No Sweat With Alta Gracia Apparel
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“Universities have a responsibility to be concerned about working conditions and compensation,” says David Skorton, president of Cornell University, where Alta Gracia items are sold in the bookstore. “We should encourage students to be aware that what they buy has an impact on the lives of many people.”
At Duke University’s flagship bookstore, Alta Gracia Apparel merchandise is prominently displayed, and a large flat-screen TV plays a video of smiling workers. Such efforts have paid off: Since August 2010, Duke has sold more than 20,000 Alta Gracia items for $430,000 in revenue.
Large schools like the universities of Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin as well as Ohio State and UCLA have increased their orders of Alta Gracia merchandise or are carrying it for the first time. If success continues to build, says Bozich, “then we can take the next steps, including expanding outside college bookstores and selling our brand to other retailers.”
Alta Gracia recently signed a contract with Ethix Merch, a distributor of socially responsible merchandise, to sell T-shirts and sweatshirts to environmental and social justice groups. This is one way to bring the Alta Gracia Apparel model to scale, according to Barenberg. “The other is for companies like Nike to raise wages and improve conditions to appeal to consumers who care about working conditions,” he says. “Once they see there’s a market for sweat-free clothing, they’ll want to go after it.”
Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and American Prospect. Excerpted from The Nation (November 7, 2011), a progressive publication that weighs in weekly on politics, arts, and culture.
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