One by one, about six young women marched out of the downtown Macy's women's lounge Sunday afternoon wearing supersized garbage bags and little else, save the signs taped to their backs.
"I'd rather wear trash bags than Macy's sweatshop clothing," the signs read.
If there had been more room, they probably would have gone on to detail the plight of Guatemala's unionized garment factories -- the reason those young women and about 30 other activists waged a covert invasion of Macy's on Sunday.
Among the activists were University of Washington students devoting their college experience to helping workers at Cimatextiles and Choishin, two Guatemalan factories in Villa Nueva that manufacture clothes for Talbot's, Liz Claiborne and other brands sold at Macy's.
Owners closed Cimatextiles earlier this summer, displacing unionized workers and prompting students at the UW and Seattle University to rev up their campaign for improved factory conditions.
"In our nation, and in pop culture, there's really the sense that youth aren't interested," UW student Lauren Anderson said. "This is a case where youth are interested, and I think that should be applauded and noticed. And I hope it will help the unions."
And so, garbage bags rustling briskly, the young women dispersed Sunday among racks of sweaters and dresses, up escalators and past startled shoppers. The rules of the invasion were simple: Keep it civil, quick and solitary. They've learned in four previous demonstrations at the store that if everyone makes a dash for it on their own, security has a harder time herding them out onto the sidewalk.
But a department store clerk is quick to pick up a phone when he or she sees a half-naked college student dash by complaining that the store's clothes "smell like blood." Sunday evening, store managers declined to comment on the demonstration, and it wasn't clear which -- if any -- of the store's wares were manufactured in the two Guatemalan factories.

Protesters were in the store only 15 minutes. Outside, 12 students stood in trash bags while UW senior Travis Thomas hollered "don't shop at Macy's this holiday season" into a bullhorn.
Thomas is one of almost 60 UW students who have traveled to Guatemala to study human rights over the past several years, part of a study-abroad program coordinated by Angelina Godoy, a professor in the Jackson School of International Studies. That class marked the inception the UW Guatemala Project, a student organization that raised more $70,000 last year for a 10-year scholarship endowment to benefit children in the San Marcos region.
Godoy said her goal for the summertime study-abroad program is to get students out of a classroom and into the real world, where they meet laborers at coffee plantations, gold mines and -- maybe most notably -- struggling factory workers who tell stories of women who have lost unborn children to extreme factory conditions, been threatened for belonging to unions and even denied regular bathroom breaks.
"Unfortunately, in Guatemala, there's no lack of human rights issues to examine," Godoy said, adding that Cimatextiles and later Choishin were founded when international eyes were watching the Guatemalan government during trade negotiations. If not for that, the political climate probably would have squelched those attempts to unionize, she said.
A handful of Godoy's students returned to Guatemala after graduation to help union workers fight for legitimacy, including June graduate Michele Frix. In an e-mail, Frix said she signed a six-month lease last week for an apartment just miles outside of Guatemala City, committing herself to the workers' fight through April of next year, at least.
"I never question staying here because I feel like what has happened to these workers is so unjust that I couldn't possibly stop working in solidarity with them," she wrote.
On Monday, Frix plans to protest with unionized workers outside their factories, demanding that management come out to speak with them. The unions and the group of Seattle students have written letters to the clothing companies that outsource to the factories, but both say they haven't received any response yet.

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