Kyle Offermann is the owner of Just T-Shirt Quilts, a company that repurposes old T-shirts and other fabrics into quilts laden with memories that you can hang on your wall or bundle-up under during a cold winter’s day. Sewing and quilting for over 30 years, Kyle favors creating T-shirt quilts over the more traditional variety as they add a whole new lease on life to these much-loved items by repurposing them into something meaningful.
We first found out about Kyle’s business, based outside of Atlanta, Georgia, when Rubicon’s CEO Nate Morris approached Kyle to create a quilt out of his old school T-shirts; and Kyle is currently in the process of making a Rubicon® quilt from old Rubicon T-shirts, tote bags, and other swag.
Just T-Shirt Quilts is a truly inspirational company, and an example of the circular economy in action. I recently sat down with Kyle to talk about her company and its mission.
How does Rubicon’s mission to end waste match-up to Just T-Shirt Quilts mission or philosophy?
At Just T-Shirt Quilts, we generate physical waste as part of our daily operations: leftover textiles, T-shirt pieces, batting, and fabrics from the assembly process. Like Rubicon, we are also laser-focused on reducing waste. We reuse as many materials as possible to contribute toward a more efficient and effective planet. Sustainability is a key part of our mission.
You make quilts from old T-shirts. Why did you choose this material to repurpose?
Clothing provides one of our essential “raw” materials used in our finished product.
The clothing and T-shirts are provided by customers that have already made the decision to repurpose them. They have been kept because they have meaning. They represent our kids, our work, our accomplishments, our life, our schools, our families, our deceased. A quilt from the clothing of the deceased becomes the surrogate to hug and provide comfort even in their absence. The level of trust these customers place in us is high as most often these items of clothing are among the final belongings that remain from that person. Everyone has T-shirts. It’s the American way; we earn them, we win them, we collect them, we get them free, we buy them, and then we save them forever until they’ve completely overtaken our drawers and closets.
Repurposing T-shirts into a quilt is a meaningful way to get them out of our drawers and closets and repurpose these materials into something practical that can be handed down for generations. Reuse is especially important for clothing made from petroleum and synthetics such as polyester and nylon that either don’t biodegrade naturally, or take a long, long time—often 30 to 40 years—to decompose. While reducing landfill waste may not be a key motivator for all of our customers when they first come to us, when their quilt is complete their actions have helped to support a circular economy.
The creation process listed on your website mentions the “quilt sandwich.” Can you please tell us more about this?
Visualize a sandwich; bread on the top, cheese or meat in the middle, and bread on the bottom. That’s three layers. In a T-shirt quilt the top layer—the bread on the top—has the shirts in an attractive arrangement. The middle layer is batting or stuffing that adds loft and warmth, and defines the quilting. The bottom layer—the bread on the bottom—is fabric that comprises the back of the quilt. It could also be another layer of T-shirts or clothing, depending upon the desires of the customer. In technical quilt shows where prizes are awarded, it’s usually a requirement for entry that the three layers are all present. Quilters often refer to their “sandwich” when assembling and arranging the layers for finishing, which in a home process can mean holding the layers together with safety pins. It’s analogous to putting toothpicks in a sandwich so that it doesn’t fall apart while you’re munching on it!
What is the view of Just T-Shirt Quilts when it comes to participating in the circular economy and helping build a more sustainable future?
We all have a responsibility to help build a more sustainable future. Who wants to swim in an ocean with water bottles and pop cans? We want to see healthy creatures thrive in their native sea environments and not dying from the ingestion of our garbage. These creatures, if we want to go really circular, can end up as part of our food source after all! With consistent, active intervention we can reduce waste and improve the lives of our children and grandchildren. The future starts today.
What types of reuse and recycling do you currently undertake as a business?
Aside from the obvious (making quilts from repurposed T-shirts and other textiles), in our office we use reusable cups and bring in our own utensils from home instead of using disposable versions. Guests, when thirsty, use a real glass (like at Rubicon!).
Our quilts are shipped or delivered in giant reusable bin bags. They’re larger and more durable than your average grocery bag. We’ve found that they’re also great for shopping at stores that don’t provide bags. Separately, we’ve uncovered a demand in our community for T-shirt, fabric, and textile leftovers—the part that didn’t go into the quilt and that the customer didn’t want back. We have donated remnants to charities that can use them, including to Habitat for Humanity. We also offer them to business neighbors including a printer, a cleaning company, and a car mechanic. There is still some competition for the leftovers… due to the high demand I may have to start charging for them! This reuse means less waste going into the dumpster on any given day.
I’m also currently considering the implementation of a Volunteer Day for my staff where they would get paid to volunteer somewhere and I could have them choose from organizations that are involved in recycling.
What do you love most about the community in which you work, and the customers you serve?
Our customers are educated and committed to both excellence and bettering the environment. It’s a family oriented community here, and they just get reuse and recycling. No sales pitch is needed.
It seems that everyone in Atlanta is from somewhere else. The transplant culture, the vibrancy, tolerance, and knowledge, is eclectic and enriching. It mirrors the diversity in art that is so tangible in Atlanta communities.
I like that as a part of this community, we have become part of important celebrations, including holidays, graduations, and birthdays. I like that through quilts, we create masterpieces and provide personal comfort to individuals that may be hurting.
I’m also a registered nurse. Nursing is compassion but also precision, science, and logic. The nurse part of me wants to fix it and make it all better when the prognosis is dim. You soothe and nourish to relieve pain and suffering. The creative part of me wants to design and build, and marry it with the precision, science, and logic to create the perfect masterpiece. Perfect means atypical attention to detail which is what our customers have come to expect. The compassionate side knows that through textile art and repurposing loved items we’re in a position to serve. This is our important work in the community. People come to have heirlooms made and gifts for memorable occasions that they can hand down in the family. People come in pain after losing a loved one. The process is cathartic for all of us.
Where does Just T-Shirt Quilts see itself five years from now?
We have some ideas for corporate commercial products we’d like to pursue further. We’ll continue leveraging technology for improved efficiency and would like to make more investments in that area. We’ll continue to create the extraordinary while embracing sustainability.
Elizabeth Montoya is Vice President of Investor Relations at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.