Alta Gracia Swooshing in on Nike’s Turf

Luis Gonzalez Rios '14 translates the conversation from Spanish to English for students. Photo by Peter Caty/The Mirror

“Is it possible to have a socially-just clothing company? Is it plausible to make such an idealistic assumption in a global capitalist world?”

Julie Whittaker ‘12, the organizer of an event seeking to raise awareness about the Nike corporation and its use of sweatshops around the world, paused in her speech as she looked at the audience seated in the lower level BCC.

“What we found as an answer is ‘yes’’,” she said.

Students for Social Justice (S4SJ) held an event on April 11 to promote Alta Gracia, a new brand from Knights Apparel in the Dominican Republic where t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies are produced.

The event was an unusual opportunity for Fairfield University students, as it was the first occasion where they were able to use Skype as a means of publicly communicating with someone from another country.

S4SJ reached out to workers in Alta Gracia. The connection was unstable, and audio was hard to hear, but with the help of Luis Gonzalez Rios ‘14, the conversation was sustained.

Gonzalez Rios, a native of Mexico, also helped translate by asking questions in Spanish and explaining answers to students in English.

He asked a few workers from Alta Gracia about the living conditions in most of Dominican Republic. They described the country as small and only able to offer a few jobs for its residents. However, the workers said that at Alta Gracia, they believed they were treated fairly and were happy with the wages.

Students learned through Skype that one of the workers has 5 children, and before her current job, she worked as an union organizer who had to travel 2 hours and 30 minutes away from home. Now she is able to work and take care of her family at the same time.

In the end, the workers encouraged students to continue to support Alta Gracia and become more aware of what they buy and where their money is going.

Earlier this year, the S4SJ club, with the help of Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick, was able to bring products of Alta Gracia to the Fairfield bookstore.

“By making a simple choice of what to wear, you are making a huge difference,”  Whittaker told the students.

Alta Gracia is based in Villa Altagracia. Workers receive benefits in education, food and health, which helps provide for their families’ needs, according to the brand’s website.

S4SJ also showed the documentary “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice,” which highlights the plights of Nike sweatshop workers and the exploitation that many face in countries like Indonesia.

In the documentary, the filmmakers and Educating for Justice directors Leslie Kretzu and Jim Keady took on the roles as factory workers to experience the conditions that some people must go through.

Many times Keady and Kretzu expressed their astonishment at the state of the sweatshops. “Something is wrong here, and we can fix it,” Keady said about the lack of respect for and treatment of workers. “It’s a necessity.”

The point of the event was not to overthrow Nike, S4SJ member Clare McElaney ‘13 said. The club wanted to highlight the way Alta Gracia went against corporations and provided fair labor to all workers, and the members hope that other companies will follow suit.

Cristinia Richardson ‘14, also a S4SJ member said, “I hope it made more people aware that by choosing a simple company that makes [clothing] that can be worn from time to time can really change a whole family’s life and even a community’s life.”

Published April 13, 2011 in The Mirror

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