Moving America Forward

Why This Sportswear CEO Decided to Improve the Lives of His Factory Workers

February 23, 2014
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Why This Sportswear CEO Decided to Improve the Lives of His Factory Workers
Screengrab via PBS
Knights Apparel pays a living wage to its Dominican factory workers.

Joe Bozich founded Knights Apparel in 2001, and grew it into the largest producer of college sportswear in the country. But one day he started to think about the lives of the workers who where manufacturing his company’s clothing. “Can you imagine what it would be like to know every night that your kids are going to bed hungry?” he told Fred de Sam Lazaro of the PBS NewsHour. “You can only afford one meal a day. I’ve had some experience that made me think about those things in my own life, including my own diagnosis with a disease called multiple sclerosis.”

So in 2010 Bozich started a factory called Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic that pays its workers $3 an hour, triple the legal minimum wage in that country. In Bangladesh, another country with many garment factories, the government recently announced plans to raise the minimum wage from 19 cents to 34 cents an hour. The workers at Alta Gracia are safe and comfortable. The clothes produced in Alta Gracia feature tags with pictures of the factory workers, and a few words about them, such as “I can afford food, clean water, and medicine for my children when they’re sick because of your purchase of these clothes.”

Alta Gracia hasn’t yet turned a profit—Bozich isn’t raising the prices of his clothes even though they now cost more to produce. But he’s starting to build partnerships for large orders from groups that care about the origins of their clothing, such as 150,000 shirts the University of Notre Dame sells annually to raise money for needy students. With any luck, consumers will start to pay attention to those tags with the faces of humanely treated workers and choose them over another brand.

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