Emily Neville wants to breathe new life into clothing.
We’re all familiar with the struggle of cleaning out our closets and finding old clothes that are no longer wearable, so we donate them, or worse, we throw them out entirely. For a select few of us, we even attach sentimental value to some pieces of clothing; they just sit, taking up space but are not being used.
Neville says she notices a lot of that struggle as a student at NC State. Most people don’t have the time or resources to make their own updates to their clothes, as Neville loved to do growing up—she’s been sewing since middle school—so the world ends up with massive amounts of textile waste. This gave Neville the idea to transform old clothes into fresh products for their owners, and so, in the fall of 2017 during her sophomore year of college, Reborn Clothing Co. was born.
“I love fashion, I love clothing,” Neville says. “I think we really care about our clothing more than we sometimes think about. And I would like people to care even more about their clothing.”
People can choose a product they want on Reborn’s website—pillows, baby blankets and dog bandanas are a few examples—and then ship the clothing they want transformed to Reborn’s new headquarters/cut and sew facility. The Reborn team (about 15 people in total, including students from NC State’s College of Textiles who assist with sewing and product design) will then transform the garments and ship the new product back to the owner.
Reborn aims to fill a hole that Neville sees in the sustainable fashion market: a personal touch. While consumers today can easily buy products made from recycled materials, those hold less meaning than something made from their own garments, especially when there is a story attached. Just last month, a teacher sent about 20 T-shirts that she’d compiled over her years of teaching for Reborn to make into a blanket. Another woman whose friend’s baby had passed away sent in some of the child’s onesies, which Reborn transformed into coin purses.
“This isn’t new, this is something our moms or grandmas used to do, patch up clothing,” Neville says. “And we not only want to bring that back but actually add even more value to the garment than it had before.”
But Reborn’s operations don’t stop at the individual consumer level. The company recently announced a partnership with
NC State, which stores a huge amount of unusable clothing and textiles from various departments, including athletics. The excess textiles are donated to Reborn, which then transforms them into products that can be sold in the university bookstore—what once was an old piece of athletic gear with the NC State logo might be transformed and sold as a Wolfpack laptop case or travel bag.
“What sets Reborn apart from other upcycling companies is that we use the logo and the value of that product as it is, so we’re not breaking down the clothing into new fibers and starting from scratch,” Neville says. “We’re able to really transform these garments into products that don’t look like the original garment, but they are—we’re preserving that original character.”
Neville’s vision for Reborn goes far beyond NC State—she plans to expand to other North Carolina universities and to out-of-state schools as well.
“Hopefully, our name and brand become recognized so that students across the country want to purchase Reborn upcycled products, and they know that it’s made from their own university’s textile waste,” she says.
Aside from universities, Neville sees a wide array of partnership opportunities ahead for Reborn. She has already worked with the Loading Dock, a coworking space, to improve its sound quality by creating acoustic panels from recycled textiles, and plans are in the works for opportunities with other local businesses.
Now a junior at NC State, Neville plans to stay with Reborn for as long as she can to help it grow to its full potential.
“I care a lot about creating something that’s able to be sustained and continuing to make that lasting impact,” she says. “We’ve been able to prove that there actually is a need for this and that we’re able to do really good, cool work with textile waste.”