Design With the Planet In Mind

Take the principles of craft brewing and slow food, apply them to the apparel industry, and what you get is Rocky Clark, a new kind of clothing company that a young URI alumnus is lovingly building from the ground up.

Joe Rotondo ’16, entrepreneur and CEO of Rocky Clark Clothing, believes an apparel line can have a conscience.

Initially conceived as a side hustle, his jeans company suits customers who love fashion and wish to reduce their carbon footprint. Textiles, categorized as municipal solid waste by the Environmental Protection Agency, account for 17 million tons of landfilled material annually. Part of the problem is disposable clothing, or fast fashion: garments made cheaply by manufacturers using exploitative labor practices and shoddy fabrics. Another issue: People dispose of clothing long before it’s worn out.

Joe Rotondo ’16, entrepreneur and CEO of Rocky Clark Clothing

Some eco-conscious consumers respond by mending or upcycling clothes. Designers like Rotondo battle fast fashion by using organic fabric and designing for long-term wear. Rocky Clark jeans, for instance, come with patches at the knees since that’s where material first shows signs of wear. Rotondo, whose has a degree in textiles, fashion merchandising and design (TMD) from the College of Business, began his studies at URI as a kinesiology major. Both disciplines influence his design. “I wanted to study kinesiology initially,” he says, “because I love sports. I realized what I really wanted, though, was to design uniforms and sports jerseys. “But kinesiology was super-informative in terms of thinking about how things should fit,” Rotondo says. “I feel blessed that being at a public university like URI, rather than a fashion institute, allowed me to get a well-rounded education.”

Rotondo also credits URI with affording him unique opportunities, such as his study-abroad experience in Florence, Italy, where he studied tailoring at Accademia Italia. “There, I learned about a tailored fit and the importance of the silhouette,” he says. “I am obsessed with the blending of the old with the new and the American ethic of things being built to last,” Rotondo notes. Rotondo’s collection started with a pair of jeans he handmade for himself in 2015. “I was at a friend’s house, and he asked where I got the jeans and would I make him a pair?” Rotondo recalls. “That ignited the process.”

Rotondo’s progress has been slow and steady—by design. He envisions career longevity of the type Ralph Lauren enjoys. Rotondo intends, one day, to oversee all aspects of production, from farm to factory, so as to stay true to his business model: handcrafted clothes made of sustainable materials in a manner that is both ethical and eco-friendly. Rotondo’s also committed to donating 3% of his profits to charitable organizations.

And where did he learn to sew? “My godmother, Sue Connolly, a schoolteacher, taught me, and my parents gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, to try new things and experiment, to learn what it was that I loved,” Rotondo says. “Sometimes that means learning what you don’t like. You need to have patience. And when you find what you do like, you go for it.” •

—Marybeth Reilly-McGreen

Rhode to a Degree

Favorite Professor:
Karl Aspelund, TMD associate professor and department chair. “His intellect and exploration of a topic were captivating. We now work together. I’m an advisory board member for the Class of 2030 curriculum overhaul.”

Most Valuable Course:
“Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration Edward Mazze’s entrepreneurship course was a gateway for seeing the possibilities of my degree and skillset. It sparked a fire in me to pursue my dreams.”

Favorite Campus Space:
“The College of Pharmacy’s medicinal garden is a gem—
a tranquil spot for some peaceful time in between classes.”

First Runway Gig:
Spring Splash, the TMD Fashion Show. “I had five outfits in the show. One piece was the first version of my RC001 jeans. Creating a collection and taking an idea from sketch to final product was cool. I won ‘Most Marketable Collection.’”

Turning Point:
Realizing as a kinesiology major that what he really wanted was to design clothes that moved with the body.

Academic Career Highlight:
Studying tailoring in Florence, Italy.

Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs:
“Start small. Focus on quality over quantity.”

URI Degree:
B.S., 2016, textiles, fashion merchandising and design.

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