Very few launch a successful startup at age 19, but NC State rising senior Emily Neville did just that when she realized the potential that rests in the corner of someone’s personal closet—or even in a storage closet at a university.
In a typical closet, many unused clothes just sit in the corner, never escaping or having a moment to sparkle or shine. Thanks to Raleigh-based Reborn Clothing Co., these clothes can take on a new life. Whether it’s as a pillow, blanket or dog bandana, Founder and CEO Neville has ensured that your clothing can be reborn.
Neville grew up in Harnett County and learned to sew at the Loving Stitches Quilt Shop in Fayetteville when she was in middle school. After that, Neville could often be found making updates to her own closet whenever she didn’t like the neckline or hemline of a piece of clothing in an effort to give new life to old clothes. Although she fell out of sewing for a while in high school, Neville’s idea to bring unused clothes back from the dead sparked the beginning of Reborn, which she founded during her sophomore year at NC State.
“I was also really interested in sustainable fashion,” Neville said. “But I saw a problem with the sustainable fashion industry where it’s really limited, not very accessible either price-wise or just available to the average consumer, and so I wanted to make it more accessible.”
Reborn began with consumer “upcycling.” A customer can send in an article of clothing to be made into one of the several items offered on their website. Then it expanded to include working with universities and companies to re-create surplus T-shirts and dated promotional items into new products.
Reborn’s products range in price from a $6.99 koozie to a $119.99 memory blanket, a quilt-like collage of old (vintage?) clothes.
The startup finished its first investment round last summer with six local investors who put up $85,000. Currently Reborn is raising another investment round of $250,000. One of the investors who saw the potential in Neville’s startup is Joe Ruggieri, a managing partner at Raleigh’s Aven Capital.
“She’s an incredibly impressive person,” Ruggieri said, “and being still a student and to have the initiative and vision to start a company, I thought was quite neat. She’s super smart. I could tell when I first met her she’s got a clear vision.”
Reborn has expanded on its original vision and now also works with textile brands including Triad-based Sunbrella Fabrics. Reborn is averaging $15,000 in monthly revenue, but Neville wants to get that to $80K/month (almost $1M annually) a year from now.
“I love this company,” Neville said. “I definitely started it with a smaller vision in mind, but as we’ve grown and realized that not just individuals struggle with the problem of surplus or unwanted clothing, but every single organization and company that we’ve worked with. So really my vision for it is for us to become the global solution for textiles and surplus with brand recognition and value.”
At the start of her venture, Neville worked at the front desk of the coworking space Loading Dock Raleigh in exchange for membership space to get her startup off the ground. Loading Dock Raleigh is where she met many of her lead investors, who understood the unmet need she was trying to fulfill with fashion waste.
Ruggieri said, “I think that her vision for a sustainable B2B business made sense to us, and attacking one of the biggest problems in corporate waste and environmental pollution, which is waste in the fashion industry, created a solution that I hadn’t seen before. And we knew a lot of companies that had this exact issue that she was seeking to solve.”
The startup is scalable and large institutions or companies that have a lot of material just sitting in storage can benefit, Ruggieri said.
“It’s a mutual benefit to both sides,” Ruggieri said. “I’m very excited about the progress she’s made in the short few months that we’ve been involved and excited to see where she can take it in the future.”
Neville said Reborn keeps growing. The team itself has increased from Neville to include two other full-time employees and a larger number of part-time sewers. University-wise, Reborn first only worked with NC State, but the startup now also partners with East Carolina University and UNC-Wilmington and is adding more schools in the next year.
Says Neville, “It’s been really exciting to see it grow and take off.”