Lisa Litos: “Believe in yourself and be prepared to work hard”

Go for it. At the outset, I was torn between hobby and starting a business. Starting a business, especially a totally new model, is a scary proposition. Considering the risks and sacrifices, and the commitment that’s necessary to succeed, it’s a lot to ponder. A hobby is fun and can be rewarding, but a business […]

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Go for it. At the outset, I was torn between hobby and starting a business. Starting a business, especially a totally new model, is a scary proposition. Considering the risks and sacrifices, and the commitment that’s necessary to succeed, it’s a lot to ponder. A hobby is fun and can be rewarding, but a business is a huge undertaking and serious responsibility. When family and friends expressed their support and enthusiasm for the products and business concept, that gave me the confidence to “go for it”.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry,I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Litos.

Lisa Litos is Founder of Refried Apparel, a sustainable lifestyle brand. Refried Apparel delivers creative upcycled design and manufacturing services to retailers, brands and organizations. The company’s innovative business model addresses the ugly reality of unsold/surplus inventory, its threat to the environment and creates a new source of revenue. Key to Lisa’s success is her belief that fashion and sustainability must balance creative expression with market trends. She sees the true measure of her work being how well it performs in the marketplace and its positive impact on the environment. Through Lisa’s leadership, Refried Apparel has earned status as the Official Upcycling Resource for Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL), and achieved the 2019 Top Innovator Award by Apparel Magazine.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

One day I took one of my husband’s “holey” Harley-Davidson tee shirt and, using my design and sewing skills, I turned it into a cute and comfortable skirt. After receiving several compliments I created new styles, each piece unique. Friends and family members began “placing orders” by giving me their favorite tee shirts and asking me to turn them into unique clothing styles.

I soon began sourcing overstock goods from suppliers and my imagination kicked into overdrive as fashion ideas began to take shape. Experimenting with different materials and textures became a consuming passion. As farmers’ markets sold out and boutiques placed orders, word started spreading. Learning that suppliers and retailers carried large volumes of unsold inventory, I realized I was on to something. So I got down to business and began building a brand. Not just another apparel brand, but rather a sustainable fashion brand. A brand that could help address one of the apparel industry’s greatest problems: unsold “dead-stock” inventory.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The fashion industry is a surplus machine that produces literally tons of dead-stock each year. Dead-stock is inventory that doesn’t sell. It’s fueled by dated apparel, over-purchasing, damaged goods, and a host of other factors. In the dynamic world of sports fashion, consider ongoing changes: from traded players to lost championships, from logo changes to hot-market trends. These and other factors create obsolete inventory every season, across every sport. Dead-stock inventory is a continuous and ever-growing problem that costs businesses money and has a harmful impact on the environment.

While the industry is beginning to embrace sustainable practices, environmental efforts have been focused on the front-end of the production process, with little or no attention paid to the lifecycle of these goods and what happens to merchandise that doesn’t sell. As a result, the industry has neither large-scale processes nor best practices in place to deal with dead-stock. Changing habits is no easy task and gaining acceptance to new business models takes time, education and success stories. Providing an alternative to waste with a scalable and sustainable solution is changing the way companies view and deal with dead-stock inventory. Our model is at work extending the life of useable material, creating new sources of revenue, and conserving natural resources by eliminating the environmental impact of typical manufacturing processes.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I traveled to New York City for a meeting with Major League Baseball. I booked a hotel the night before to attend an early meeting the following day and I brought a Refried Red Sox skirt to wear for the meeting. When I arrived with samples in tow in my Refried skirt, I was informed that the meeting was the following week — same day, same time. Lesson learned: Control your excitement and enthusiasm attached to opportunities that are greater than you ever imagined and pay attention to the details.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Ken Shwartz, Prior Founder/Owner of Ahead Golf Wear. I was introduced to Ken through a sales person when exhibiting at the International Surf Expo in Orlando, FL. Ken, a successful entrepreneur, is always on the lookout for something new. During our first meeting, Ken showed interest in getting involved but said, “if this is a hobby, have fun. If you want to take this somewhere big, I can help you”. Having experience and relationships in the apparel industry and knowledge of licensing arrangements, Ken helped to seek opportunities, navigate through the myriad processes, and negotiate deals.

Gene Goldberg, Sports Licensing Consultant. I was introduced to Gene by Ken Shwartz. Gene helps brands pursue licensing arrangements with professional sports leagues and college licensing companies. Once Gene assessed my product offering and upcycling model for licensing consideration, he was instrumental in the complex process of acquiring licensing arrangements.

