New service opportunities are sprouting in Fordham’s backyard following a presentation this week about a Bronx-based clothing enterprise that helps poor Guatemalan communities.
The enterprise, Goods of Conscience, provides livelihoods in Guatemala while also supporting environmentally sound cotton farming and giving work to the underemployed in the Bronx.
It was begun in 2005 by the Reverend Andrew O’Connor, vicar of Holy Family Church in the Bronx. In a lecture on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at the Rose Hill campus, he described the project and stoked students’ interest in either taking part or setting up similar international collaborations.
“Father O’Connor gave an inspiring lecture,” said assistant professor of chemistry Jon Friedrich, Ph.D., who arranged the event. Students in the Environmental Science and Environmental Policy programs attended, along with members of Students for Fair Trade and Students for Environmental Awareness and Justice.
“He has the ability to combine artistry, spirituality, and environmental justice into his projects in a unique way,” according to Friedrich. “Our students … were able to hear how relatively simple actions can legitimately affect other people’s lives for the better.”
Goods of Conscience uses “Social Fabric” that is produced in cooperation with Textiles Proteje, a foundation serving the needs of Guatemalan Mayan weavers. O’Connor provides a synthetic, reflective yarn that the weavers combine with rare organic cotton, and the finished fabric is shipped to the Bronx, where it is fashioned into clothing by local garment workers.
The cotton is a heritage strain that naturally resists pests. It is produced through environmentally sound methods on the last commercial cotton farm left in Guatemala, and grows in vibrant colors because of the humid climate.
The distinctive reflective yarn used in the clothing ensures that it can’t be counterfeited, so workers can earn a living wage, O’Connor said. The clothing has gained visibility; some of it was modeled by Cameron Diaz in a 2009 issue of Vogue.
O’Connor got the idea for the project during a retreat in rural Guatemala. He wanted to help preserve the tradition off back-strap weaving and help the weavers earn a living wage.
The project has brought electricity to homes in one Guatemalan village and enabled residents to start building a church and community center, he said. Goods of Conscience has gotten involved in other projects, like helping to raise funds to construct a granary in the Ecuadorean village of Cotopaxi.
In the Bronx, the organization also offers courses in home arts, recycling, and conserving resources. Goods of Conscience also promotes local gardening, and will establish a yard this spring this spring to grow hops for use by the Bronx Brewery.
“It’s been growing pretty organically,” O’Connor said, referring to Goods of Conscience. “I just really want to enable people to be able to come up with ideas that are very generative, that help to promote Catholic social teaching.”
He said students could help in many ways—by working with children in the church’s grammar school, for instance, or by helping with gardening projects or helping to market Social Fabric clothing. “There are opportunities to come and help,” he said.