Gabelli School Ignite Scholars Explore New Business Models During a Trip to a North Carolina Sustainable Textile District

Gabelli School of Business Ignite Scholars at the Carolina Textile District
For a week this past January, a group of Gabelli School of Business Ignite Scholars visited the Carolina Textile District (CTD) in Morgantown, North Carolina, through the Go! Program, a Fordham University service and cultural immersion initiative rooted in social justice awareness and community engagement. The trip enabled the group 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 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. 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.

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. 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 U.S., 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,” he said.

During a CTD-sponsored Hometown Walkabout tour of Burke County, North Carolina, students were able to hear from storytellers about their struggles and successes within a diverse community of immigrants. “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.

Bill Sickles, senior lecturer and faculty advisor at the Gabelli School of Business, who escorted the students on this educational 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.”

— Michelle Miller, Paola Curcio-Kleinman