For Maria DiGeorge and Bridget Quint, choosing between two sweatshirts can be a do-or-die decision. Their pickiness doesn’t stem from trivial consumerism, though. It has less to do with color and logos, and more to do with ethics and a fair exchange.
DiGeorge, a sophomore political science and anthropology major, and Quint, a senior finance and international business major, teamed together in recent months to advocate for an increase in Alta Gracia products to be sold in Temple’s bookstore.
Alta Gracia, a factory in Villa Altagracia, in the Dominican Republic, specializes in university apparel. The factory supplies products for more than 450 colleges and universities, and pays its workers with “living” wages. But the now-unionized workers in the factory weren’t always afforded that luxury.
The workers were once reportedly subject to sweatshop conditions when the factory was known as BJ&B, and were paid below the country’s minimum wage for their work, Quint said.
Quint and DiGeorge contend that systems like the Fair Labor Association don’t do enough legwork to investigate such factories, and that announced routine check-ups leave too much leeway for misconduct by those operating sweatshops.
During her winter break, Quint visited the factory and met with workers who told her stories of the physical abuse and fear they experienced from old management. Now unionized and operating independently, workers at Alta Gracia, which translates to “High Grace,” receive three times the minimum wage.
Quint’s interest in fair trade stems from her research while studying abroad in Peru, she said. While there, she examined the effects fair trade coffee had on the country. So it was no surprise when she created Temple Students for Fair Trade, a subcommittee of Students for Responsible Business, last semester.
After speaking to a U.S. Representative for Alta Gracia at a fair trade conference, Quint was put in contact with DiGeorge, an intern for Alta Gracia looking to advance the factory’s products in the bookstore.
When the two connected, they made it their mission to promote the sales of Alta Gracia products in the bookstore.
An inadequate supply of Alta Gracia’s products in all of its sizes, and insufficient signage, were two of the unfavorable conditions facing the line’s meager section in the Student Center bookstore, they said. That, and competition with high-profile brands like Nike and Champion.
Ultimately, DiGeorge said, it’s up to both the seller and consumer to make ethical apparel decisions.
The pair met with the general manager of the bookstore, Jim Hanley, in the fall semester and again at the end of January to discuss their concerns with Alta Gracia products in the store.
Hanley agreed to a four-week trial in which Alta Gracia products will be sold in the front of the store, as well as getting more appealing advertisements, comparable to those sporting brand names, Quint said.
If 500 items of the 1,000 available Atla Gracia items sell during the four-week period, which started yesterday, Feb. 6, Hanley will consider increasing the size of the store’s order from the factory, Quint said.
“It’s just a matter of getting people to know it’s there,” DiGeorge said.
Meanwhile, the two are reaching out to student organizations for support.
By increasing student interest in the brand and promoting wholesale buying from the factory through ethixmerch.com, DiGeorge and Quint hope to support the young business and the prospect it offers its workers.
The two are also planning an event for workers from Alta Gracia to visit Temple during the next few weeks, they said.
“I guess the idealistic goal of this is that, one day, the standard in the apparel industry will be what Alta Gracia does,” DiGeorge said. “They pay their workers a living wage, they treat them with respect, they make sure there aren’t any abuses going on in the factory.”
Although many students have been receptive of their efforts, garnering student support for a distant cause isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
“Whenever you see it first hand, it kind of hits home,” Quint said. Like many Alta Gracia workers told her, she said, “It’s easier to walk away from a cause than it is to walk away from a friend.”
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.