Worker-fair brand available at UK

By Mary Chellis Austin

Alta Gracia, a collegiate apparel brand that pays its workers a living wage, can now be found at the UK bookstore.

Owned by Knights Apparel, the brand has made a commitment to their workers that exceeds the legal limit.

Though no student group from UK has requested the brand, students have come back in and asked for the line, said Andrea Bailey, UK bookstore general manager.

Currently, the bookstore carries men’s and women’s T-shirts and sweatshirts labeled with the Alta Gracia logo and brief information about the brand.

Alta Gracia is named after the town in the Dominican Republic where the factory is run. Its workers have seen many changes in their lives from better wages.

After adding up expenses, like food, shelter and health care, the company found out an actual living wage was three-and-a-half times what workers were making at minimum living wage, said Rachel Taber, Alta Gracia organizer.

In addition to providing a living wage, the brand is committed to other standards.

“The factory is union monitored on a bi-weekly basis and holds top notch health and safety standards,” Taber said.

And the brand is selling well at UK.

“We have doubled our commitment to future orders compared to last year,” Bailey said.

She said from the start, customer reaction has been positive.

“People like the message and quality of the line,” Bailey said.

One of the Alta Gracia employees, Maritza Vargas, told CBS news she feels blessed her son can now go to college and she’s building a nicer home that supplies the family with water.

“Now I can buy ketchup,” she said. “Before having ketchup was like reaching for the stars.”

So how much do the salaries of Vargas and other workers cost the customer?

“It’s not a penny more and it’s quality cotton,” Taber said.

Taber said the higher wages only add a dollar more per shirt, but the consumer doesn’t pay. Alta Gracia covers this cost.

The brand “nets a healthy profit because students ask their bookstores to bring more Alta Gracia to campus because of its powerful social impact,” Taber said.

Alta Gracia “gains in volume what it eats in increased labor costs per item,” Taber said.

Because this product actually fuels the local economy of Altagracia, “it’s not just another fair trade or philanthropic product,” Taber said. “It adds a whole new layer of meaning to school pride.”

Though the brand was a reaction to the United Students Against Sweatshops, Taber said others have shown support.

“There’s been a broad range of groups including faith-based groups, Dominican groups and business groups,” she said.

She said people are saying “this is how business should be done.”

Joe Bozich, the CEO of Knights Apparel said, their vision has finally become a reality.

“We believe doing good can translate into good business,” Bozich said. “You can change a life by buying a T-shirt.”