When the Clemson football team runs down The Hill before its Nov. 23 game against The Citadel, the roars of the Memorial Stadium crowd will resonate all the way to the Caribbean.
Clemson will hold its first-ever “Purple Out” for the Military Appreciation Day game against The Military College of South Carolina, and official T-shirts are available with a design meant to show the significance the color purple has to the United States military and Clemson University.
But that is far from the only reason Clemson fans can feel good about putting on purple that day.
Clemson and IPTAY have partnered with Knights Apparel, a Spartanburg-based business, which will produce the exclusive 2013 “Purple Out” T-shirts through its Alta Gracia brand, which represents another benevolent aspect of the event.
The Alta Gracia factory, located in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, is the only one in the developing world to meet the standard of paying its employees a “living wage” and thus be certified by the Workers Rights Consortium.
“It’s a pretty unique factory,” Alta Gracia Brand Director Rip Scott said. “We have visitors from all over the world who want to come see it. But it’s a pretty simple premise: We want to pay workers enough to support their families and take care of what they need to in life, and we want them to have a safe work environment, be treated with respect and have rights in the workplace.”
Villa Altagracia had been a large base for apparel manufacturing in the Dominican Republic at one time, but when a major factory closed down in the municipality, it left a huge hole in the local economy and thousands of trained workers unemployed.
That scenario hit home for Donnie Hodge.
Like many in the South from his generation, the textile business played a major role in Hodge’s upbringing. His father worked at the local cotton mill in their hometown of Pacolet Mills in Spartanburg County, and Hodge saw entire communities virtually shut down when the local mills went out of business.
Hodge played baseball at Erskine College before going into the textile industry himself, and after a long career as an executive at a number of successful companies, was hired in 2008 as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Knights Apparel.
At the time there was quite a bit of discussion on campuses around the United States about labor rights for workers who made college apparel, but those philosophical ideals had always remained just that, while the reality was profit margins could be increased by using the cheap labor available in Central America and the Caribbean.
But the admittedly “hard-headed” Hodge was determined to make a sustainable business model out of paying workers a living wage with Knights Apparel. He had experience working in the Dominican Republic, so he got on an airplane and found a suitable building – the then-abandoned factory in Villa Altagracia – and set about repairing the building, putting in the equipment and hiring the workers.
More than 500 people lined up to apply for jobs the first day.
The Alta Gracia factory now employs about 135 workers and is making a difference in each of their lives by paying every worker what equates to 3.5 times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic.
“This is one of the things I’m most proud of in my career because, the Alta Gracia factory, I think I went down there and made that happen,” Hodge said. “It’s a small factory, and it’s only making a difference in one community. But students around the country can identify that it gives them an opportunity to support it. I cannot express how grateful I am – and I mean this from the bottom of my heart – and how much I appreciate Clemson’s support.”
The “Purple Out” initiative began as a brainchild of the student body several years ago, but took a while to gain momentum. That momentum hit a tipping point when the athletic department realized the drive the students had to make it a reality, and about a year and a half ago, threw its support behind the initiative.
In August 2012, it was decided that the “Purple Out” would happen, but the Clemson student government and athletic department decided to wait until this football season to do it to make certain it was done the right way, according to Student Senate Athletic Chairman Hunter Bagnal, who serves as a liaison between the two.
To get the ball rolling, a student competition was held to find an official “Purple Out” logo for the shirts, a process that was considerably more complicated than it sounds.
“The tricky thing about Clemson is we have a lot of symbols here – the academic Tiger face, the Clemson Paw, certain fonts we can use – so it’s really tricky trying to make sure you’re not stepping on any toes with this,” Bagnal said. “We got about 35 designs and ended up meeting and put them all on the wall, and William Craig’s just jumped out at us instantly. We had to talk to the Department of Defense as far as making sure the Purple Heart was good to go, and his design just lined up so well that we knew he’d won.”
Once the design of Craig – now a graduate student – was selected, the next step in bringing the “Purple Out” to fruition was for the athletic department to get the shirts produced, which is where Knights Apparel entered the narrative.
“The deal they gave us was just unbelievable,” Bagnal said. “The connections they have – they do the Penn State ‘White Out’ shirt, and they have experience at this – and they were able to get us in vendors such as the bookstores here, the local Target in Anderson, and the connections they were able to bring us to the mass scale were great. To get 80,000 people to wear purple, we can’t just stick it in one store and pray that they buy it. Knights Apparel allowed us to be able to reach all these people with just one distributor.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that purple T-shirts have been sold for Military Appreciation Day at Clemson. In past years, the ROTC and military organizations on campus have made shirts and sold them, and the athletic department gave the rights money it received back to those organizations.
