Product designer Sam Palmer was always tinkering in his basement and one day about four years ago he came upstairs with an object made out of an old fleece. His wife, Jennifer Feller, saw a lot of potential in what he’d made.
“Sam was always making things in the basement and one day this came out,” Feller said. “I was like ‘stop the presses,’ I love this.”
Palmer continued to work on creating new products out of fleece and soon the couple felt they had a viable business idea. Their venture, ReFleece, is based at Fringe, a small-business incubator in Union Square.
“What a great community. I just love it there,” Feller said. “It’s just such a good group of people. It’s so helpful. People are really into helping each other as entrepreneurs. We feel really supported.”
Feller, who has a background in environmental education, wanted the company to be sustainably focused. She thought, “wouldn’t this be so cool if we could do this with post-consumer fleece instead of getting virgin material?” Feller said.
Palmer had worked for Patagonia as a product designer, so the couple knew about the company’s Common Threads program, which is focused on sustainability through reducing, repairing, reusing and recycling. Patagonia donates old fleeces to those who can use them, but often the fleece has a tear and can’t be worn. So Refleece takes those post-consumer products and gives them new life as e-reader covers and computer sleeves.
Feller and Palmer, pictured at right, both had jobs when they first got the idea for ReFleece, but decided to go full time on their venture in February 2012. It’s always a big risk to start a new business, but Feller and Palmer were inspired by Palmer’s dad, an entrepreneur.
“His dad actually started a company and took a lot of risks. His dad really inspired both of us,” Feller said.
When ReFleece first began, Feller and Palmer were doing all the product fabrication themselves. They eventually found a domestic factory to take over. Now the fleece goes directly from Patagonia and Polartec, another partner, to the factory where it’s sorted, washed, cut and pressed in a low-heat mold.
“It’s very straightforward. There’s no glue or stiff piece. It’s the mold that holds it,” Feller said.
In addition to regular ReFleece operations, Feller and Palmer recently set up a Kickstarter campaign to create products out of fleece that customers send to them. People were clamoring to send in their discarded jackets and other fleece products, so Feller and Palmer are using the Kickstarter, which runs until May 22, to see whether it’s possible for them to make custom ReFleece products for individuals.
Feller and Palmer have also been experimenting with using wool clothing in the same process and have found great success. So if you have a wool skirt or mid-weight sweater that you’re no longer wearing, you can send that in as well.
And if you’re looking to get a glimpse of the ReFleece products or sign up for the Kickstarter, you can stop by Fringe (9 Olive Square) this weekend during Somerville Open Studios. Feller is encouraging locals to come out with their old fleece or wool clothing that she and Palmer will turn into a whole new product.
And though Feller and Palmer live in Arlington, their business has definitely found its home in Somerville. Since setting up shop here, they’ve been exploring the community and are excited to participate in Somerville Open Studios, one of the city’s biggest events of the year, this weekend.
“The Somerville community is amazing,” Feller said. “It’s the warmest, most friendly community. It feels so welcoming and encouraging.”