T-Shirt 2.0

Reborn Clothing transforms cherished pieces into useful new items.

By Addie Ladner | Photography by Eamon Queeney

Reborn Clothing Co. founder and CEO, Emily Neville.

     Have you ever been stuck with a stuffed-drawer dilemma? All those old t-shirts—from high school sports and college clubs, fundraisers and 5Ks—hold sentimental value, but they take up a whole lot of space. Emily Neville knows what to do with them: turn them into something else. She started her Raleigh-based company Reborn Clothing in the hopes of sending fewer garments to the landfill, instead turning t-shirts and other textiles into useful items like blankets or throw pillows. The shelves at the N.C. State bookstore, where Neville is a student, are stocked with a line of products made from old campus activity shirts, but there are ways for you to repurpose your own sentimental t-shirts, too.
     “Clothing holds our memories,” says Neville. A baby’s first onesie, a wedding dress, a late Grandfather’s scarf—Neville says she doesn’t want these items to sit in a closet collecting dust—or get thrown away, either. She hopes to continue the story of meaningful garments by giving them a second life through Reborn. The company’s mission comes at an essential time: The fashion industry is the second largest polluter following the oil industry, producing an immense volume of textile waste in a culture of disposable, fast fashion. Keeping clothing out of landfills is Neville’s driving motivation.

A detail look at repurposed NC State laptop sleeves at Reborn Clothing Co.

     Through Reborn’s online ordering process, customers can mail up to five T-shirts or other sentimental garments to Reborn’s HQ, where they’ll be transformed into a practical yet stylish item, like a throw pillow, teddy bear, or camera strap, to use and cherish forever. Customers answer a handful of questions: what they’re looking to repurpose, which product they’d like, and what parts of the garments they want to stay visible. Reborn will send a packing slip and box to kick off the process. “Once we receive the clothing, the team creates a design. For example, if you send in three shirts, your pillow will encompass the most important parts of three shirts,” says Neville. Reborn also accepts custom orders and is willing to improvise—Neville once turned a customer’s beloved old formal dress into an edgy new blazer.
   Neville, who has no formal training or education in textiles, has been advocating for sustainable fashion since early on. She remembers refitting the contents of her closet regularly as a child and pre-teen. “I’d alter the straps on something or change the neckline. And when I got into college, I’d make pillows,” she says. Now she practices her work continually in her own “bare bones” closet. “I hardly have any clothing in my closet anymore, because I’ve turned it into something.” Locals can also shop Reborn’s Forever Line of items, including scrunchies, earrings, and camera straps made from the company’s own waste, at downtown Raleigh retailers Lucky Tree and Simple Bliss Spa