Small Business: Making apparel with recycled and upcycled materials


Bill Johnston started his company, Recover Brands, as a side business seven years ago. In 2012, he went full-time when he couldn’t handle the volume of work required to run Recover Brands and do his job as an outdoor tour guide.

Recover Brands Founder Bill Johnston

Recover Brands uses the recycling and upcycling processes to make t-shirts, hats and hoodies. Their tees contain eight recycled 12-ounce water and soda bottles and upcycled cotton waste from manufacturing. The two are blended together to form a 50/50 tee that, according to Johnston, is soft, comfortable and durable. They also manufacture 100 percent recycled sports apparel that is light weight and quick drying, which is quickly becoming one of their most popular products.

Some of the products are made in North Carolina and others are made in Haiti.

Ninety percent of Recover Brands’ business is custom orders for local companies like U.S. National Whitewater Center, Lenny Boy Brewing Co. and NoDa Brewing Company. Their national partners have grown to include Sierra Nevada, National Geographic, New York Yankees and the National Basketball Association.

Although a large part of Recover Brands’ business plan is business to business sales, Johnston, 31, wants to keep consumers engaged.

“Going to events has allowed us to connect with the end-consumer really well,” Johnston said. “It’s important to understand what that consumer is looking for.”

The Recover Brands process

Shop for Recover Brands’ tees for $20, sports tees for $25, sport polos for $40 and hoodies for $45 at their shop in Freemore West or online. They also carry kids sizes, women’s cuts and 3X in certain colors.

Johnston answered five questions for C5’s Small Business Series:

How do customers react to your products?

“People say, ‘Wow, this is made from eight bottles?’

“Everyone is taught to recycle, but you don’t know where the recycling goes. It’s a tangible thing for them.”

When/where do you get your ideas for running a business?

“My ideas flow best when I get outside. One of my most favorite things to do in the world is mountain biking. To me it’s kind of the perfect outlet. It puts you in the present, and it forces you to be in the moment.

“Afterwards [I am] so refreshed and recharged that I feel like it gives me a fresh perspective on things.”

What’s expected of the Recover Brands staff?

“People who are willing to wear different hats, I think is important. More of a self-starter as well. People who want to own their work and contribute to the greater conversation.

“It’s really important for us to have people who are passionate about the environment and protecting it. It goes back to being authentic to what we are doing.”

What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to start a business?

“I think you have to be really committed to your vision, particularly at the start of it. It can be challenging when it’s just you on a day-to-day basis staying motivated and staying true to your vision and what you are trying to do.”

What’s next for Recover Brands?

“We are starting a new local line: a full product line of t-shirts, hats, beanies, women’s tanks and bags. They are all things made within a 150-mile radius of Charlotte. We are calling it Recover Local.”

Recover Brands, 1518 Bryant St.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; Closed Saturday and Sunday

Photos: Vanessa Infanzon, Recover Brands

Family history and my own fascination with people and their motivations prompted me to begin this series about Charlotte’s small business owners. Industry, situation and questions will vary. Have a suggestion for a small business owner or entrepreneur to interview? Email it to with the subject line “Small Business Series.”







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