UC Davis students are being given the opportunity to purchase and wear college apparel that promotes fair working conditions and provides a living wage for the workers that make them.
A student organization called Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MECHA) is working to promote the increase of Alta Gracia apparel at the UC Davis Bookstore and awareness within the student community.
“The idea is so simple; by providing this option for students we have the ability to make a difference in the lives of these workers. We have to think beyond the label. Right now students aren’t aware that Alta Gracia even exists; we want this to change,” said Alyssa West, senior Chicano/a studies major and member of MECHA.
The Alta Gracia brand, which is under Knights Apparel, is located in Villa Alta Gracia, a small town in the Dominican Republic. Sold in over 400 universities, Alta Gracia is the first sweatshop-free factory to support unions and give workers a living wage.
According to Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor rights monitoring organization, living wage is the amount of money needed to adequately feed and shelter a family in the Dominican Republic. Workers are paid $2.38 per hour, as opposed to the $0.84 per hour that other sweatshop workers in the Dominican Republic receive.
Because of living wages, workers have the opportunity to put food on the table, receive health care, get an education, buy books, get out of debt and build safe homes.
“Currently the bookstore has only three items of Alta Gracia. We really want to expand the merchandise,” West said.
MECHA has been in contact with Jean Aguirre, UC Davis Bookstore merchandise manager, about possibly adding a greater selection.
“I think having Alta Gracia is a great message that UC Davis is sending. Students can feel great about their purchases,” Aguirre said. “I have just placed orders for two new graphics, a unisex t-shirt and hoodie and a woman’s tee and hoodie.”
But the problem still remains that not enough items are being sold, Aguirre said. She stressed that both MECHA and the student body saying that they support the cause is one thing, but actually buying the product will help expand the bookstore’s selection.
Along with contacting Aguirre, the group e-mailed Chancellor Linda Katehi to thank her for bringing Alta Gracia to UC Davis and to ask her to increase the supply.
“All of the purchases in the UC Davis Stores are based on demand, and if the demand for the product continues to grow, so will purchases,” said Chuck Kratochvil, director of the UC Davis Bookstore in an e-mail response to MECHA.
The brand, which is targeted to college campuses alone, recognizes the importance of youth participation in conducting change. MECHA also recognizes that UC Davis is a school where change is always a goal and often a result due to hard work.
Joe Bozich, founder and CEO of Knights Apparel, saw the same room for change when he first came up with the idea for Alta Gracia.
“I believe this is a life changing experience. It’s about getting these workers out of poverty. We have the opportunity to show allegiance to the college brand and we have the opportunity to do it with Alta Gracia,” Bozich said.
The apparel’s price varies, but it is generally cheaper than the leading brands – the hooded sweatshirt costs $34.95 while other brands range from $35.95 to $49.95.
“We want people to not have to pay more for supporting a great cause,” Bozich said.
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the largest nationwide student organization that campaigns for workers’ rights, is in contact with the UC Davis MECHA group to help support more Alta Gracia merchandise in the bookstore and increase student awareness.
“USAS has launched a national campaign to support the Alta Gracia Factory in the Dominican Republic, because it’s the only union, living wage factory in the world producing apparel for the college market and we believe all garment workers producing for our universities should have the right to Alta Gracia conditions,” said Teresa Cheng, the national organizer for USAS.
As a working model, Alta Gracia is testing its capabilities and pushing for continual success.
“Nike and big brands like Russell are currently looking at Alta Gracia hoping it will fail. If Alta Gracia can get adequate sales with better conditions and better wages for workers, then these bigger companies are going to have to start answering questions,” West said.
MECHA hopes with the right amount of awareness Alta Gracia will thrive as it has in other universities.
Alta Gracia Apparel can be found in the bookstore or purchased online at ucdavisbookstore.com.
For more information regarding MECHA and involvement in Alta Gracia, e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
RACHEL LEVY can be reached at email@example.com.