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Agee Leinberry FTM ‘14: Sustainable Solutions in Luxury Fashion

Agee Leinberry models a green and white checkered dress accessorized with gold jewelry.

From a young age, Agee Leinberry knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Following her time as a fashion and textile management (FTM) student at the Wilson College of Textiles, reflection on the problem of textile waste in the fashion industry sparked an idea for a standout business. 

“I had a strong desire to create and innovate, and the idea of starting and running my own business always intrigued me,” she shares. “I always liked to march to the beat of my own drum and had a knack for building a brand concept and bringing it to life.”

In August 2022, Leinberry and her co-founder, Caroline Gilroy, launched Couper: a bold luxury brand that prioritizes sustainability and tackles waste by using deadstock fabrics and leftover materials for many of their exclusive capsules. Deadstock fabrics are those that are undamaged and in good condition but are not sold or made into ready-to-sell garments. Couper uses deadstock fabrics and unsold garments from high end retailers to curate capsules of one-of-a-kind artisan pieces.

“When we were building out the concept of Couper, we knew we didn’t want to just start another fashion brand. The landscape is incredibly inundated, and we found ourselves personally becoming interested in companies that had sustainability as one of their core pillars,” she explains. “Fashion is not an environmentally friendly industry, but we’re trying to take steps where we can by alleviating brands of their leftover materials to ensure they don’t go to waste.”

When we were building out the concept of Couper, we knew we didn’t want to just start another fashion brand.

During her time at the Wilson College, Leinberry majored in FTM with a concentration in fashion development and product management (FDPM) as a First Union Textiles Scholar through the North Carolina Textile Foundation. While earning her degree, she developed creative skills, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and Adobe Illustrator, and learned standard business principles within the context of the fashion industry. In her senior year, Leinberry participated in the Threads Senior Collection showcase, which allows FDPM students to display designs from their classwork on the runway. Undoubtedly, this knowledge and experience aided in the development of Couper. 

“To this day I’m so happy I took CAD classes. I use Illustrator on a daily basis and gained most of my expertise during these courses,” she says. “As a business owner, you can’t just depend on your top skills and talents – you have to immerse yourself in every part of the business.”

Model poses at the end of a flower lined runway wearing an elegant strapless sky blue jumpsuit designed by Leinberry.
Model wears one of Leinberry’s original designs at a runway event in 2012.

Why the Wilson College of Textiles and why FTM? 

I attended the Wilson College of Textiles because of my experience at the Summer Textiles Exploration Program. My mom, who was the director of the dance program at NC State for over 30 years, encouraged me to attend. We always sewed together during my childhood and she thought the program was a great way to immerse myself in the craft in a more serious way. 

I had a really wonderful experience at STEP, met some of my dearest friends and excelled at many of the projects we were given during the program. When applying for the undergraduate program, I knew FTM was the right program for me because I could gain a comprehensive understanding of the business side of the fashion industry while focusing on being creative with my concentration in fashion development and product management.

How did your scholarship play a role in your college experience?

Receiving the North Carolina Textile Foundation scholarship played a crucial role in my college experience. It alleviated the financial burden that comes with pursuing higher education, allowing me to focus more on my studies, my time with the dance program and allocating funds to my study abroad program in Florence. 

The scholarship also served as a motivational factor for me to excel. Knowing that my hard work and dedication were recognized and rewarded by the scholarship really encouraged me to strive for excellence in my studies and push myself to achieve my full potential.

Leinberry takes selfie in NC State gear at a tailgate outside Carter Finley Stadium.
Leinberry attends a tailgate at NC State’s Carter Finley Stadium.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur someday? 

Without a doubt. When I graduated, I moved to NYC, had multiple corporate fashion jobs and owned a swimwear company called Rise City Swim on the side. Personally, it was always so much more fulfilling to work for myself and the process really pushed me to dive deep into my strengths.

How did your experience working in luxury fashion impact the creation of Couper?

I was definitely more drawn to the high-end fashion side of the industry – that’s just where my heart is! Working for Saks Fifth Avenue during college exposed me more to high-end contemporary and designer brands, so that’s where I really started my expertise and it was a natural progression to stay within the space.

Many of the brands I’ve worked for have a very similar customer base to Couper, so prior to starting my business I already felt like an expert on my target audience. I knew how she liked to shop, when, where, the frequency and what types of marketing she’d respond to.

What do you and your co-founder take into account when thinking about buying and what designers to feature? 

There are so many factors that go into our buying process. When we think about assortment, we strive to work with brands that are not featured on more than one to two major commercial organizations, including  Moda Operandi, NetaPorter, Shopbop, Revolve, etc. Next, we approach brands that have sustainability efforts at the forefront of their initiatives. Lastly, we ensure that each brand or style is a reflection of the personal styles of both my co-founder Caroline and I. 

I love hearing that so many students are interested in becoming buyers! One thing I’d love to touch on is that this process is extremely analytical. Without being in the industry, people often think buying means selecting each individual item and having a sense of style, what would sell, etc. In reality, it’s very data-driven. It’s a lot of crunching numbers, living in spreadsheets and analyzing sell thrus and reports. Buyers have extremely strong math backgrounds and are Excel wizards. 

Leinberry models green and creme gingham dress, gold earrings, and sunglasses.
Leinberry models gingham dress for Couper.

What does the process look like for developing your more exclusive collaborations? 

Our exclusive collaborations are an integral part of the business and are what sets Couper apart from so many of our competitors. The process looks different for every relationship! There are some collaborations where Caroline and I are sitting in on design meetings from the beginning and conceptualizing silhouettes and new prints, merchandising a collection, and taking the capsule from an initial idea all the way through production.

 Other times, we’re approaching bigger brands that might have more deadstock or liability material they’re sitting on and seeing how we can take these materials and turn them into a limited edition capsule that is exclusively sold on

From a press perspective, this is the benefit of co-marketing. When a platform gets to partner with a brand, you’re taking advantage of two public relations (PR) teams versus one. Editors are more inclined to write about partnerships and customers are equally enamored with the process. 

What are you most proud of when it comes to Couper? 

I’m most proud of how quickly we have built something that was once just an idea on paper. When I left my corporate fashion job, I had no real concept of what this would become, but in just one year we’ve exceeded so many of our personal and professional goals for the business and I’m so excited to see where the future takes us. 

What’s your advice for those of our students who are aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Find your unique voice. It’s a saturated market and it’s crucial to establish a unique brand identity that sets you apart. Identify what makes your idea special and how it resonates with your target audience. This will be the foundation of your business’s success. 

Adaptability is also crucial. Fashion is dynamic, so your business must be adaptable. Be prepared to pivot in response to changing trends, customer feedback and market shifts!