Mark Litos, Branding and Marketing Consultant. Mark, my husband and biggest fan, has been involved in the company’s branding and marketing efforts from the outset. Today Mark heads up the company’s sales, marketing and business development, and spearheads special programs.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I’ll share a real life example that has both a positive and negative impact. As organizations change brand names and graphic marks to advance social justice and equality, as in the case of sports teams, these changes generate significant amounts of obsolete inventory overnight. Unfortunately, the obsolete inventory finds its way to landfills or is destroyed in incinerators posing a threat to the environment. So these changes, albeit for the better, can have negative consequences. Fortunately, in scenarios like these, there are emerging alternatives. With upcycling, repurposing and the notion of circular fashion, these disruptive models can turn potential negative impact into a positive by cycling the obsolete inventory back into the marketplace avoiding waste and preserving revenue.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Go for it. At the outset, I was torn between hobby and starting a business. Starting a business, especially a totally new model, is a scary proposition. Considering the risks and sacrifices, and the commitment that’s necessary to succeed, it’s a lot to ponder. A hobby is fun and can be rewarding, but a business is a huge undertaking and serious responsibility. When family and friends expressed their support and enthusiasm for the products and business concept, that gave me the confidence to “go for it”.

Adversity makes you stronger. When the pandemic hit, as with many businesses, Refried’s operations came to a screeching halt. We shut down as instructed and thought, now what? Giving thought to our capabilities and recognizing the critical shortage for PPE, we quickly shifted our focus and reopened as an approved essential business manufacturing protective face masks and donating them to frontline workers and first responders. In the face of the pandemic, we managed to keep staff employed and produce hundreds of thousands of masks to protect those in need during troubled times. With the ongoing demand for masks much greater than the supply, we developed upcycling programs and partnerships with pro sports teams, events companies and organizations to make masks from their surplus inventory which they distributed to essential workers in their communities. These programs helped to establish new relationships, provide greater exposure to our business and upcycling model, and create new opportunities.

Take risks. It’s through trial and error that we discover and grow. Our creative process is fueled by the wide assortment of clothing and materials that we rescue and our design approach is without boundaries. Exploring and testing new ideas, no matter the outcome, keeps the process exciting and adventurous and that leads to good things.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

The sustainable fashion movement is growing, and while sustainable practices can be applied throughout the supply chain — from the raw material stage to post-consumer sales — we consider our model to be a positive and contributing factor in this critical movement. There’s much work to be done with regard to outreach and education and we’re committed to raising awareness and advocating for this pivotal cause. Only a very small percentage of the fashion industry’s dead-stock is being upcycled and we are working to lead the charge to make upcycling a standard and scalable industry practice. In addition to developing partnerships with like-minded organizations, we are developing a consumer-facing strategy to build a sustainable lifestyle brand that extends the life of useable material, reduces the amount of new product entering the marketplace, and avoids landfill waste and carbon emissions by incineration.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I believe the two biggest challenges are, 1) not being taken seriously and, 2) not being compensated equally. However, I feel fortunate to say, as the founder and owner of an evolutionary business model and a leader in upcycled fashion design, I refuse to let either of these challenges hinder our company’s growth or fashion-forward thinking.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry, by Nikolay Anguelov, is one book that opened my eyes to the realities of fast fashion and its negative impact on the environment and society. It calls out the fashion industry as the second largest industry impacting the environment and the planet’s natural resources and backs it up with alarming facts and data that cannot be ignored.

I was introduced to the author, an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, and he invited me to attend his presentation at a local Science Café session. After his presentation, and viewing my business model as an appropriate segue, he asked if we would be willing to present our story at the next session. We agreed. Given that our facility is located in the area that what was once labeled the “textile capital of the world”, the topic had a meaningful and direct connection to the area’s history.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. is an issue that resonates with me completely, and one that I fully support. Job creation in the US is important to the health of our nation’s economy and “Made in USA” matters. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, nearly 80% of American consumers say they would prefer to buy products made in the U.S., and more than 60% say they’re even willing to pay more for those products. In the apparel industry, there are only a handful of cut & sew facilities and fabric manufacturers in the U.S. These are located in states that have a low minimum wage. As efforts are made to bring manufacturing jobs back, I challenge our elected officials and policymakers to work toward wage standards and guidelines that create equal opportunity across all states. This would create a level playing field for a wide range of manufacturers and promote job creation in states that otherwise can’t compete.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Believe in yourself and be prepared to work hard.” Stella McCartney.

I apply this thinking in both my personal and professional life with the belief that good comes to those who work hard. Whether it’s raising a family, starting a business, or pursing personal interests or activities, confidence, courage, and the work you put into it, will more often than not, lead to success.

How can our readers follow you online?



This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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