Home » Featured News » Gabelli School Ignite Scholars Explore New Business Models During a GO! Program Immersion Trip to an Ethical and Sustainable Textile District in North Carolina

Gabelli School Ignite Scholars Explore New Business Models During a GO! Program Immersion Trip to an Ethical and Sustainable Textile District in North Carolina

Undergraduate | Feb 21, 2024 |

Students Gained Invaluable Insights into the Ways in Which Local Businesses Can Empower Workers While Protecting the Environment

For a week this past January, a group of Gabelli School of Business Ignite Scholars visited the Carolina Textile District (CTD) in Morgantown, NC, through the Go! Program, a Fordham University service and cultural immersion initiative rooted in social justice awareness and community engagement. The trip enabled this group of scholars to become part of a growing youth movement that is exploring the benefits of sustainable and ethical manufacturing, its impact on the economy, and the everyday products they purchase.

The CTD connects those who make, design, and sell clothing to a reliable, domestic supply chain that includes local patternmakers, printers, fabric finishers, and dye houses, among others, in order to produce quality products in the area. It is a part of The Industrial Commons (TIC), which empowers local workers and supports local communities by providing secure, meaningful jobs. Its goal is to “found and scale employee owned social enterprises and industrial cooperatives, and support workers in building a new southern working class that erases the inequities of generational poverty and builds an economy and future for all.” This mission closely aligns with the Gabelli School’s focus on business serving as a catalyst for lasting and impactful change and ties directly into what students are learning about in their classes.

The trip provided an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of the supply chain that plays an integral role in the manufacturing and distribution of the clothes that we wear and the ways in which traditional business practices impact the economy of a region and affect the dignity of workers and their communities. More importantly, it opened their eyes to new, more sustainable and ethical approaches that can be employed to make the process more beneficial to frontline workers, raising their quality of life while protecting the fragile environment.

During their time away, students explored the distinctive TIC business ecosystem and the importance it places on environmental stewardship; quality wages and benefits; amplifying the voice of the worker; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. They visited small businesses at the TIC where they learned about the process of creating a garment. Part of this immersive experience included learning how to sew—a skill that was challenging for everyone, and put into perspective the misperception of “unskilled labor” in a factory setting.

On another day, they toured Opportunity Threads, an immigrant-led, worker-owned cooperative where personnel shared their stories and explained how their cooperative model supports the local community and builds long-term sustainability for the local economy. They also visited Material Return, which provides solutions for custom circularity, working with local manufacturers and national brands to transform textile waste into new products.

“As an international student, it was great to gain a new perspective because I had only experienced the business environment in New York City and California,” commented Om Bhosale, a B.S. in Global Business student. “I got to see a different part of the US, and it changed my overall mindset on many things. It made me think about where my clothes come from and understand where they go when we are done with them. It also gave me the chance to meet directly with the people who make clothes in the TIC, and understand a very different business model.”

During a CTD-sponsored Hometown Walkabout tour of Burke County, NC, students were able to hear from storytellers about their struggles and successes within a diverse community of immigrants. Individuals from different backgrounds shared their personal experiences, highlighting the importance of engaging in discussions with humility and openness.

“To be able to see the differences culturally from where I grew up in Kentucky, was just amazing. It showed me how communities are influencing local businesses,” commented Seamus Kelly, who also is enrolled in the B.S. in Global Business. The site visits and presentations allowed us to gain an understanding of a business model for clothing manufacturing where workers are happy and actually have an investment in the business. It proved that equity, fairness, and dignity do not have to be separate from the process of making the clothes.”

In addition to all they learned from a business perspective, both Bhosale and Kelly gushed about how much they enjoyed living with other students in the Ignite Scholars program, interacting with them over the course of the week. It proved to be a true bonding experience—one they will remember forever.

Bill Sickles, senior lecturer and faculty advisor at the Gabelli School of Business, who escorted the students on this education and eye-opening journey concluded, “Trips like this one give students an unparalleled experience that complements their classroom learning and exposes them to so many new ideas. They get to see how a business operates from the people inside, and they create valuable and meaningful relationships, which will be with them for a lifetime.”


Written by: Michelle Miller, associate director of communications, and Paola Curcio-Kleinman, senior director of marketing and communications, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business

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