So Penn Students Against Sweatshops staged a massive on-campus sit-in last spring on behalf of workers' rights across the world. Now what? "I thought, okay, we had the sit-in, but what do we do now?" College sophomore Bryan Hirsch said. For him, the next step involved splitting from PSAS -- which organized the sit-in last February -- and starting his own group, Exports and Manufacturing for Penn Advocates of Workers Rights, to prove that he was more than just talk. Hirsch, along with a handful of interested students, created EMPAWR and brought an independent artisan from Ecuador to Philadelphia to prove that there are alternatives to clothes made in sweatshops. They have since pressured the Penn Bookstore to sell the goods. "I think the issue has grown into more of an economic injustice than an individual sweatshops gripe," Hirsch said. Hirsch's idea was born during a summer voyage to Ecuador that proved to be eye-opening for Hirsch -- showing him how to expand beyond PSAS. He discovered the Morales family this past summer while researching and working at an orphanage in Otavalo, Ecuador. After spending time among the native workers, Hirsch realized that it would take more than a protest to help the family rise above the labor conditions. Morales' clothing, which has been on sale all this past week in the lobby of the Penn Bookstore, will remain on display through next Thursday. "[Morales] is not trying to compete with sweatshops," Hirsch said. "He is trying to make a difference for the indigenous community." Hirsch went in search of an outlet for his merchandise. He approached Penn Bookstore General Manager Kevin Renshaw. "It was a good business proposition," Renshaw said. "The product that he presented to us is something that we don't carry anything like in this store." After meeting with officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Hirsch and his organization decided that the best way to promote Morales' homemade clothing line was to bring it to Penn. The bookstore display has drawn the attention of numerous shoppers, whose curiosity was piqued by the unique and colorful wool-knit sweaters and hats. "I'm very impressed with the organization, love and care that has gone into this," College sophomore Risa Turetsky said, while passing by the display. "It's not something that I'm an active member of, but I'm a supporter of the cause." Hirsch's long-term plan is to create a sweatshop-free line of clothing emblazoned with the Penn logo. However, there's some red -- and blue -- tape to be crossed. Before the products can be labeled, Hirsch must apply to the Penn licensing committee for permission to use the logo. He must also get approval from Barnes and Noble Booksellers to market the clothing through the Penn Bookstore. Both agendas may delay production until February. But Hirsch is confident that the clothing will not only profit on this campus but on university campuses nationwide. Until that occurs, Hirsch said he's content with having sold enough merchandise to exceed the yearly income of three Ecuadorian families combined.Comments powered by Disqus
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