Photo: Leigh Lowe
Every time I've had to move from apartment to apartment, I've announced to myself that it is the single worst experience of my life.

It's not the physical move and the carrying of boxes, or the task of learning my way around a new neighborhood, though.

Instead, I hate having to go through my closet and rid myself of worn, torn t-shirts from concerts past.

I was one of those kids with a hunger for memorabilia; every rock show I attended, I gladly forked over more money than I should have for an overpriced shirt.

When I was younger, it was a rite of passage -- I could show I was a real true fan (except on laundry day).

More than a decade later, those shirts are tucked away on hangers in the far depths of my closet. The painful process of discarding them has now become a yearly ritual. I have to toss the oldest and most faded ones, as I just can't seem to find a reason to move clothes I'll never wear again.

So that's why I could not have been more delighted when a friend sent me photos of a quilt she had made of her old concert t-shirts. Louisville, Ky.-based Campus Quilt Company specializes in turning old shirts -- and nearly any other fabric -- into quilts and pillows, giving those shirts a quirky new use.

Stitch in Time

Leigh Lowe started Campus Quilt as part of her M.B.A. thesis at the end of 2000 and is still owner of the successful company.

"I launched the business out of my apartment," Lowe recalls. "I was 24 years old with $5,000 I had saved from my first job out of college. We basically only made quilts for my friends and family that year.

"My husband and I each have a quilt commemorating our college days," she continues. "After that, every t-shirt I could find went into one test quilt or another."

Today, customers can begin their order online or by phone with a $100 deposit. Campus Quilt then ships out a mailing kit containing everything necessary for customers to package up their shirts, including a prepaid mailing label.

A quilt is assembled within two or three weeks, and the balance is then due upon completion; prices run between $125 to about $400.

"We do a lot of t-shirt quilts for graduates, concertgoers and athletes of all kinds," says Lowe. "But we can also make almost any customized quilt requested."

Various details can be added: For a fee between about $25 and $150, depending on the quilt's size, shoppers can add a 1.5" sashing between each t-shirt square. Embroidered lines are available at an additional cost as well.

Lowe points out that old concert t-shirts aren't the only items the business has received in buyers' packages. Campus Quilt has made quilts out of photos, baby clothes, swimming suits, ties, and baseball hats.

"One customer had us make a quilt from a collection of golf towels. It was a really neat project," recalls Lowe.

Of course, there's a certain sentimentality involved in swapping a closet-full of shirts for an embroidered quilt, which is why Lowe insists on the best customer service available. That service has paid dividends through word-of-mouth business.

Erin Krol, a Massachusetts resident who found Campus Quilt using an online search, says that the pictures of finished quilts are what enticed her, but the company's personalized attention is what sealed the deal for her.

"A representative responded to my email in less than 24 hours, explaining the process. I authorized a deposit and within a couple of days, I had my quilt kit, including directions, labels to order my t-shirts, color swatches for the border and backing, and spaces for special instructions," Krol says.

Campus Quilt provided Krol with email updates throughout the process and, within three weeks, the finished product was mailed back.

"I received my quilt and was thrilled with the result -- smooth stitching, beautiful coloring, decorative stitching on the back," she says. "I've been showing it to everybody, and experienced quilters have told me it is extremely high quality."

Lowe says she has learned how powerful the individual customer is through reviews of the product, even though the company has been profiled on big media outlets including NBC's "Today" Show and the Rachael Ray Show.
A Finished Quilt
Photo: Leigh Lowe

"A significant portion of our growth has come from happy customers referring us to friends and promoting our product in ways we could have never thought of," says Lowe. "Campus Quilt is fortunate to be growing by leaps and bounds. It's been really fun to watch this little 'class project' evolve."

While Lowe is grateful the company is expanding in all the right ways, the lessons she has learned from mistakes have helped make the small business what it is today.

"Our biggest blunders led to the most significant improvements in our process and product," she says. "So with the benefit of hindsight, I can't say that I'd do much differently."

As for me, with another move to a new apartment looming, I decided to take Lowe's offer to have my own collection of t-shirts transformed into a quilt. Before the week was out, I had received my mailing kit with complete instructions.

And, as advertised, Campus Quilt gave me constant updates until I had received the finished product. My only regret is not springing the extra cash for sashing, as the quality of the stitching is remarkable and the backing material is top notch.

Still, I'm happy that my next relocation won't involve a debate between which Motley Crue shirt should get tossed, and I won't have to worry about holes in the back of my favorite Radiohead tee. For now, I'll have to fight the temptation to convert the rest of my closet memorabilia collection into another two or three quilts.



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