Global threads: Ragin’ Cajun Store offers Dominican Republic brand
The Ragin’ Cajuns Store on St. Mary Boulevard introduced free-trade apparel to its catalog following requests from multiple student organizations.
Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette organization geared towards to building greater consciousness of global issues, asked the university bookstore, as well as university President E. Joseph Savoie, Ed.D., last semester to substitute one-third of merchandise with products from Alta Gracia Apparel.
Briley Higginbotham, a junior English major and CRS president, said because UL Lafayette includes so many brands globally and locally, no brand in the store will take up one-third of the bookstore racks.
Based out of the Dominican Republic and owned by college-logo apparel company Knights Apparel, Alta Gracia prides itself in paying its members a living wage.
“The ways that it (Alta Gracia) really differs from other clothing manufacturers are that it pays the workers three times the minimum wage where it is in the Dominican Republic,” said Higginbotham. “That’s enough for them to have access to clean water, stable houses, to provide education for their children, to get childcare for their kids that are too small for them to go to school while they are working.”
The organization began efforts to promote fair trade in the fall 2016 semester when Higginbotham requested help from the Student Government Association. According to a Q&A on the CRS website, those involved went to speak to additional student organizations, including the Muslim Student Association, Spanish Club and Grief Awareness Association. Organization members also asked for students to sign a petition for UL Lafayette to sell Alta Gracia products. Catholic Relief Services members delivered the petition and a letter to Savoie.
Higginbotham said CRS set up a table with a sewing machine with handcuffs attached to the sewing machine to raise awareness for workers who are not compensated fairly for their work or were abused.
Organization members also interviewed a worker via Skype who transferred to Alta Gracia and spoke of her experience at the factory where she previously worked.
Cole Funderburk is a junior in kinesiology is the secretary for the CRS. Funderburk said the Alta Gracia factory infrastructure “is more sound” because the major corporations would “race to the bottom for the cheapest establishment.” Funderburk said because major corporations find cheaper buildings, those buildings had more chance to collapse.
The money from Alta Gracia, he said, is used for schools and childcare.
Camille Carloss, a CRS member and senior English major, said a common misconception about fair trade is the price tag.
“Alta Gracia is the same price as Nike, and the workers are actually getting some money,” she said.
Danielle Cormier, CRS vice president and a junior childhood and family studies major, said the global brand markets towards college apparel because numerous colleges utilize larger name brands such as Nike and Adidas for game-day apparel.
“Across the country, billions of dollars is going into that industry. So, what Alta Gracia wants to do with colleges is start small and spread out so that we have the option for fair trade,” she said.
“People see how good of a purchase that they’re making,” said Higginbotham, “and how it physically benefits the lives of workers who would not have the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty.”
Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors is over two years old and has organized events and awareness campaigns regarding immigration, refugee crisis and disaster aid. Amélie Desormeaux, a recent UL Lafayette alumna who founded the university’s CRS chapter, said she formed the group out of a lack of existing social issue-based organizations on campus.
“I started the ULL chapter of CRS Ambassadors because there were no student groups on campus with a global focus for building awareness of social issues and creating global solidarity,” Desormeaux said. “Yet, there were so many students like me studying international relations are wanting to work in the international service field. I saw a need and sought to fill it.” Desormeaux graduated in December and is now in Peru doing mission work.
Higginbotham said the CRS also set up a laptop for students to write to Congress regarding events such as the refugee movement. Higginbotham said the CRS has a bake sale to raise funds to stop human trafficking. There are nine to 11 members involved in CRS.
“There are a lot of young adults out there who have this desire and passion to change the world,” said Higginbotham, “but they don’t really have an outlet to do that, and that is really cool being in a subset of CRS, which is already changing the world.”