Last weekend, four members of The Shirt Project had a unique opportunity to practice their Spanish. Alta Gracia, vendor of The Shirt 2014 as well as the two previous Shirts, invited junior president John Wetzel, sophomore vice president Molly Howell, sophomore designer Camden Hill and freshman marketing and unveiling coordinator Mackenzie Smith to the Dominican Republic to tour the factory where The Shirt is produced and to converse with many Alta Gracia employees.
Committed to social justice and a living wage, Alta Gracia was proud to share their facility with us and show us firsthand the impact that their company has had on the local community. Alta Gracia employees welcomed us into their homes and excitedly communicated the change that Alta Gracia has created in their lives. We visited one woman's laundromat that she was able to open as a result of her Alta Gracia wages. We stopped by Alejandro’s colmado where we learned to dance the bachata, merengue and dembow, typical Dominican dances. The colmado was also a product of Alta Gracia’s wages.
With an unprecedented business model, Alta Gracia puts as their primary focus the security of workers’ rights and their safety. In a clothing industry that attempts to maximize margins, Alta Gracia pays employees more than triple the minimum wage of the Dominican Republic. As we toured the facility, our guides emphasized safety procedures and highlighted the amenities that Alta Gracia employees enjoy: health insurance for the family, an on-site medical office, care for pregnant women, padded chairs, a vibrant working atmosphere and other benefits that can be found at no other factory in a developing nation.
Mackenzie Smith found the most striking characteristic of Alta Gracia to be “how much workers seemed to enjoy their work.” She said the working environment at Alta Gracia is vastly different from other companies in the industry. We had the opportunity to watch the Alta Gracia baseball team play a league game against a neighboring team; not only was this a great experience for us, but it emphasized that Alta Gracia is not only a job but also a community.
The Shirt Project is proud to partner with Alta Gracia and greatly appreciated the opportunity to visit the factory and learn from the Alta Gracia family.