By Melanie Galindo
Wonder who is sewing the SMU letters on you and your friends’ favorite school apparel? Meet Yenny Perez and Maritza Vargas of the Dominican Republic’s Alta Gracia apparel factory.
Perez and Vargas recently told students and faculty gathered in the Owen Art Center how Alta Gracia shines as “a beacon of hope” in an industry filled with poor labor conditions.
Part of the world’s first living-wage college apparel factory, Alta Gracia helps make school apparel in a dignified manner. During an age in which nearly all clothing sold in the United States is made in developing countries by workers paid just pennies an hour, Alta Gracia is not your typical textile factory.
“It’s really sad to think about those fathers and mothers returning home from work at night, having no way of knowing how they’re going to put food on the table and feed their kids that day because the money that they’re paid is not enough to be able to do that,” Vargas said. “At Alta Gracia, we have peace of mind when we come home because we know that what we make is enough to be able to feed our families and give them nutritious food to get by.”
Alta Gracia workers are unique in that they earn a living wage. More than three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic’s Free Trade Zone, this living wage gives employees enough to afford food, housing, education and healthcare.
Seeking to change industry standards, Alta Gracia partners with the Works Right Consortium to provide their employees with a democratic voice. Regularly checking factory conditions, the Workers Right Consortium is independently funded – ensuring that the goal of creating safe, healthy working conditions trumps business interests.
Perez and Vargas encouraged listeners to help in Alta Gracia’s efforts to bring products to college campuses.
“This would show the industry and other businesses that this can be done,” Perez said. “Alta Gracia is like a little seed that we can use to show other businesses that it is possible to be profitable while paying workers well and treating them with respect. Only together can we achieve change in the industry.”