One day in February, students at West Virginia University will collect discarded clothing to be recycled or sold at nonprofit stores.
So will students at Chaminade University of Honolulu in Hawaii, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, Boston College and the University of California, Los Angeles.
The One Shirt campaign –now spanning 115 colleges and universities in 40 states, 3,000 volunteers and a potential 30,000 homes—began last year as a homegrown effort between WVU and SustainU.
WVU’s Office of Sustainability, the WVU Division of Design & Merchandising, scores of student groups and community partners joined in the campaign along with a business that began in the WVU Business Incubator in Morgantown. SustainU clothing, which manufactures clothing from recycled materials in the U.S., is helping to take this project nationwide.
“In this case what was tested here is going to be replicated in 115 campuses across America, which is a tribute to so many partners that made this happen last year,” said Clement Solomon, WVU’s director of Sustainability.
On Feb. 21, volunteers will hang notices on doorknobs around Morgantown letting residents know that they will come back on Feb. 23 to collect bags of clothing left outside front doors on that day. Residence halls will also be collecting clothing donations.
SustainU’s efforts have been key in making the campaign national, Solomon said.
Chris Yura, founder and CEO of SustainU, said the campaign uses apparel to promote sustainability. About 10 percent of landfill waste comes from textiles.
But the campaign will also be sending assistance to those who need it.
The clothing will be donated to Goodwill Industries, an agency that provides job training to those who need it. Goodwill’s network of thrift stores help to fund its services. Any remaining clothing will be sold by Goodwill to fiber recycling facilities.
“The One Shirt campaign basically showcases how any one shirt can help somebody else,” Yura said.
From WVU to the country
When Clement Solomon and SustainU met with a small group of students and volunteers in a coffee shop during the winter of 2009-2010, they didn’t expect the initiative to grow into a national campaign the next year.
“When you start something like that, you never know where it will take you,” he said.
Both WVU and the clothing company wanted to demonstrate the importance of incorporating sustainability into everyday living through illustrating the basic human need of clothing.
“We’re serious about sustainability; we’re committed to sustainability, and our institutional vision is to take it beyond our campus boundaries to serve our communities, state and the nation,” he said. “We see the entire campus as a classroom, offering a blend of curricular and co-curricular learning experiences.”
Like so many other things at WVU, including Sustainable Awareness Week, One Shirt relies heavily on student leadership.
Holly Lentz, professor in the Design & Merchandising division at WVU, said her academic area is excited to be a part of the campaign.
“By working with SustainU and the Office of Sustainability on this project, our students have the opportunity to serve the City of Morgantown and the WVU community while donating to our local Goodwill,” Lentz said. “Understanding and teaching sustainability—and all that it encompasses—is a commitment that we have made.
“Participating in the One Shirt campaign allows our students real-world experience in service and social responsibility.”
Not everyone gets involved in such sustainability projects for the same reason, Solomon said. Some come because of a class they’re taking, others are passionate about waste reduction, and others want to put their neighbors and community first. But he knows from experience that they all can work together toward the same cause.
In fact, it’s the welcoming atmosphere at WVU that may invite the collaboration and successful results.
“This is a big tent,” Solomon said. “Anyone is welcome. As this initiative grows, we will see more participation.”
Last year, WVU collected 1.8 tons of clothing from 12 residence halls with the help of an estimated 300 students. This year, Solomon anticipates about 1,000 volunteers at this year’s event.
One Shirt is also a strong example of WVU’s comfortable partnership with the community at large and other public, private and non-profit agencies like SustainU, he said. It’s in WVU’s nature to pass on successful formulas to others who can adopt and adapt them to fit their conditions.
Provost Michele Wheatly is supportive of the One Shirt campaign not only because of WVU’s integration of sustainability into its operations, but also because it integrates practical experience for students outside of the classroom.
“This project is truly interdisciplinary, and it’s always great to see students take what they learn in the classroom and use it to make meaningful change in the world,” Wheatly said.
With a desire to share a sustainable vision that adapts to suit each community’s needs, the University has learned to take chances.
“Don’t be afraid to get involved in new ventures,” Solomon said. “It seems impossible at the time when you start something, but the greater good that it produces for our campus, community and country is incredible.”
To find out more about WVU’s sustainability efforts, go to: http://wecan.wvu.edu/
By Diana Mazzella
CONTACT: Clement Solomon, Office of Sustainability
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.