Centre students start clothing upcycling business ReBegin

Project places in KY Pitch competition

The idea for ReBegin, LLC, a clothing upcycling business started by Centre College sophomore Phoenix Staten and junior Adonis Logan, came during the pandemic, in May. Staten got restless stuck at home and, since she can sew, she reached out to some friends and asked if they wanted any of their old clothing upcycled, turned into different clothing items and household items.

It came from a desire for connection, she said. It meant a lot to her to see her friends wearing what she had crafted with pride.

“In-person contact wasn’t a thing, but we thought it was so powerful that I was able to feel connected with my friends, and they were able to feel connected with me, just through the act of upcycling one piece of clothing,” she said. “We wanted to share that feeling with others.”

Another thing that inspired the business was seeing environmental changes that happened as people spent more time at home, and a desire to reduce textile waste in landfills.

The issue addressed

Logan said in their research when developing the business and entering their idea into the KY Pitch competition, he and Staten looked into the amount of textile waste that goes to landfills each year nationally.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, there were approximately 11.3 million tons of textiles landfilled in 2018. Data from 1960-2018 shows a striking increase, from approximately 1.7 million tons in 1960 staying fairly steady through 1980, then rising annually starting in 1990.

Logan said upcycling old clothing is a good alternative to fast fashion, or trendy clothing produced in mass quantities and sold at a low cost. Fast fashion items can be made in poor working conditions or with low-quality material.

Because Logan said people may only wear a piece of clothing a few times before donating it or throwing it away, upcycling is a sustainable way to turn an existing piece of clothing into something new and refresh a wardrobe. He said though it’s great to donate clothes, some of the places that take clothing donations can be the largest contributors of textile waste in landfills, since they may keep an article of clothing displayed for a limited time, or not keep all of what they receive in stock.

Logan said ReBegin wants to “be that cool, functional, fashionable alternative that could mitigate — maybe not completely erase textile waste — but mitigate the issues that come along with it.”

How the business works, and progress so far

In the nearly one year since Staten and Logan launched ReBegin, they’ve partnered up with who they call “redesigners,” people in and around Danville who have contracts with them to sew the upcycled creations.

Photo submitted

The redesigners are compensated for their work based on how long it will take to complete a project, fabric workability and the upcycling ratio, or how many items it takes to make a product. For example, it may take three items to make one upcycled product, or one item to make four products.

Right now ReBegin has three redesigners, all women over the age of 40, who either used to sew full-time and are now retired, or they’ve sewn for their families or as a hobby. Staten said anyone who has the ability to sew is welcome to apply to be a redesigner, and ReBegin is looking for more redesigners now.

Staten said it’s been exciting to see intersections between different academic and business fields with ReBegin. She’s majoring in anthropology with a minor in linguistics, and Logan is majoring in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainable development.

When it comes to their roles in the business, Logan and Staten try to make their business decisions together. However, Staten’s focus is more on redesigner outreach and contributing to what products will look like, and Logan’s focus is more on the “business side of things,” like taxes, the revenue model and connecting with people who can help with what it takes to run an LLC. Both work with marketing for the business. ReBegin has collaborated with CentreWorks, The Idea Farm, Inc., and local attorneys and accounting firms.

Staten said ReBegin has gotten a positive response so far. They’ve been able to work on several projects, including turning fabric a woman brought back from a business trip in Indonesia into a pillow complete with buttons, turning five graphic T-shirts into a pair of shorts, and turning T-shirts into a skirt. There’s a lot of things the business can do, like turning a wedding dress into artwork or sewing jerseys together to make a blanket.

One value of the business is not only being stylish, functional and sustainable — people can also make things to pass down to family members, Staten said.

“Something we’ve both paid attention to is just the importance of family, especially within Danville, and how people definitely want to pass down their clothes and share that sentimental value with people who they love.”

On April 16, Staten and Logan found out they placed second on the exploratory track of the 2021 KY Pitch competition, which focuses on ideas for business models. The competition is for innovators and entrepreneurs at the college and university level. Second place in the exploratory track gets $3,500, according to the KY Pitch website. It also includes mentoring from the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs and legal, accounting and marketing advice, Logan said.

To learn more about ReBegin, get clothing or household items upcycled or apply to be a redesigner, email rebegin.rbn@gmail.com, or reach out on Instagram @Rebegin.rbn. Staten and Logan are hoping to launch a website soon, before the summer.