How One Small Business is “Refrying” T-Shirts into “Funner” Upcycled Fashions [Interview]

fashion made from upcycled t-shirts by refried tees
Samples of Refried Tees items made from upcycled t-shirts

T-shirts are a comfortable, inexpensive and fun way to tell others about things that interest you. Unfortunately, they also are quickly piling up in America’s landfills, which collect about 12.4 million tons of textile waste each year. Lisa Stout, founder and Chief Upcycling Officer at Refried Tees is working to lessen this outrageously high amount by creating her entire clothing line from reclaimed t-shirts.

You are sure to find a “Tee-Top,” “Tee-Skirt” or “Tee-Dress” that’s just your style! Or you can send Refried Tees your t-shirt collection and they’ll create a customized look perfect for showing your team spirit or love for your favorite band(s); the possibilities are endless! Read Lisa’s interview to learn how this business woman is “refrying” t-shirts and educating shoppers about the harmful effects of over-consuming resources only to have the latest style trends.

Talancia Pea: What inspired you to launch Refried Tees, a company creating “funner” fashions from recycled t-shirts?

Lisa Stout: With an eye for design, I’ve always loved fashion and creative works of all types. The idea, however, struck when I was about to toss out a draw-full of my husband’s branded tees. Design sense kicked in, creative juices flowed, and my first Tee-Skirt was created. Close friends raved. Neighbors and friends flocked with tee-shirts in hand – some with personal stories attached. And although I’ve always had a respect for the environment, I didn’t realize the possibilities or benefits of upcycling right away. Needless to say, that didn’t last long. The amount of energy spent on manufacturing, its impact on the environment, the toll on natural resources and the poor labor conditions at the raw materials stage are startling. Today I am proud to upcycle for fashion and for goodness sake.

TP: How do you foresee your product line educating shoppers about the effects of their purchases on the environment?

LS: Education is key to change. Changing behavior takes time, commitment and persistence. There seems to be an overall greater environmental awareness building around us and every little bit helps. The more informed we as consumers are, the more conscious and wiser decisions we can make. Applying upcycling to fashion may help to carry this message a bit further. It’s an important message and I hope that we can convey that message – or rather “wear” that message proudly and stylishly.

TP: Following the notion that sustainable fashions are ethically-made, and employees are paid fair wages and provided safe working conditions, where and how are Refried Tees “sliced, diced and stitched”?

LS: Refried Tees purchases new and select reclaimed, branded tee-shirts through liquidation, overstock and salvage outlets. All tees are carefully inspected, hand-selected and sorted, ready to be transformed. They are sliced, diced and stitched in Massachusetts, which has a rich, although much lost, textile history. Keeping jobs in the US and creating jobs right here in our home state feels so darn good.

Tips on How to Customize Your Tee-Looks for Every Occasion and Season

TP: The eco-fashion movement is all about encouraging shoppers to length the lifecycle of their clothing and shop less, how do you suggest your t-shirt creations be worn throughout multiple seasons?

LS: That’s a great question. Although, at-a-glance, our Tee-Skirts and Tee-Dress appear to be spring/summer items, all three length Tee-Skirts can be worn all year long with the right seasonal accompanying garments. Add tights, boots and a sweater and Fall fashion comes alive. Our long-sleeve Tee-Tops look great with a fall jacket and stylish Tee-Scarf. And our Tee-band is a great accessory and color accent any time of year. And as comfy casual wear, Refried Tees Funner Fashion loves to travel – easy-care, easy-wear – anywhere.

TP: What an awesome idea to create one-of-a-kind products from customers’ personal t-shirts! What are some of the funkiest, coolest t-shirts you’ve been able to upcycle?

LS: Concert Tees are always cool with lots of colors and graphics. One Refried Fan gave me a collection of shirts from her Dad who was a professional musician. Although her Dad has passed, she “wears” her Dad’s collection via a beautiful Tee-Skirt with love and spirit.

Then there was the teacher who brought me “autographed” tee-shirts from her kindergarten students at year-end. What a nice surprise to her class when she wore her new Tee-Skirt made from the students tee shirts to graduation!

Our niece, who has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), wears her Tee-Skirts and Tee-Dresses, along with many family members and friends – proudly, raising awareness for this critical cause. Thus, our support of CF on our website.

And how about a Tee-Skirt that we created from a personal collection of political tees? A Refried Fan in Washington, D.C. wears her political views openly and proudly – a conversation starter for sure. There’s scores of cool and funky tees and our themes are as extensive as the imagination. We smile with each new item we create!

Sustainable Fashions Created for a Worthy Cause and Guys, too!

refried tees sustainable fashion for women and girlsTP: We’re seeing more and more companies donating a portion of their proceeds to support causes close to their hearts; bravo to you for giving to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Why was it important for you to give to this particular cause?

LS: As I mentioned (CF) earlier, my niece was diagnosed with CF at a young age. Today, Hannah is a beautiful and amazing 16-year-old with unmatched spirit and strength. We didn’t pick this charity. It chose us. And we are committed to supporting the life-saving mission of the CF Foundation to help Hanna and all those who are affected beat this life-threatening disease. Hannah had a successful liver transplant last week. Older sister, Jessica was the donor. Hannah and Jessica are two of the bravest people I ever met — real-life heroes in our hearts.

TP: What are some of your upcoming plans for Refried Tees?

LS: We’re on a mission. Like any other business venture, we’re raising capital, marketing our products and building a new brand. I am driven by my passion and the strong desire to create and achieve. And I am very fortunate to have the support of family and friends.

TP: While you’re currently offering eco-chic, upcycled fashions for women and little girls, do you think you’ll ever create a product line for men and little boys?

LS: My husband keeps asking me that very question. He wants a man’s Refried Tees item. He’s also wondering where his Boston Bruins and Harley Tee Shirts are? Although the thought has crossed my mind, I’m not there yet. I need to stay focused and keep the product line manageable for now. With that said, I’m a believer in the age-old saying, “never say never”.

TP: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs hoping to start a business providing sustainable fashions?

LS: Go for it! Sustainable fashion can play an important role in achieving a brighter, more environmentally-friendly future. Be part of the movement. There’s no turning back.

Be sure to check out more of Refried Tees’ eco-chic looks on FacebookTwitter and at a retailer near you!

  1. Claudia

    Kindred spirits! I create girl’s dresses out of gently worn tee shirts. Each design is unique. I enjoy the design process and love the fact that the materials are upcycled and repurposed. A double win!

  2. Nicola

    What a terrific, interesting read. I upcycle t.shirts in my small business too and would love to use more used items in my designs. It’s great to see these t.shirts being used in such a creative way. Landfill …..it makes me shudder.

  3. Talancia Pea

    Thanks to you, Claudia and Nicola, for joining in the movement to create unique and beautiful sustainable fashions from t-shirts, a clothing staple that’s often overlooked for it’s versatile ability to be incorporated into many designs!!

  4. Joe

    Thank you for a truly inspirational post on refried / reclaimed t-shirts. We at ecofabrik.com sell earth friendly t-shirts and other casual wears. We share your ecological values and would love to support your efforts by carrying some of your reclaimed products on our online store. Please let us know how to get in touch with you and get more information.

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