Fordham Expands Its Alta Gracia Clothing Line
Students Team with Barnes & Noble to Support the Living Wage Manufacturer, Alta Gracia.
By KELLY KULTYS
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 11:09
The Fordham University Bookstore has recently strengthened its relationship with the college apparel manufacturer, Alta Gracia, through its purchase of over 1,500 units of clothing from the vendor, Alta Gracia is not just a typical collegiate clothing manufacturer, as it is considered “a pioneer in ending the use of poverty-wage sweatshops,” according to BNC News.
Alta Gracia, located in the Dominican Republic, is a branch of Knights’ Apparel Inc., which designs clothing for college students. What makes Alta Gracia different from a traditional factory is that it pays its workers a living wage. According to bncnews.com, a living wage “enables an employee to afford adequate food, clean water, clothing, shelter, health care, child care and education for themselves and their families.”
“We are trying to get more people to know that this company exists, and they are actually doing something positive,” Jason Figueroa, general manager of the Fordham University Bookstore, said. “[Barnes & Noble] is now conscientious of who we are doing business with. I’m glad to work for a company that at least cares about these things.”
Bncnews.com also reported that this living wage is more than three times the average salary of other clothing-factory workers in the Dominican Republic. Many employees praise Alta Gracia for its ground-breaking measures, as its workers can now live a more complete life. With their wages, many of the workers have been able to purchase food to feed their families, install running water and upgrade their living quarters.
Here at Fordham, it is easy to see the affects of the growing relationship. The Alta Gracia rolled T-shirts are one of the prominent displays in the bookstore, and they have been one of the most popular items sold.
“[The rolled T-shirts] are one of the bread-and-butter products for all of our stores,” Figueroa said. “They sold extremely well, especially for dads who came in for homecoming who didn’t want to try on a whole bunch of shirts. They were perfectly packaged for them to just say ‘I’ll have one of those and one of those, OK, we’re done. Let’s go to the game’.”
The push for an extended Alta Gracia clothing line in the bookstore began last year with Tim Casey, FCRH ’12, and Brendan Francolini, GSB ’14 and USG vice president of operations. The two brought a proposal to the Fordham Bookstore. Before their proposal, the bookstore offered a small selection of Alta Gracia apparel. The clothing, was hidden in the back and made up less than 10 percent of the bookstore’s apparel.
“What we ended up saying was this is a great cause, and it’s in line with the University’s mission of trying to alleviate poverty,” Francolini said. “So how can we support that? We want to show that students are interested in and support this.”
Casey and Francolini suggested that the bookstore purchase a greater percentage of its clothing from Alta Gracia and increase its prominence in the bookstore. The Barnes & Noble College Division, the company that owns the bookstore, was already involved with Alta Gracia. It had ordered more than half of the products offered by Alta Gracia. It recently expanded its involvement, purchasing 116,000 units of clothing for a total of over 1.1 million dollars.
“All 700 plus stores took Alta Gracia as the vendor,” Figueroa said. “We’ve replaced an older vendor and went exclusively with Alta Gracia. They actually weren’t sure if they could handle the weight of 700 stores ordering from them, but they did a great job.”
Up until this year, Fordham was not as heavily involved with the Alta Gracia line as other Barnes & Noble sponsored bookstores, such as those located at Duke University and New York University, which each sold over $300,000 worth of Alta Gracia products. Casey and Francolini suggested that Fordham get more involved as they argued that Alta Gracia embodied Fordham’s mission: “Fordham is committed to research and education that assist in the alleviation of poverty, the promotion of justice, the protection of human rights and respect for the environment.”
They were very successful. The line is in the process of expanding even more. Figueroa hopes to continue diversifying the bookstore’s Alta Gracia products this spring.
“We’re actually expanding, with more shirts coming in the spring,” Figueroa said. “Hopefully some more fashion styles, but we’ll see. The important thing is we’re expanding, because they did a great job, and [Barnes & Noble] is happy with the products, the styles, the timeliness.”
Other offices are becoming more involved with the campaign as well. The Office of Residential Life has been one of the main supporters on campus. All T-shirts ordered through the department must be purchased from Alta Gracia, so those placed by residential assistants and the Residence Hall Association will support this cause.
“That’s been implemented slowly throughout the summer, but now it is in full force,” Francolini said. “Dean Kim Russell was responsible for providing that support.”
One of Francolini’s main goals is to continue this campus-wide integration. Students for Fair Trade and United Student Government are two organizations already involved, but Francolini hopes more groups will get on board, especially in raising awareness about Alta Gracia.
“There’s a documentary [about Alta Gracia] that we’d like to show again to students because it highlighted the stories of workers and how the company transformed their lives,” Francolini said.
Francolini and Figueroa believe that the continued growth of Alta Gracia on campus will help students learn more about their social responsibility to others, in addition to supporting “pioneer” in the fight against sweatshop clothing factories.
“It’s going to continue to grow and add more and more living wage jobs to the people in the Dominican Republic,” Figueroa said.