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Dressing Responsibly

Barnes & Noble at BU carries new ethical fashion line

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The School House clothing line incorporates BU touches, such as the hockey jersey.

Here is something to consider the next time you buy a piece of clothing: the average salary for garment workers in developing nations (where much of the apparel for the American market is assembled) is just $60 a month. If you find that troubling, you might consider checking out a new ethical fashion line being carried by Barnes & Noble at BU.

The School House clothing line consists of T-shirts, sweatshirts, loungewear, and more for both women and men. The clothes are similarly priced to other BU apparel the bookstore carries. And the garment workers hired by the company are paid nearly three times the average salary (about $170 a month).

Rachel Weeks, the founder and president of School House, interned at Women Thrive, a women’s advocacy group in Washington, D.C., when she was a student at Duke University several years ago. There she first learned about ethical fashion, an experience that inspired her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. After winning the grant, she traveled to Sri Lanka, an island nation in southeast Asia with many garment factories.

“As a women studies major, I was interested in learning more about apparel that could benefit women,” Weeks says. “I was shocked to learn that the average wage for a garment factory worker is $60 a month, and this global garment workforce is more than 85 percent female. The wages were unacceptable.”

She partnered with a fashion designer and the Apparel Industry Labor Rights Movement (ALARM), a Sri Lankan coalition of labor rights organizations and trade unions, to find a small, living wage garment factory where her brand could be made.
The line is now carried at 42 Barnes & Noble college bookstores, including at BU, MIT, and Harvard. Each school has a campus-specific touch—for example MIT’s apparel has an equation design, says Weeks. “Every school has a line that’s a special nod to its campus and culture, with something that speaks out to students.” At BU, campus-specific touches mean a preppy hockey jersey with scarlet embellishments.

Weeks came up with the casual design for her clothing line after getting a number of compliments on a homemade dress she wore to an event at Duke. “My dress was made out of 17 Duke T-shirts, and everyone from the 18-year-olds to alumni was going crazy over it. I realized there is so much room in the collegiate fashion market for better designed, socially responsible college apparel.”

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @amlaskow.

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