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Boston is putting itself on the map as fashion-meets-tech innovation hub. From Kendall to Fort Point Channel, here are the startups that caught our attention.
The blanket box via Project Repat
Ross Lohr and Nathan Rothstein, the Project Repat team stationed in Dudley Square, are surprised to be grouped with such fashionable companies as Bow and Drape and Ministry of Supply—but that's exactly what happened when the trio independently found success on Kickstarter, and then jointly hosted a pop-up shop over the holidays, Holiday 2.0. We think they are onto something, with made-to-order blankets, scarves, and totes utilizing customers' own t-shirts. In an industry where sustainability and fair wages are at the forefront of controversy, this startup counts both concerns in its mission.
The goal is two-fold: Minimize waste within the textile stream through the upcycling of materials and employ fair-wage workers for a Made in the USA product. The result: happy moms and sorority girls nationwide. All that stands between them is a blanket box to ship their tees and a few weeks turnover.
Lohr and Rothstein met at Brandeis, where they brought development and nonprofit experiences from Africa and New Orleans to the MBA in Social Responsibility program. The a-ha moment of training artisans in Nairobi to make totes from the hoards of American tees dumped there has been well documented. Changing pace, they decided to refocus efforts domestically, sourcing tees from the customers themselves. Though many attribute the turning point of Project Repat to a Kickstarter success, the founders cite a Groupon deal earlier this fall as their breakthrough.
A lesson in scalability, the gents went from producing ten blankets weekly to hundreds, which has forced them to seek out production partners quickly. Multiple U-Haul truckloads of blanket boxes led them to Precision Sportswear in Fall River, NuPath in Woburn, and individuals in Lowell, keeping much of the production line within reach.
"People like getting mail, it creates an emotional connection," says Rothstein as he likens the theory to Birchbox. Dozens of emotional, personal fan notes lines the walls of Project Repat's office space as evidence. A side effect of the startup's premise is the memorialization of people, both living and deceased, with its demographic skewed mostly to moms and Greek life, especially in southern universities. The founders hope to develop an online forum to draw together customers with similar experiences.
What else is in store for 2013? Look forward to seeing their signature blanket boxes on the shelves of Whole Foods. And the team is gearing up for graduation season. The next puzzle is how they can scale production for a nationwide market. In a year's time, Project Repat has grown from selling bags in local stores last January to now producing hundreds of blankets with Groupon (psst, a deal is happening now). Should be an innovative year ahead!