When Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaigns director, invited Claire Wickland of Alta Gracia and Megan McManus of Amani DC to speak on the ethical apparel panel at the DC Green Festival, she didn’t realize one key commonality embedded in the names of their organizations. “Alta Gracia,” it turns out, means “high grace,” in Spanish, while “Amani Ya Juu” (parent organization of Amani DC) means “a higher peace” in Swahili. It makes sense, once you know the missions of the organizations involved.
ALTA GRACIA: Clair Wickland began her portion of the talk by holding up a sweatshirt. “This is not a sweatshirt,” she said, “it’s a vehicle for sustainability.” It’s true. Around 10 years ago, when students at universities around the country had no way of knowing where their college apparel came from, they started a group called United Students Against Sweatshops. This group began by pressuring Nike and other companies to improve their supply chains, but eventually spawned spin-off organizations that helped establish Alta Gracia, a fair-labor factory in the Dominican Republic that produces college apparel. Wickland saw the benefits of Alta Gracia at first hand when she visited workers there recently, and came back with a mandate from her host-mother, Marita, to use Alta Gracia as model for how the apparel industry should work everywhere. Wickland took the idea to heart and helped persuade the bookstore at her school, Virginia Tech, to source 70 percent of their apparel from Alta Gracia.
AMANI YA JUU: The DC outlet of Amani Ya Juu sells fairly traded items from Africa in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of northwest DC. Megan McManus explained how the primary hub for Amani Ya Juu, in Nairobi, brings together women from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, South Sudan, and other parts of Africa, and gives them an opportunity to make a living. The women of Amani Ya Juu are survivors of ethnic conflict who have become displaced from their homeland. Amani Ya Juu offers them an opportunity to work alongside women in similar situations, sometimes including members of rival groups, who are able to start afresh, build unity, and make peace. After five years with the group, women are given the opportunity to start a new Amani Ya Juu in their home country, with an investment from the parent group. McManus says the Amani DC outlet is now beginning to replicate that model amongst low-income and underserved populations here in the nation’s capital.
Left to right: Elizabeth O'Connell, Claire Wickland, Megan McManus.