Bookstore welcomes new clothing line

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Starting Sept. 15, the Butler University bookstore will carry a new clothing line that is part of the Knights Apparel, Inc.’s commitment to promote an anti-sweatshop work environment.

Knights Apparel, Inc.—the nation’s largest supplier of university garb—set up a factory called Alta Gracia Apparel in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic that ensures employees a living wage, worker’s rights and a  safe and healthy worksite.

In a press conference held  Aug. 31, Knights Apparel CEO Joseph Bozich said his company has an obligation to pay their workers a wage to live on, instead of the minimum wage.

“This truly can be a pathway out of poverty and life-changing not just for the people making the apparel, but for their families,” he said. “I believe it can be life-changing because, to my knowledge, this is the first apparel brand that’s compensating the people for making the product not based on upon what is required, but based on what is calculated.”

Far above the minimum, a living wage enables workers to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care and education for themselves and their families.

For the employees of Alta Gracia, this is the difference between the Dominican Republic’s legal minimum wage of 80 cents an hour and Alta Gracias’ employee wage of 3 dollars an hour.

Bozich said the idea of paying living wages for workers started in 2005. He has been working closely with the Worker Rights Consortium to help establish the factory, determine how much a living wage is and to help make sure the factory is in compliance with those terms.

Theresa Haas, director of communication for Worker Rights Consortium, said, “By paying a living wage and respecting the right to organize, Alta Gracia is making a huge difference in the lives of the workers at its factory. Alta Gracia is head and shoulders above the rest of the apparel industry.”

It is a risk that involves paying its employees 338 percent of their country’s legal minimum wage and producing high-priced clothing. Bozich said the economic success of the Alta Gracia factory is questionable.

“There’s been a lot of debate with the tie-in between doing good and good business,” Bozich said. “We’re hoping [to show with] the Alta Gracia project that doing good is good business and it’s not mutually exclusive.”

Bozich said the success of the company will depend on the students, alumni and fans’ willingness to pay similar prices as premium brands, such as Nike or Adidas, in support of employee betterment.

Therese Cheng, international campaigns coordinator of United Students Against Sweatshops, said, “Once students become aware of what Alta Gracia means, then they’ll buy Alta Gracia and all parts of the university community will really recognize the significance of what is a really historic breakthrough.”

Butler University Bookstore Manager Janine Frainier said she is very excited to bring the Alta Gracia clothing to campus as the bookstore has supported a vendor-labor code of conduct for several years now.

Frainier said the prices were very competitive to other university apparel and she is “hoping it is embraced by the college community and we can expand the collection in the future.”

The bookstore will be selling two short-sleeved t-shirts ($18), one long-sleeved  t-shirt ($22), and a hooded sweatshirt ($36) in both the men and women’s departments under the Knights Apparel, Inc logo that will come from the Alta Gracia Factory, Frainier said. She said there would also be signs and rack ‘toppers’ to help customers find the clothing.

Frainier said, “It would have been of interest to me when I was in college and I hope students realize it is a way to use discretionary income in ways that also support their views of the world.”

The difference Knights Apparel, Inc. and the Alta Gracia factory has made for its employees has already become evident in the few short months of opening its doors for production, according to some of the factory workers who were able to speak at the press conference.

Employee Santa Castillo said, “We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before,” in reference to her $500-a-month income. “I feel blessed.”

“I am proud and happy to sew Alta Gracia clothes. Alta Gracia clothes are made in a totally different kind of factory where we earn a living wage and have the right to form a union,” Elba Nuris said.

“Thanks to the living wage, I know that we will always have enough food, and I can go to the supermarket and know I can actually buy what I need.

“My two daughters just went back to school and this was the first year we didn’t have to struggle to find a way to pay for their school supplies.

“For the last year and a half I couldn’t save up enough money to finish constructing my house, but now, thanks to the living wage I have been able to put in a floor, glass in our windows, a bathroom and a safer front door.

“Every purchase of Alta Gracia means that we will be able to make our dreams come true. Thanks for supporting Alta Gracia, which is giving our community hope for a better future.”


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