The more I think about it, the more I’m sure that the way we buy fashion today is weird.
We go to big stores or browse online, usually half-distracted. We proceed by selecting a finished piece we like, in a size that we believe fits us. And we can wear it almost immediately, before simply moving on with our lives. I’m sure we all experienced this but what’s weird about it is that today, we buy anonymous clothes and footwear. We don’t know anything about who made them, where they come from and the journey they went through. Yet, after food, they are the most intimate objects to our bodies.
Of course, this is not how we always made, shopped for, and got our clothes.
The ready-to-wear (RTW) or prêt-à-porter business is new in our fashion histories, barely over 200 years old. Through most of our fashion-wearing time on this planet, we knew who makes things we wear. Often, that was a woman in our family, a tailor down the street, or ourselves. There was a face, a name, a relationship, and a context behind our shoes and clothes. Fashion was slow, anchored in craft, and personal.
The majority of that got lost, especially with the arrival of fast fashion, where the sole focus is on the end-product, the item we buy. Apart from the environmental and social consequences that the fashion industry drives today, there’s that sharp disconnection from our clothes. The sustainable fashion movement, which is gaining momentum in recent years, is clear on one thing: we need to slow down the pace of fashion if we want to contribute to a safer and more just future for all. There are many ways of doing this, from producing less, focusing on quality over quantity, using better fabrics, and so on. But perhaps one way of slowing fashion down could be through making it personal again.
That’s at least how Beckett Simonon, an ethical footwear brand, is approaching the industry. Working under the made-to-order model, Beckett Simonon goes a step further to bridge the gap between their makers and customers.
Keep on reading.
Why the retail needs reimagining
I recently had a chance to talk to Adela Cardona, Beckett Simonon’s Responsibility Coordinator. I was really curious about why they put so much emphasis on slow and handmade footwear. Turns out that it’s more than just the admiration for the craft: they are on a mission to reimagine the retail business.
Founded in 2011, Beckett Simonon experienced just how the current fashion business model is broken. The whole business relies on producing large quantities, long supply chains, complex distribution networks, global transport systems, and intensive marketing. This translates into a highly expensive and unsustainable business too, financial and ecological sense.
Each step of the retail costs, and the more intermediates, traders, and middlemen there are, the higher the costs. Especially when it comes to high-quality items, like leather shoes, for example, the price tag far exceeds the actual cost of production. Considering how non-transparent supply chains are, chances are that the people who made the items in the first place only get a fraction of that price. In other words, we end up paying more for things like logistics, storing, and transport than the labour behind our shoes.
At the same time, the manufacturing is based on a market estimate, which usually leads to overproduction. As someone who has worked in market research for years, I can tell you first-hand that no matter how you approach the market data, it will always be just that: an estimate. This is one of the reasons why big companies push for overconsumption, as they are trying to make up for the high production quantities. Overconsumption leads to producing even more, as the companies don’t want to risk empty stocks. The whole business enters a loop that results in waste and intensive use of resources. All of that under high mark-up prices.
So, how do you fight the overproduction and overconsumption in fashion?
According to Beckett Simonon, it starts by scaling down and making it all about a direct and personal trade.
Get to know your makers
By adopting the made-to-order model, Beckett Simonon made a big step towards scaling down its business. Unlike the ready-to-wear model I mentioned earlier, Beckett Simonon chooses to make only things that they have already sold, avoiding the excess, reducing waste and the cost of inventory and storing. They pass the typical wholesale business and deliver products straight from the artisans to the consumers. As a result, they create fewer but better quality products, which last for years and can be fully repaired if needed.
The made-to-order allows a longer production time but also implies a longer waiting time. On average, their accessories and sneakers take 6-8 weeks, while dress shoes and boots take 8-10 weeks before they are ready to ship to the customers. Yet, Beckett Simonon took this as an advantage, rather than a downside. They use the waiting time as an opportunity to put their artisans in the spotlight.
That is precisely where their spark is.
In the time of global and mass production, Beckett Simonon is offering a personal connection between the makers and the future shoe-owners. Here is how it looks like:
Once the order is placed, you, as a customer, will start receiving regular email updates about the production process. The emails offer a backstage pass and insight into exactly who and how is creating the shoes you bought. You get photos and videos to follow the journey, in real-time, from design to the finished product. As a part of the process, you’ll get to know the people who make your shoes and see their generations-old artisanal knowledge put into practice. Beckett Simonon works with master artisans in 3, family-owned studios in Bogotá, Colombia. So, you will get a chance to meet people like Óscar, the founder of the dress shoe studio; Paola and Jession who make the sneakers; and Daniel Quintero of the accessories studio.
This is just one way Beckett Simonon honours the artisan work. They also ensure fair and ethical working conditions. During our exchange, they shared their working policy with me. The policy includes: paying above the average wage, full freedom to form unions, healthcare, and pension funds, paid annual leave and maternity leave, annual bonuses, etc.
The shoes that arrive after this are made with responsibly sourced and naturally treated materials, quality, and longevity in mind. You can check out their full range of dress shoes, boots, sneakers, and accessories.
Tell me: would you care more about an item if you knew the person who made it?