Last spring, UT alumna Gretchen Chomas helped gather support on campus to source fair wage clothing in UT's bookstore.
This fall, Robert Naylor, a sophomore in global studies, has helped make this vision a reality.
"The student body, faculty, and staff are elated that Alta Gracia is now available through the UT Bookstore," Chomas said in a statement. "With the prices comparable to that of the larger brands, and ... a change in treatment for workers, there is no reason Alta Gracia shouldn't fly off the shelves. ... If the bookstore does their part to display it well, restock it, and promote it like they do other brands, we anticipate that sales will be great."
Amnesty International, the Progressive Student Alliance, Tyson House Student Ministries, the Food Policy Council and Lambda Student Union have all partnered with Chomas and Naylor to make this possible.
"Many of my friends are very excited about the appearance of the brand and are looking forward to getting their shirts," Naylor said. "Everyone I have talked to loves the clothes as much as they love the story behind them."
Chomas believes students will be able to dress well while at the same time enhancing other lives.
"It truly embodies the Vol mission to lead and make a difference on a global level by doing our part on a local level," Chomas said.
Naylor hopes to foster cooperation between administrators and student leaders to support worker rights.
"I'm definitely still wanting to meet with more student groups about this issue to endorse the campaign and hopefully run a few educational events in the near future," Naylor said. "The more students that buy Alta Gracia, the more likely the bookstore will expand their order. We definitely are still hoping to meet with the manager to discuss how we can help the order expand. ..."
Naylor and Chomas both believe that there is more work to be done.
"We wish the administration would be a little more proactive about insisting that we source living-wage union-made apparel, and that they would use our status as an excellent sports school to get brands that aren't respecting workers' rights to step up to the plate and do their part," Chomas said. "We hope to meet with Chancellor Cheek to further discuss what we think UTK could be doing."
Chomas addressed her concerns about the university's relationship with adidas.
"UT has not yet taken action to correct the case of wage theft that adidas is involved with in Indonesia, where they owe already struggling families more than $1.8 million," Chomas said. "UT is a huge customer of adidas — we feel that our speaking up and asking for improved corporate behavior could go a long way. We've not heard a willingness from the administration to do this yet, but it's a conversation we're just beginning, and we really hope they will be receptive to this."
Chomas hopes the administration will be willing to work with students on the issue.
"We hope Chancellor Cheek will see that this is the right thing for Vols and consider suspending business with adidas until they agree to step up and take care of their employees like they should. Other schools have done this. Cornell and Oberlin have cut their contracts completely."
Naylor agrees there is more yet to accomplish.
"I am excited that we have Alta Gracia, but it is very much a baby step in the right direction," Naylor said. "Students now have the choice to support workers rather than exploit them. But for this to really work at UT, students shouldn't have to choose between eight or so items. I think Alta Gracia should make up (a) good chunk of the bookstore's orders...."