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April 17, 2024

Staff voice: Being Spartan Green through strategic licensing collaborations

Erika Austin has served as the director of licensing programs for Michigan State University since 2022. In this role, Austin manages and grows the university’s trademark licensing portfolio. With more than 20 years of experience in collegiate licensing, she implements programs to enhance MSU’s brand visibility and financial impact.

Those unfamiliar with Michigan State University’s licensing office might think our goal is to just bust the bad guys selling unlicensed merchandise. Some of that is true, but our primary role includes showcasing and securing the MSU brand while also supporting scholarships and student programming with royalties generated from licensed MSU goods.

Erika Austin
 Erika Austin. Photo by Derrick L. Turner

What this means is that I play a role in helping protect the reputation and integrity of our 169-year-old institution. Because of this awesome responsibility, I’m tasked with finding new and innovative partnerships to bring to our campus through licensed products and trends in the merchandise industry. One trend in the industry is sustainability, which is a great opportunity for University Licensing Programs to align with our current MSU 2030 strategic plan. Easily, one goal jumped out to me: stewardship and sustainability.

Upon arriving at MSU, I began taking note of all the sustainability-focused efforts on campus. From the Pack Up. Pitch In. program that has diverted millions of pounds of materials from the landfill during move-in and move-out for over 25 years to our commitment to expanding our electric vehicle fleet by nearly 370 over the next decade to offering over 800 sustainability courses across 75 academic departments, green is not just one of our school colors — it runs deep in our culture.

MSU and USCAPE collaboration design
 Photo courtesy of USCAPE Apparel

Watching how the word sustainability was evolving in the merchandise industry, I knew there was an opportunity for licensing to help contribute to the “green” efforts already underway at MSU, which is why I reached out to USCAPE Apparel, one of MSU’s official licensees, to help create a new sustainably focused collection. USCAPE has a mission of using the least number of resources to create a quality product, which aligned with our goals perfectly through its RENEW manufacturing process. The new MSU RENEW collection is made with 100% sustainably recycled yarns and is crafted from excess fabric scraps to create recycled materials. Their sustainable process uses 98% less water compared to traditional manufacturing methods and diverts textile waste away from landfills. We are proud that our collection launched earlier this week, ahead of Earth Day celebrations and events. You can view a selection of the current collection at the Spartan Spirit Shop locations in the MSU Union and 1855 Place. Select items from the collection are also available at, Rally House and the Spartan Bookstore in the International Center.

As MSU Licensing looks to the future, we are actively working to collaborate with other sustainability-minded licensees to expand our collection and help contribute to our institutional goal of embedding sustainability into MSU’s culture. Because, after all, “Being Spartan Green” looks good on all of us!

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