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Davis, California

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Campus bookstore to sell fair-wage apparel

The UC Davis Bookstore will soon be carrying Alta Gracia, a brand of clothing known for paying its workers living wages. The merchandise, as well as informational items about Alta Gracia, will be sold on campus, starting next month.

“Alta Gracia is the first brand anywhere in the world to address wages and benefits,” said Joe Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, the parent company of Alta Gracia. “We believe it can be a pathway out of poverty.”

Factory workers at Alta Gracia, located in the Dominican Republic town Villa Altagracia, are paid 300 percent more than workers for many other apparel manufacturers. The legal minimum wage for apparel workers in the Dominican Republic is 84 cents per hour. Alta Gracia workers get paid $2.83 per hour.

“The wages [at other factories] were so low that we could only afford food, maybe rent, and that was it,” said Maritza Vargas, one of 120 employees at Alta Gracia. With her new salary, Vargas was able to buy a home for her family and continue her children’s education.

Vargas said she also appreciates the improved working conditions at the factory, such as more floor space, better ventilation, new bathrooms and well-marked emergency routes. Such luxuries were hard to come by in other factories where she had worked prior.

More importantly, Vargas said, management respects the workers. The workers’ union, also unique to the factory, allows its voice to be heard through regular meetings with upper management.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a labor rights watchdog affiliated with UC Davis, among other universities, monitors the factory’s conditions and ensures that workers’ rights are being met.

“Compliance at the factory is exemplary,” said Theresa Haas, director of communications for WRC. This is the first time that WRC has given a factory its approval and support for providing living wages to its workers.

Duke University was one of the first campuses to order merchandise from Alta Gracia. Within the first week, 600 pieces were sold at its university bookstore.

“We’re very pleased with it,” said Jim Wilkerson, licensing director and bookstore manager for Duke, about the reception of Alta Gracia merchandise on campus. “This is something we want to live on for many years. We encourage others to provide a lot of support to Alta Gracia.”

UC Davis students will be able to purchase the apparel when it is put on the sales floor at the beginning of fall quarter. Men’s hoodies and t-shirts will be available in several different colors.

Students who come to the bookstore and those who are part of the bookstore committee expressed a desire to support the cause of Alta Gracia, said Jean Aguirre, general merchandise manager for the UC Davis Bookstore.

Those with tight college-student budgets may be concerned about higher prices for Alta Gracia products as the company sells apparel at higher costs than other brands at the bookstore. The additional cost offsets the increased wages. However, Aguirre said, this will not be an issue.

“There is very little difference in price between the merchandise the bookstore carries now and the new Alta Gracia apparel,” Aguirre said.

A screen-printed hoodie from current brands can range from $24.95-$34.95 and t-shirts are usually $16.95 or less. Alta Gracia hoodies will be sold for $34.95 and shirts will be $17.95.

SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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