BY KELLY SWAN | September 21, 2022
This fall, shoppers at the John Carroll University (JCU) bookstore in Cleveland, OH, have access to a new option to show their school spirit—an ethically and sustainably made t-shirt and socks made from repurposed socks.
The shirt is produced by COLLECTION, a sustainable textile products brand operating under the umbrella of The Industrial Commons (TIC), a North Carolina-based collective of employee-owned social enterprises and industrial cooperatives. TIC works to found and scale businesses that build a diverse local working class in a region that has seen steep economic decline.
In March of 2022, Shelby Smyth, a resident minister and graduate student at JCU accompanied a group of JCU undergraduate students on an immersion trip through ISN’s Catholic Ethical Purchasing Alliance (CEPA) during their school’s spring break to North Carolina.
That week, they visited a host of manufacturing facilities, including those affiliated with TIC—many operating under a triple bottom line business philosophy—one that centers people, planet, and profit. They also examined the concept of a circular economy—one that “operates through a collective business model: sharing resources among factories, empowering workers through worker-ownership, educating the community on skills-building and entrepreneurship, and recycling and reusing materials.” Students were able to witness beanies being created from yarn destined for the landfill, new socks manufactured from old socks at the end of their lifecycle through a partnership with SmartWool, and even visited a local cotton gin.
After the immersion, Smyth and her students worked to engage the JCU campus in the type of work they witnessed in North Carolina. They partnered with campus sustainability interns and residence life to collect over 300 socks for recycling. Smyth and her colleague and fellow resident minister and immersion leader Miles Tiemeyer also supervise the school’s fair trade and sustainability interns, who they have been working with to increase JCU’s engagement with CEPA. Smyth and a student participant from the immersion trip are also sitting on the school’s newly formed Laudato Si’ Committee—working to more fully and effectively integrate sustainability and care for creation into the life of the campus.
“Students at JCU are broadly interested in sustainability,” Smyth shared with CEPA director Grace Adams, “particularly clothing.” The presence of the new COLLECTION t-shirt in the school’s bookstore is a confluence of this interest and JCU’s growing engagement with CEPA, providing an avenue for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to further live the Jesuit mission and enact the principles of Catholic social teaching—to live a faith that cares for the dignity of all people, upholds the rights of workers, builds strong families and communities, fosters a tangible solidarity, and cares for the vulnerable and for all of creation.
Kelly Swan has worked for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016, first as communications director, and now as director of advancement. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.