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Saving the World One T-shirt at a Time

Cleaning out your closet of old t-shirts is a good thing, right? It seems sensible to toss out or donate clothing that hasn’t been worn in a while. But what if you could do more with your used t-shirts?

Most discarded t-shirts end up as landfill waste or purchased by second-hand clothing merchants for resale in under-developed countries. Nathan Rothstein ’06, co-founder of Project Repat, wanted to find a more sustainable solution to the problem of excess textile.

“The average American has about 75 pounds of textiles in their closet and a lot of it ends up dumped in landfills. We’ve also lost a lot of textile jobs to cheap labor and lax regulations overseas,” says Rothstein. “We want to turn all those t-shirts that were made overseas, into fair-wage jobs here in the USA.”

Rothstein and business partner Ross Lohr recycle t-shirts into custom quilts. Customers mail their t-shirts to Project Repat in a pre-paid envelope to be sewn into the quilt. The end result is less t-shirts in landfills, job creation, support for American organizations like the Post Office and Eco-Enclose, and no water or additional natural resources are used to create the blanket.

“If you think about it, t-shirts have really become the modern form of scrapbooking,” says Rothstein. “As they’re made overseas and don’t cost as much, they’ve become a cheap commodity and are handed out for every event. They represent activities we participate in or places we volunteer or visit. We get a t-shirt for everything, so Project Repat offers an affordable solution to keeping those memories.”

The Boston-based business really took hold when it was featured nationally on Groupon.com in 2012. It received 2,000 orders for custom quilts in one week. Project Repat and its founders have been featured on the Today Show and in the Boston Globe, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Huffington Post. In 2013, this start-up reached one million dollars in sales and has currently created fifteen full-time jobs. 

The UMass Amherst Alumni Association has partnered with Project Repat to offer our alumni, students and friends a 10% discount on the cost of a quilt. In addition, the Alumni Association will receive a 10% royalty for every quilt ordered with our organization’s discount code to further support scholarships and programs that advance UMass Amherst! Please use discount code: umass2014 when you place your order.

“I had a great experience at UMass,” says Rothstein, who was a history major and member of the Commonwealth Honors College.  “One of the skills that I learned at UMass is how to be resourceful when something is not put directly in front of your face. You had to go out and find every class and research activities and groups to make sure that it was the right fit for you. Those are the same skills that I applied to start this business.”