In this case, the “Purple Out” shirt is replacing the Military Appreciation Day shirt, but the end result is the same – a significant portion of the proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts goes directly back into military programs on Clemson’s campus.
“The students are using this as a platform to show awareness for our military as a whole – active duty and veterans and everyone in between,” Bagnal said.
That is where Collegiate Licensing Company comes into the equation.
CLC is a licensing agency that works on behalf of Clemson and roughly 160 other schools around the country, as well as additional collegiate properties such as bowl games, the NCAA and Heisman Trust. Its primary role is to be the conduit between the manufacturers who seek to produce college-branded products and the schools.
In this case, CLC acts as a clearinghouse for those companies to come through and apply for a license, and it then processes that information on to Clemson, which in turn makes the final decision on anyone who gets a license with the university.
“We would make sure that if people are submitting designs, purple designs, that may infringe a little bit or cut pretty close to what Knights Apparel is doing, then we flag those and make sure that those are not reaching the marketplace,” said Mike Carlton, Senior Director of University Services for CLC.
And the impact of that licensing is particularly important in the case of Clemson’s “Purple Out,” since any proceeds from T-shirts that are not the official “Purple Out” shirts made by Knights Apparel are not only not going back to the workers in Villa Altagracia, but also are not going back to the military organizations at Clemson.
“This is an initiative that Clemson has taken upon themselves to make sure they are doing their due diligence to ensure the product is manufactured in an appropriate manner and the people making those garments aren’t working in sweat shop conditions,” Carlton said, “and then on the other end to work and ensure that the money that’s generated from the proceeds that come from this particular initiative and this design are going to reward our military and those folks that do what they do to protect our country.”
Those looking to get their hands on an official “Purple Out” T-shirt should have no trouble finding one.
There will be 11,000 T-shirts at the stadium for student-ticket holders, so anyone who attends the game with a student ticket will get one of the shirts at no charge.
Beyond that, the shirts are also available at Barnes & Noble Bookstore and Stadium Stores on campus, Mr. Knickerbocker’s, The Tiger Sports Shop and Judge Keller’s in Clemson, Palmetto Moon in Greenville, Courtyard by Marriott in Clemson and select local Target stores, as well as online at Fanatics.com and the Official Online Store of ClemsonTigers.com.
For anyone on or near Clemson’s campus, the Barnes & Noble store in the Hendrix Center is a perfect place to pick up the shirt. It is a flagship store for Knights Apparel and the Alta Gracia brand, which means it has a full setup of their products.
“We’re open all week during the week, the ‘Purple Out’ shirt is in the store, and we also have it at the stadium during the game because we do the novelty stands,” said Brandon Williams, Community Relations Manager for Barnes & Noble. “It’s in all of the stadium locations, the store that we opened in Littlejohn Coliseum, the store in the WestZone – Solid Orange Station – and then the actual novelty booths inside the stadium.”
Of course, while Clemson wants fans to wear purple to The Citadel game, it still wants fans to wear orange to the other home games. The Solid Orange initiative is even a part of the design of the “Purple Out” shirts.
But for a school with such a proud military history, Assistant Athletic Director Mike Money said the student-driven “Purple Out” is something Tiger fans can be proud of when they don their purple shirts Nov. 23.
“For that one game, we want everybody to wear purple in support of the military,” Money said. “I think here at Clemson we’ve got an amazing Military Appreciation Day. The military groups on campus do a tremendous job with that, and I think it’s something that just ties perfectly into that.”
For Hodge, the proximity between Knights Apparel and Clemson, as well as his own connections with the university – Hodge’s father-in-law, Zane Woodfin, is a 1948 graduate of Clemson University and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame – are further reasons the “Purple Out” is such a special event.
“When those fans get there and they see that team poised to run down The Hill, it’s just unbelievable,” he said. “And no matter what’s happened to those people that week, no matter how it’s been, when they look and they see that team poised, they rally around that. Now, you’ve got this ‘Purple Out’ support that kind of rallies and makes them feel like a part of the team, and it’s Military Appreciation Day, as well. I’m sort of an old-fashioned sort of guy, and I’m not embarrassed to be that way – and I think if you can’t feel good about that ‘Purple Out’ shirt and supporting the military and supporting Clemson University, there’s something wrong with you.”
October 12, 2018