcycle” old t-shirts into fashionable, engaging products while providing fair wage jobs in the United States.
Project Repat combines environmentally conscious products with socially beneficial results. While in its earlier years, Project Repat focused on repatriating shirts from abroad, the founders decided to pivot their strategy to make their project more financially viable and create opportunities for fair wages at home.
“Everyone has a connection to t-shirts,” Rothstein says. For those who don’t necessarily want to wear them or give them away, Lohr says they thought, “why not just do something with them here?”
Project Repat is all about preserving the memories embedded in t-shirts and helping customers connect on an emotional level. The bags, the company’s biggest seller, are made up of five upcycled t-shirts each, with the final product working to emit a distinctive story or idea. Every article is hand crafted for added value, and each is one-of-a-kind.
But Project Repat doesn’t just stop with upcycling.
“All businesses should think about impact,” Lohr says. “We want to get rich, but we want others to get rich as well.”
Project Repat strives to engage all stakeholders in the process and provide fair wages back home. Repat works with North Carolina cooperative Opportunity Threads to prototype and produce all their products. Opportunity Threads is composed of nine Guatemalan immigrants in a town with one of the state’s highest unemployment rates, and most families lie just one or two checks above the poverty line.
“In this country we don’t do a good job of helping lower to middle class people get wealthier,” Rothstein says. “Jobs like this can help with that.”
Project Repat aims to establish a viable business economically, socially and environmentally at home, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost to outsourcing. While many apparel companies won’t disclose their prices for labor, Rothstein and Lohr proudly state Opportunity Threads employees earn $14/hour and part-ownership in their cooperative.
“It’s an amazing partnership,” Rothstein says. And as Project Repat grows, so too can Opportunity Threads.
“We’re all about telling the story about T-shirts and their environmental impact, but we’re also about telling the story of U.S. manufacturing over the last fifty years,” Rothstein says.
“We think we can provide more value to the world by giving people the opportunity to make fair wages and make their own economic decisions, which just adds dignity to their lives.”
Their biggest hurdle now is just getting their products into peoples’ hands.
“We want people to feel it, because it’s actually an amazing product and really sturdy,” Lohr says. “We think it’s really powerful: people share their t-shirts and they come back in bag form.”
Interested? Project Repat merchandise is available online at www.projectrepat.org -- $25-30 for collection bags and $40 custom designs.