Brunswick man turns trash into T-shirts

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BRUNSWICK — For the uninitiated, the large blue banner that hangs on the wall behind Jeremy Litchfield’s desk is confusing at best, and inappropriate at worst.

“GET TRASHED,” it screams in an aggressive typeface, above the logo for Litchfield’s athletic apparel company, Atayne.

But Litchfield, a thin, athletic 30-something with a stubbly beard, isn’t interested in advertising his company through binge drinking. Rather, his banner is about  picking up litter while on a run.

Like “trash running,” as Litchfield calls the activity, Atayne is also a blend of athletics and environmentalism.

Every article of Atayne clothing is made from 100 percent recycled material, primarily derived from used plastic water bottles. According to the company’s website, each T-shirt keeps eight to 12 bottles out of landfills. The recycled fabric also uses 70 percent less energy to produce than virgin polyester.

Litchfield, a Durham native, decided to form the company after a fateful run on a hot, humid day in Washington, D.C. He was wearing a red, synthetic T-shirt that bled all over him, leaving him covered in dye. Concerned that the chemicals in the dye were being absorbed into his skin, he attempted to search out clothing made without them, but couldn’t find what he was looking for.

“What was available on the market was not in line with my values,” he said. “To achieve the performance I wanted running-wise, I was compromising values around social responsibility and the environment.”

So he left his job at a marketing firm and started Atayne. Shortly thereafter,  another “ah-ha” moment led to the idea of trash running.

After a long run through a scenic park in Washington, he started picking up litter on his way back to the car.

“It literally filled my trunk with trash,” he said.

Later that night, over a couple of beers, Litchfield and a running buddy came up with the idea of picking up trash behind runners in road races. It was attention-grabbing, in-line with his values, and a way for the cash-strapped entrepreneur to be involved with races without sponsoring them.

Since then, Litchfield has organized trash runs at many of Maine’s major races, including the Maine Marathon. Most recently, he and a small group of runners trailed competitors in Safe Passage’s Esperanza 5K in Cumberland on May 15.

Trash running “is a good way for us to actually go out, do something that’s in line with our values, but also help get exposure for our company,” he said.

It’s also great exercise.

“If you do a trash run for three miles, you feel like you ran six cause you’re bending down and picking up, it’s a good work out,” Litchfield said. Sometimes he’ll carry a plastic bag to hold the garbage he finds, but if he’s anticipating a lot of litter, he’ll plunk a trash bag down in a stroller and push it in front of him.

Trash running takes a lot longer than normal running, which gives time for the athletes to come up with quirky vocabulary to describe the sport. For example, if a runner reaches for a piece of trash and misses it, another runner may yell, “Dude, you just pulled a Buckner,” a term coined after Bill Buckner’s infamous error in the 1986 World Series.

If a runner is seriously committed to picking up litter, he or she may “go mechanic,” pick up trash from under parked cars,  or “trash-cavate,” digging up years-old litter that has sunken into the ground.

Despite the filth factor, the new sport has caught on. Litchfield is aware of at least five other trash running groups from Chicago to Hyderabad, India. Just last week he got a call from an excited trash runner in Austin, Texas.

His clothing company is expanding, too. Litchfield is looking to expand his line from mostly T-shirts to include shorts, hats and tank-tops.

Whether he’s jogging with a stroller full of garbage, or selling 100 percent recycled T-shirts, Litchfield’s goal is to educate more people about what goes into their apparel and to make them think twice about what trash really means.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Atayne founder Jeremy Litchfield sports one of his company’s 100 percent recycled T-shirts. The logo on the front says “Run hard, tread lightly.”

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