Catholic Student Group Learns First-Hand at the Factory About Injustices in ‘Fast Fashion’ Garment Industry

The Catholic Ethical Purchasing Alliance (CEPA) held week-long immersions at The Industrial Commons in Morganton, NC in March with John Carroll University, College of the Holy Cross and Fordham University. Over 40 students, faculty, and staff experienced firsthand the innovation of a localized supply chain in the garment industry.

Participants learned humanitarian and environmental injustices that occur within fast fashion and the global supply chain, and the community-based approach of The Industrial Commons — an organization that founds and scales employee-owned social enterprises and industrial cooperatives, and supports frontline workers to build a new southern working class that erases the inequities of generational poverty and builds an economy and future for all.

The immersion included an in-depth tour of The Industrial Commons and its programs. Opportunity Threads is a worker-owned cooperative: a cut-sew factory. Students spoke with workers and learned more about the garment sewing process. It was during this period that students at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. learned, to their surprise, that t-shirt and tote-bag making is not an automated process. This eye-opening experience addressed the disconnect between manufacturing clothing and low prices, and exposed the exploitation of workers in order to sell a t-shirt for $5. 

After hearing from workers that can support their families through the worker-owner cooperative model, learning the true cost of garment waste, and getting first-hand experience sewing a tote bag, the students left the immersion with hope for change and actionable steps to demand that change.  

As part of the CEPA program, students drafted a plan to call on campus leaders to choose ethically made products that uplift workers rather than exploit their labor, and address environmental sustainability, rather than contribute to the problem. 

CEPA’s work is a model and inspiration for the Buy Your Values UCLA campaign. Its work in connecting students, faculty, and staff with ethical garment manufacturers provides real world examples for campuses like UCLA to gain insight from. You can learn more about The Industrial Commons and the Catholic Ethical Purchasing Alliance by visiting their websites. Bookings are now open for the Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 immersions.