Students advocate for fair trade apparel

AU’s Fair Trade Student Association is working to increase demand for fair trade products in the campus store.

The Fair Trade Society hopes to boost awareness and support of Alta Gracia apparel in the AU Campus Store. Alta Gracia is a college apparel company that pays a living wage and provides a safe workplace for workers, making it unique among its competitors, according to their website.

“Once AU students know [about fair trade], they seem to make the switch,” Ellie Yanagisawa said, a member of the group and a sophomore in the School of International Service. “[The bookstore] is a business, so it’s all based on demand. Our strategy is about appealing to students.”

Demand for fair trade apparel is increasing, according to Campus Bookstore Manager Kristi Cole.

“Based on success, we’ve committed to double the orders with Alta [Gracia] this year, and continue to look for opportunities in expansion,” she said.

The group organized an event with representatives from Alta Gracia last October, which led to peak fair trade apparel sales at the bookstore.

“We need a constant awareness,” Yanagisawa said.

The bookstore responds to changing demand through their network of buyers.

“We have a dedicated team of buyers always looking to meet the demands of our consumers and with that, our assortments are constantly evolving,” Cole said.

Cole said all of the campus store apparel comes from ethical companies that pay workers a livable wage and maintains good workplace conditions.

“Our entire assortment is subject to the most ethical labor standards in the industry,” Cole said.

AU Fair Trade Society supports Alta Gracia because of their labor practices.

“They’re so special because they pay a living wage,” Yanagisawa said. To pay a ‘living wage,’ a company must monitor the costs its workers face.

Those wages can be up to three times higher than minimum wages, according to the company’s website.

While it meets some of the strictest standards in the industry, Alta Gracia cannot guarantee that the materials the company uses, such as cotton and dye, are also fair trade, according to Yanagisawa.

Follett, the company that runs the bookstore, remains dedicated to fair labor, Cole said.

“Follett is deeply committed to the concept of social justice, supporting the many organizations that ensure ethical working conditions,” she said.

The Fair Trade Society is also working to secure more space for advertising about fair trade products in the bookstore.

“We’re trying to get a bigger display, so students know,” Yanagisawa said.

The group said the bookstore ideally would only offer fair trade apparel, putting AU ahead of many other small colleges that also sell fair trade products.

“We’ll definitely be standing in the forefront,” Yanagisawa said.

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