Donated hats making an impact
The Common Threads Project, started by the Art and Found owner Olivia Royale, is a project that simultaneously promotes local businesses, encourages sustainability and unites the greater Ithaca community. As it says on the project’s website, commonhats.com, “The goal is to produce 300 hats that will be distributed at random, and for free, to local residents, students, customers, homeless, and organizations.” This has resulted in Free Hat Days, selected randomly, to distribute the hats in the community.
For Royale, the idea of The Common Threads Project came naturally. “The idea came from my giving hats away to customers who supported and shopped in our store,” she said. “Then I got an email that included an application for the Neighborhood Mini-grant, offered twice a year from Sustainable Tompkins.”
Sustainable Tompkins is an organization in Tompkins County with goals of promoting sustainability in the community. Karen Jewett-Bennett, the director of operations of Sustainable Tompkins, described it as “a citizen’s organization whose purpose is to bring together people who are interested in sustainability in our area — mostly Tompkins County.”
Living in an environmentally conscious area such as Ithaca, a focus of Sustainable Tompkins is making sure that efforts are not duplicated and those who have the same interests are able to collaborate. By identifying these folks, Jewett-Bennett said, “we can identify gaps in what’s going on” in the community.
When Sustainable Tompkins decided what environmental activists needed to be more effective in the community, small sums of money to get projects off the ground were often the answers. This led to the development of the Neighborhood Mini-grant program. The grants are available to anyone who lives in the community who wants to promote sustainability.
“It has been going on since 2008, and so far we’ve funded more than 120 projects,” Jewett-Bennett said. “There is just over $50,000 given out to projects in our community.”
The Common Threads Project became one of these 120 this past winter. “The Common Threads Project is recipient of a very small Neighborhood Mini-grant last December [provided] to help them get it off the ground,” Jewett-Bennett said.
The grant allowed The Common Threads Project to fully develop. Rebecca Billings, a recent Ithaca College graduate and an Art and Found employee, explained how small-scale marketing and advertising played a significant role in the project’s success. The store used flyers, its Facebook page and the easel chalkboard outside of the store to promote the project, which called for donated hand-knit hats.
“We told people who regularly came in the store, and people would come in everyday to find out what it was about after seeing the chalkboard,” Billings said.
According to Billings, this had incredible success. “People were really interested! I was shocked — people would come in with ten hats,” she said. “That’s amazing — it’s so nice.”
Billings believed this has to do with the philosophies of the Art and Found, which has made its name on the Commons as a store devoted to sustainable practices and local, handmade goods.
“People like to have personal connections to a business that they can really stand behind,” she said. “This is why its customers were so willing to give back.
Jewett-Bennett noted the project and the store’s positive impact on the community by unifying different individuals. Some groups even held events, which Jewett-Bennett called “knit-ins,” to knit hats together for the cause.
“It gives people an opportunity to come together to do their needlecraft, which they love to do,” she said. “It’s always very empowering to get together with other people to do those kind of things. And, of course, it’s important to help people keep warm in the winter.”
To share these hats with the community, they have been distributed in various creative ways. Royale said: “The Free Hat Days were a day in which we distributed large numbers of free hats to people walking on the Commons. These days were selected at random and meant in good fun. We also donated batches of hats to The Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes, Project Sunshine at IC and to the Carolina Food Pantry.”
This project does not just provide hats to those who need it, but promotes the Art and Found and its morals as well. Billings explained that her experience working at the Art and Found has illuminated the need for small, sustainable businesses in every community; it provides a tangible “alternative” to more common practices.
“The store gives people access to businesses that promote local activity and sustainable practices,” she said. “If we don’t see that, we’re not going to realize that everyone else is not doing that.”
Alexa Salvato is a freshman journalism major who spends all of her free time knitting. Email her at asalvat1[at]ithaca.edu.