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Local brand ReFleece finds new uses for worn, ‘used up’ outdoor gear and garments

Jun 13, 2023

The urge to spring clean is here, and that old snow jacket with a broken zipper or the raincoat your dog tore a hole through could finally be on its way out the door. But just because these garments have seen better days, doesn't mean they need to be thrown away.

ReFleece — a local, sustainably minded apparel and accessory company — turns what it calls "used up" outdoor performance fabric into new items like tablet covers made of recycled soda-bottle felt and colorful, patchwork scarves sewn from "retired" jackets.

Sam Palmer and Jennifer Feller founded the brand — which has a Fall River warehouse and Cambridge office — in 2012. The now-husband and wife met in 1995 when Palmer, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, was a product designer and Feller worked retail, both for California-based activewear brand Patagonia.


Palmer said their time at Patagonia — whose founder, Yvon Chouinard, signed over his ownership to sustainability and climate change efforts in 2022 — shaped the pair's interest in how environmental impact, product development, and manufacturing collide. The brand's first product, a Kindle case, was developed as a potential up-cycle solution for used fleece, a synthetic material. The result is a $36 soft-structured cover — the soft fleece protects the tech inside, while a thick felt made from plastic bottles provides a rugged, liquid-resistant exterior.

"[The company] started out as a side project and then evolved into a full-time thing," Palmer said. Feller currently works for Mass Audubon and remains involved in company strategy, while Palmer oversees ReFleece.

He explained that an electronic case seemed like the ideal foray into reusing the fabric because fleece can be thermoformed, or heated and pressed or stretched to a mold. The United States produces 16 million tons of textile waste per year, according to the EPA, and ReFleece is trying to do its part to reduce some of that, said Palmer. ReFleece's partners — Polartec, Simms, Patagonia, Arc'teryx, Woolrich, Gore-tex, Bureo, and Klean Kanteen — send the company no longer wearable outdoor gear collected from its customers. ReFleece also receives about 10,000 worn garments from customers to reuse for its products every year, Palmer said.


The company then makes a few thousand new products every month. Any excess material is sent to be recycled, but Palmer noted that since founding, ReFleece has continued to improve its efficient use of the garments. He estimates that ReFleece reuses about 70 percent of the materials collected from a used jacket.

The company started an online, used-gear marketplace, ReFleece Market, where it sells gently used outdoor garments procured through individuals and Ridwell — a paid subscription service that collects "hard-to-recycle" items from members and distributes products to partners who can reuse or recycle them. This fall, ReFleece plans to expand the program so that individuals can also submit other garments, like pants, tops, and gear, into the consignment program (where ReFleece photographs and lists products) or social marketplace (where the user posts and manages their own listings.) Once an item sells, marketplace users can choose a portion of their profits — whether it's 10 percent or 100 percent — to be donated to one of ReFleece's affiliated nonprofits, including Climable, Protect Our Winters, and The Surfrider Foundation.


Around the same time, ReFleece plans to release quilted blankets, bucket hats, lunch bags, new tote bag designs, and potentially pet accessories from its house brand, Palmer said.

"We look at [ReFleece] as a way to reduce textile waste and inspire reuse," he said. "We hope people realize there's a lot of potential material or things left in textiles once their first life is done."

Maddie Browning can be reached at [email protected].