What Does it Profit Episode #5 Industrial Roots: Designing a Circular Economy and Creating Homespun Wealth

Posted in Solidarity Economy Workshop

In this episode, Dr. Dawn takes us on a trip to find her roots in rural North Carolina. She is the granddaughter of an orphan who worked in the NC textile mills in the 1940s. Without much to go on, Dr. Dawn leans on insights from James Benton, author of Fraying Fabric (new window), and Jimmy Warlick, historian and documentarian of the Workers’ Legacy Project (new window) to fill in the gaps.

Dr. Dawn gives us the context of the industrial past only to introduce us to the inspiring efforts of a new generation of North Carolinians. In this episode, we meet Material Return (new window), a worker co-op that has created a profitable and sustainable way to deal with textile waste. We visit the factory and learn all about the concept of circularity (new window).

Material Return is powered by the Industrial Commons (new window), a nonprofit organization working to incubate and support co-ops like this in Morganton, North Carolina. These tireless entrepreneurs are using the lessons of the time-tested co-op ecosystems of Europe (new window) to imagine a way to develop working-class wealth right here at home.

Dr. Dawn leaves us with her reflection on the past and hopes for the future as she drives back north to the studio in Washington, DC. The first exit on the way is the Henry River Mill Village (new window), the location where Hollywood filmmakers crafted the dystopian community featured in the Hunger Games (new window). A warning.  In the rearview– Morganton (new window), an inspiration.


Check out Project Repat (new window) to learn more about the cool things you can do with your old t-shirts while helping Material Return.

What Does It Profit is powered by the Solidary Economy Workshop (new window) at Georgetown University. Our host and executive producer is Dr. Dawn Carpenter. Our senior producer is Jordan Gass-Poore’, and our engineer and sound designer is Mark Bush. Music for WDIP was composed by Nick Pennington. Season 3 researchers and assistant producers are Sofia Chen, Hannah Woodford, Andy Feng, and JasperAI. Our intern is Abby Trepacz.