The Extraordinary Value of an $18.00 T-Shirt

Raise your hand if you do NOT own a t-shirt. Anyone? Anyone? …Bueller?

Whether it’s something you throw on to relax on the weekend, or it’s the beginning and end of your entire wardrobe, t-shirts are everywhere. But they are not all created equal. What if we told you that you could make a tangible, measurable difference in someone’s life by simply choosing to purchase a particular brand? Sounds almost too easy, right? The brand we’re talking about is Alta Gracia, a label that you can find on the racks at Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

You might be thinking: “That’s a very nice concept, but it’s still $18.00 for a t-shirt.” Here is our challenge: by the end of this article we will convince you that it’s more than worth it.

What’s the difference?

We’ve all seen the headlines and heard stories about appalling conditions and wages that riddle the apparel manufacturing industry. Child labor, forced overtime, alarming working conditions – all in an effort to cut costs and grab a larger piece of the pie. Before Alta Gracia was founded, the average clothing worker in the Dominican Republic was barely paid minimum wage, which equates to about $150.00 USD per month. This is hardly an income to feed, clothe and shelter a family, let alone build a life.

Joe Bozich founded Alta Gracia as an experiment. He wanted to prove that clothing companies could exist – and thrive – with a different business model. And it’s working. Employees at Alta Gracia were the first in the apparel industry to earn a living wage, which equates to more than $500.00 USD per month or over 3 times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic. The extra few dollars that you spend on your t-shirt fund all of this:

Alta Gracia Living Wage

The difference a living wage has made in the lives of Alta Gracia workers is astonishing. Most houses in Villa Altagracia are made of thin materials and dirt floors, and without the luxury of running water. Many employees have used their income to build a new concrete home for their families and loved ones. Clary Arciniega, pictured second from the right below, was able to start her own dry-cleaning business on the side and is providing jobs for others in the community. By giving workers the freedom to make a living, Alta Gracia is reshaping the landscape in this small manufacturing town.


Clary Arciniega of Alta Gracia, with members of The Shirt Committee 2014 and Tomi Gerhold of Notre Dame Licensing.

Colleges and Universities across the country are giving a voice to workers in the apparel manufacturing industry, and Notre Dame is at the forefront of this movement. In 2012, The Shirt Committee saw the potential to be a force for good by pairing with Alta Gracia. Over the past 3 years, the project has provided the factory with orders for over 475,000 t-shirts.

“Support from Notre Dame and The Shirt has truly been a backbone for Alta Gracia as we’ve grown from a new initiative to a nation-wide brand sold in over 1,000 college bookstores,” says Rip Scott, Brand Director for Alta Gracia Apparel. “The support that the Notre Dame community has given Alta Gracia with The Shirt is so important, not only in the jobs it has created and the lives it has changed, but in the ripple effect it has inspired: The Shirt program has become a model imitated by peer schools nation-wide.”

Are you convinced?

Then buy an Alta Gracia t-shirt. Plain and simple. Go out and get The Shirt 2016 at Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, or stay in your pajamas on the couch and shop online. Either way, you’re providing hardworking families the opportunity to pursue their dreams.


To learn more about Alta Gracia, we recommend:

Tejidas Juntas/Stitched Together: Alta Gracia Documentary

Huffington Post: “Can You Make Clothes Without Sweatshop Labor? This Dominican Factory is Trying”

The Shirt Project (2013) visits Villa Alta Gracia: Alta Gracia Blog