Last updated: 09:14 AM ET, Fri August 05 2016

Project Repat Finally Has a Use For Your Old Tourist T-Shirts

Features & Advice | Gabe Zaldivar | August 05, 2016

Project Repat Finally Has a Use For Your Old Tourist T-Shirts

Photo courtesy Project Repat

There is a way to turn that mountain of unused t-shirts accumulated through various travels into something you will cherish and actually use.

Project Repat will take your T-shirts and turn them into quilts or pillowcases that will serve as a reminder about the time you got drunk in Cabo San Lucas and decided that a wardrobe purchase was a good idea.

In all seriousness, it’s a clever way to not only clean out your closets of drastically underused clothing but to also immortalize some truly wonderful memories.Let’s say you want to take the kids’ tees from all of your family vacations and turn them into a quilt.

Doing so is as easy as visiting the website linked above and deciding on just how large you want it to be. Once you whittle down the size of the actual quilt and each individual panel and the fleece color, you will receive an email on the next step, which is sending your dusty loot out to Project Repat.

You then wait for travel shirts or adorable but now outdated baby clothes to make their way back to you in the form of something with which you can now snuggle. Quilts run anywhere from $289 for a giant 64-panel (14x14 inch panels) quilt to $74.99 for a lap size quilt with 16 panels.

We adore the idea of turning shirts and sweater we might just as soon throw away into a useful and, well, precious travel quilt.

Co-founder Nathan Rothstein was nice enough to explain some of the particulars behind Project Repat and how exactly a brilliant idea was borne. Rothstein explains, however, that there is even a better story behind Project Repat. And, as you might expect, the crew has had to sift through some wild collections.  


TravelPulse: What was the impetus behind Project Repat?

Nathan Rothstein: The Project Repat story starts in Nairobi, Kenya, where Project Repat co-founder Ross Lohr was doing non-profit education work. After sitting in traffic for 2 hours, he discovered the cause of the jam: an overturned fruit and vegetable rickshaw pushed by a Kenyan man wearing a t-shirt that said “I Danced My Ass Off at Josh’s Bar Mitzvah;”

Amazed by all the incredible t-shirts that get sold off and sent overseas by non-profit and for-profit companies in America, we began working with Kenyan artisans to design new products out of castaway t-shirts, including bags, scarves, and re-fabricated t-shirts. Those products were “repatriated” (or returned to the country of origin) back to the United States and sold to raise money for non-profits working in East Africa.

When trying to sell our upcycled products at markets in Boston, we quickly discovered the difference between a “good idea” and a real business: while potential customers liked the idea of a repatriated upcycled t-shirt bag, they didn’t like it enough to actually buy it. What customers did ask for, time and time again, was an affordable t-shirt quilt.

We had heard enough: instead of shipping goods all around the country, why not create fair wage jobs in the United States and create a product that has a lot of meaning for customers? As they say, the rest is history. Rather than "repatriating" T-shirts back to the United States, Project Repat creates a high quality, affordable T-shirt quilt with minimal carbon impact that "repatriates" textile jobs back to the United States.

TP: What are some of the coolest/most bizarre items you have come across so far in the project?

NR: We once made an entire T-shirt quilt of howling wolfs because a wolf was the customers' spirit animal. We also made a T-shirt quilt for a woman who held the World Record for the most owl-related apparel products. Many of our customers have sent us a shirt from where they have traveled, and includes themed ones like all Hard Rock shirts, or all Disney shirts. Some of our customers have sent us some amazing vintage shirts, like all Boston Marathon shirts from the '70s and '80s. 

TP: Lastly, what is something you feel our readers would love to know about Project Repat?

NR: We have the best prices on the planet for this kind of product and have now made over 100,000 T-shirt quilts since starting in 2012. We have now prevented over 2 Million T-shirts from getting dumped in landfills and created over 200,000 hours of fair wage work in the USA. Our work is done in Fall River, MA and Valdese, NC — two places that once had a thriving textile industry that we are working hard to bring back. 


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