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Blue Bell Foundation gifts $2 million to Bryan School CARS department

Denim has a long history in Greensboro. So does UNC Greensboro’s scholarly focus on apparel.

This week, UNCG announced a $2 million gift from the Blue Bell Foundation, to support the University’s academic work in all aspects of the apparel industry.

Through this gift, the foundation honors the legacy of the Blue Bell company within the Greensboro community by supporting UNCG students majoring in consumer, apparel, and retail studies (CARS). The new Blue Bell Foundation CARS Scholar Endowed Fund will support an endowed scholarship in the Department of Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies in UNCG’s Bryan School of Business and Economics.

Starting in Fall 2022, the scholarship will be awarded to two students for four years. Two additional students will receive the scholarship each year so that the endowment will fund eight students in total at any given time – two per class. The scholarship criteria focus on academic merit, and financial need may also be considered.

Blue Bell, formed in 1904, built its reputation on denim work clothing. Many workers across the nation and even internationally – from farmers to miners to assembly-line workers – sought Blue Bell clothing for its high quality and endurance. Blue Bell became part of the VF Corporation in the 1980s. Blue Bell’s Greensboro factory, at the corner of South Elm Street and West Gate City Boulevard, has been restored and is now known as the “Gateway Building,” a landmark symbol of the region’s textile heritage.

About 300 students are currently majoring in CARS, according to Dr. Nancy Nelson Hodges, Burlington Industries Excellence Professor and CARS department head. The majority of CARS graduates go on to have careers in the apparel industry, she added. The global industry is vast – with careers in design, production, marketing, distribution, and new technologies.

The North Carolina Piedmont area continues to be a hotbed for apparel. “The industry has grown and changed with globalization, but this region still has quite a lot of activity – from many small brands to the large ones,” she said.

Clothing is essential to each person’s identity, Hodges explained. She noted how important the clothing industry has been to the identity and history of Greensboro, known as “Jeansboro.”

She noted the CARS program recently celebrated its 100th year on campus. That matches the long heritage of Blue Bell’s Greensboro presence. The old Blue Bell factory goes back to the early 1900s as well. “The Blue Bell name is important. Due to outstanding companies like Blue Bell, Greensboro was known as ‘the denim capital of the world.’ Through this scholarship, the name ‘Blue Bell’ will carry on. And by helping us recruit excellent students, the gift supports the vitality of this dynamic industry,” she explained.

“This is a game-changer,” said Bryan School Dean McRae C. Banks. “This is a substantial gift for our Department of Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies. We’re particularly pleased to receive this gift because it will support our students as they develop into exceptional problem solvers and make their mark on the apparel industry.”

UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. said, “The Blue Bell Foundation has generously supported UNCG for many years. This gift represents the trust the foundation has in our University and in CARS, one of the oldest and most esteemed programs we have at UNCG. Just like our University is part of the fabric of this city, certainly, Blue Bell and the foundation have been key leaders for the city’s vitality and economic strength. By supporting our Spartan students in this way, the Blue Bell Foundation ensures a tradition that will provide impact for decades to come.”

A version of this article was first published by Mike Harris and UNCG News.