By Ashley Thomas
It all started with an old T-shirt and a pair of scissors.
A few years ago, Lisa Litos, founder of Refried Apparel, came across her husband’s tattered Harley tee and decided to transform it into something new. “I didn’t want to throw away the T-shirt,” Litos says. “I liked the graphics on it, so I decided to make a comfortable skirt for myself.” Litos dissected her husband’s shirt, cutting out the graphics and stitching the scraps back together into a stylish skirt.
The skirt was an instant hit with her friends, and Litos was inspired to sell more upcycled skirts at a local farmers market in Dartmouth, MA. “We realized consumers liked that sort of one-of-a-kind appeal,” says husband and co-owner Mark Litos.
Shoppers at the farmers market were receptive to the brand, but the Litoses believed they could reach a broader market. The husband-and-wife team officially launched Refried Apparel in 2015 at the International Surf Expo in Orlando, and apparel industry heavyweights took notice. Ken Shwartz, founder of AHEAD (asi/33220), took the fledgling business under his wing. “He was impressed by what we were doing and offered to help grow this company,” Mark says. Thanks to Shwartz, Refried Apparel entered a strategic partnership with family-owned MV Sport (asi/68318) in January. “MV Sport brings a host of benefits, including operational support,” Mark says. “It’s simply a good fit.”
MV Sport markets to the college, resort and military sectors, while Refried Apparel’s main focus is upcycling professional sports teams’ unsellable material, also known as deadstock. There’s plenty of deadstock to choose from in the world of sports: jerseys bearing the number of a traded player or merch emblazoned with an old team logo. Most of that deadstock has traditionally ended up in landfills or even incinerated. For instance, “The MLB was paying to send its deadstock to Indiana to be burned,” Mark says. Refried Apparel is now officially licensed to rescue unsellable clothing from the MLB, NFL and NHL and transform it into profitable items that can be returned to the market. Refried Apparel will even upcycle jerseys worn by MLB players during a game to create new apparel for super-fans.
Refried Apparel offers what it calls “once-baked” goods – custom-printed casual apparel created using licensed surplus material from brands. The company also has “twice-baked” goods, made from unsellable decorated deadstock and surplus inventory from retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. Refried Apparel revives the deadstock, refashioning it into handcrafted, custom shirts, skirts, lounge pants and dresses.
It’s all about the company’s signature sliced-and-diced look, which Lisa perfected through creative experimentation. “I found cutting and sewing pieces of material together brought on a fresh, innovative look that I found fashionably appealing,” Lisa says. “There’s much more to the process than meets the eye; however, that’s the secret sauce.”
Mark acknowledges that timing has played a key role in the company’s success. Sustainability is a huge buzzword in the fashion industry, particularly because it’s something most apparel brands have struggled with. A 2017 report from the Circular Fibres Initiative estimated that the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of textiles is either dumped in a landfill or burned every second. Millennials especially are interested in finding brands that help fight such grim statistics.
“For retailers and wholesalers, deadstock has been a problem forever – everybody has it,” Mark says. “Recycling is good, but upcycling is better because you’re transforming something of no value into something of value without impacting the environment.”