Sometime in the mid-2000’s the landscape of the American mall began to change. Older stores were beginning to fade in the luster of the “hay-days”. Stores like H&M, Forever 21, and UNIQLO, which had been growing internationally, found a new home in America. They coincided with the rise of online shopping, and created a boom in the fashion industry. They began designing, manufacturing, shipping, and were ready for sale at a breakneck speed like none seen before. The term “Fast Fashion” was coined to describe the trend. But what resulted in cheap prices for clothing and accessories came at a cost. The workforces that were producing pieces by the thousands, the environment which now saw cheap synthetic material churning out en masse, and the tons of new freight being shipped from cheap labor markets to the American storefront. All of this culminated into the fast fashion industry that exists today. Some shops turn out fashion lines every fifteen days, which is a vast departure from how clothes and shoes were made.
The Old WayBack before the industrial revolution in the early 1800’s, clothing production was mainly done at home by the masses. A few pieces of clothing were sold, but it was an investment that you would wear for years, being endlessly stitched up and repaired. A marvel of modern invention hit the scene and everything changed. The sewing machine ushered in a new era. With its ease of use and fast production time, clothing began to be made at an unprecedented rate. As this turned into big business, the desire to maximize profits outweighed the concern for human well-being. Shocking the world in 1911 a fire in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, many of whom were young, female immigrants. This began to change the way fashion, and all factories in the USA and many other countries saw the first steps towards fast fashion. What became known as a sweatshop did not simply fade away. It moved into the shadows in the USA and into mass factories in other countries. Many of these became highlighted in 2013 when a sweatshop in Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza, collapsed, claiming over one-thousand lives. It brought the world's attention once again to the true cost of the cheap five-dollar fashion they had come to know. As the internet gave a new platform for fast fashion to thrive, it also gave opportunity for smaller shops to have a platform to a national or international audience. Shops like Mikoleon, that otherwise would find it difficult to have a storefront, now had the ability to reach consumers that cared for where their clothing, shoes, and textiles came from. The artisan small businesses which seemed to have completely disappeared in the late 20th century have seen a resurgence. A growing number of shops have been able to not only bring their designs and styles to life, but doing it while providing work for skilled artisans and makers using techniques that are centuries old. Work that allows them to practice their craft while still making money that allows them to provide for themselves and their families above what is considered a liveable wage. Breaking the wheel that has long kept people under the thumb of massive fast fashion companies starts by respecting the work they do and art that they create.
“Fair” Trade for ArtAs labor laws in the USA have been created to protect the workforces from experiencing another sweatshop, the ability to adequately enforce this is not there. The persistence of sweatshops continues today but in less obvious ways than before. Workers being paid for how many pieces they can make in a day, resulting in them often being paid less than minimum wage. Violations in record keeping and overtime results in workers losing vast sums of money for their work, resulting in inadequacies for the cost of living in the USA. Many companies moved production out of the USA to places they could find cheaper work forces with lower costs of living, but many of the same issues followed. To compound this, the labor laws of other countries complying with International Labor Laws go virtually unenforced. Occurrences like the Rana Plaza tragedy are the results of the fast fashion systematic approach to reducing prices at the cost of human, animal, and environmental warfare. The growing trend for many organizations is to become “fair trade” certified. The intention being to give the workers that are making the products a reasonable rate for the cost of living in their country. Highlighted mostly through the coffee industry, the problems with this certification are to do with the misconception of how the funds affect the farmers and producers involved with fair trade. The idea of a fair percentage of a consumer's purchase goes proportionally to the famer/maker is flawed. Research has shown that the benefits of participating in the fair-trade system are offset by the price the growers and makers have to pay for the fair-trade certification, resulting in the long-term benefit of “fair trade” to be essentially zero. Meaning that there are negligible effects of the program for the grower or maker. To change this, companies like Mikoleon have the makers as employees. Setting standards like being 100% compliant to local laws and regulations; with zero tolerance policy towards child labor, forced labor, discrimination, harassment and abuse. Our employees also have a healthy and secure work environment, as well as freedom of association and fair labor practices. In house employees have all the benefits the law in Guatemala requires such as medical, social security, maternity leave and vacation benefits. In addition, we provide them with personal scholarships, micro loans for education purposes and software training. This allows them to be better prepared to perform their jobs. This translates to every artisan, maker, grower, and producer not being isolated trying to fight for work. But work that gives them the best price and benefits. It’s our mission and responsibility to do better by our artisans, our community, and our planet.
The departure from more crafted and artisanal ways of creating goods has resulted in cheaper and cheaper products. Products that have filled landfills and created no meaningful connection to the buyer. Fast fashion brands like Missguided, Forever 21, Zaful, Boohoo, and Fashion Nova push to increase profits, they do so by stepping on the backs of workers and taking a punishing toll on the environment. Stores like Forever 21 promote “social responsibilities” and green initiatives, but do it as a greenwashing scheme. Meaning that the efforts that they promote are only for a publicity stunt. Using things like energy efficient lighting in stores and main offices are environmentally very negligible in their impact, especially when compared to the massive environmental cost that their production uses. Since the clothing, shoes, and other textiles are made with the knowledge that they will be thrown away, they are made as cheaply as possible. Toxic substances in clothing that might get a few quick uses, and then thrown into a landfill. Only 0.01% of textiles actually get recycled into a new use, creating an environmental disaster that continues to grow. Greenwashing has become one of the easiest ways for large fast fashion brands to have a “feel good” section to their websites, but allow them to continue in the same harmful ways. Resulting in companies to push for trashion over fashion. Many consumers once believed that this is true for all fashion. That their clothing, shoes, and textiles should be seen not as an investment in quality, but as something that is endlessly replaceable. More information and movements like slow fashion have begun to reach the public dialogue. That is to say the public, the consumers that once drove the fast fashion trends, have grown savier and more educated. The push for longer lasting, better made, eco-friendly goods has helped propel a new generation of artisans into a renaissance of creation.