Yenni’s sacrifice and the sacrifices made by the workers were worth the struggle. Rosa, the daughter of one of the workers at Alta Gracia explained, “Before Alta Gracia, we weren’t able to pay for any schooling beyond a public university, but now we can. We’ve been able to improve our nutrition too, and our stability. Before my mom didn’t have time to talk and check-in with me. She was tired and we’d often fight. Now we have time to share and talk around the dinner table and spend time together.”
Kenny, another worker at Alta Gracia explained, “Since Alta Gracia, I’ve been able to buy land and build my family a house. I like investing my hard work and money in good things and having something to demonstrate for my work.” Kenny and other workers are not only able to demonstrate that they can provide for their families through hard work, but they have also helped positively impact the rest of the Villa Altagracia community as more resources are invested and distributed amongst community members.
Alta Gracia is succeeding because everyone wants to work there. People are happy to come to work, which is clear as workers sing along to Christian music in the morning and sway to bachata in the afternoon. Overtime hours are optional, attending school in the evening is possible and everyone is part of a working team, part of a family. Maritza, one of the other founders of Alta Gracia explains, “We’re brothers and sisters. The difference between Alta Gracia and other factories is like heaven and earth.”
To ensure that Alta Gracia continues to thrive, it is imperative to raise awareness amongst consumers. As Yenni explains, “With a connection between the consumers and the workers we can create change. If there isn’t a connection, there won’t be change.” To date, many universities have started sourcing apparel from Alta Gracia. Maritza explains: “The reality that is without student activism and the Worker Rights Consortium we couldn’t have achieved what we have. We couldn’t have set the groundwork for what we have today. It’s important to organize together because it’s impossible on our own. Unity is important.”
In order for Alta Gracia to continue to succeed and for more members of Villa Altagracia to secure living wage jobs, we as consumers must create a larger demand for Alta Gracia. The university apparel industry is large and the opportunity is great for Alta Gracia to grow within this market. In addition, we can look to increase other consumer demand as well by promoting wholesale orders. We can also organize to support the growth of more unionized factories where workers earn a living wage.
Everyone can purchase from Alta Gracia and everyone should. The more work we create for Alta Gracia, the more we prove that a just factory model is not only possible, but it can be successful, and the faster we can transform the wider apparel industry to mirror Alta Gracia standards, benefitting workers and their communities.
Tiffany Finck-Hanes is a senior at George Washington University and an intern with SweatFree Communities. She visited Villa Altagracia in January of 2012.