8 March 2024 Rourke '24 Wins the Pitch with Sustainable Clothing Business By Colin Spencer '19

Start-up upcycles and remixes old clothing into one of a kind designs. 

Watch the full recording here

Citing that the fashion industry produces approximately 92 million tons of textile waste each year and a need for sustainable clothing options, Emily Rourke ’24 won The 13th Annual Todd Feldman ’89 and Family Pitch Contest for her startup Em’s Threads.

With the win, Rourke took home a check for $10,000 that she will use to grow her business.   

Through a user-friendly platform, Em’s Threads allows customers to specify preferences for color, design, fit and style, resulting in a custom-made sweatshirt. Since launching the business in the fall of 2023, Rourke has generated over $11,000 selling her wear online and through partnerships with Monaco’s Coffee and Lake Drum Brewing in Geneva. 

Rourke, a sociology and environmental studies double major, spoke of the need to reduce waste in the clothing industry as part of her inspiration.

“We need a circular economy of clothing,” she said. “We need threads that last.”


Working with a team of local seamsters, Rourke estimates that from making more than 150 sweatshirts, over 300 pounds of clothing waste was diverted from landfill. 

Rourke cited her mother as the inspiration for the business, making each item with care and love that is special to the wearer. “She incorporates purpose and innovation, demonstrating her care for the environment by often repurposing old materials,” said Rourke. 

Lydia Loizides P’26, the managing partner and CEO of Talentedly and one of the judges, said Rourke was picked as the winner because she has been able to target a growing market for used clothing. 

“I think she’s been able to really tap into something that could be quite unique and centralized and create some interesting long-term business,” said Loizides.

“I liked the sustainability story,” said Lee Jokl ’05, a director of growth strategy at T. Rowe Price and a judge in the competition. “We just felt that what she can do with $10,000, given what she’s done with very minimal startup capital, was substantial.”

Rourke was mentored by Lowell Kronowitz '85, P'27, the president of Levy Jewelers. 

Along with Loizides and Jokl, this year’s judges included Paul Harden ’82, small business growth hub director at the Rhode Island Small Business Development center, and Khawar Khokar ’00, the executive director of SAKS Health. 

The finalists included Cori Bohan ’27, founder Stories We Tell; Lucas Johnson '24, creator of 3Face; and Saugat Raj Joshi ’25 and Rex Eidlin ’26 developers of EcoPack. 

Established in 2011, the entrepreneurial competition begins with students submitting a business plan for a product or service. Then the finalists, who are chosen by the Pitch selection committee, present their plan to a panel of alumni and parent judges for the opportunity to win $10,000. Leading up to the final event, each student is partnered with an alumni mentor to refine their business proposals.

Todd Feldman ’89 and his family generously sponsor the competition. Founder of The Feldman Co., Feldman has more than 30 years of experience developing and building businesses. Read a 2021 profile of Feldman here.

The Pitch is a program offered through the Centennial Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Top: President Mark D. Gearan, Emily Rourke '24 and Associate Provost and Director of the Centennial Center Susan Pliner pose after Rourke's victory in The 13th Annual Todd Feldman ’89 and Family Pitch Contest.