Livia Firth and Marianne Hernandez speak to writer and podcast presenter Sara Weinreb about artisan fashion in the latest episode of Medium Well podcast.
Livia Firth and president of PACUNAM Marianne Hernandez sat down with journalist and presenter Sara Weinreb in New York last month to discuss the history and heritage of artisan fashion for Sara’s podcast – Medium Well.
It is a topic close to Sara’s heart, as she used to have her own ethical fashion business. The conversation follows the premiere of Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemaya, which Sara attended, and touches on how the documentary came to be; the “handprint” of fashion and how artisanship fits into the landscape of ethical fashion; and how fast fashion is one of the biggest threats to artisanship.
On how Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemaya came to be
LF: “Marianne and I met in Costa Rica last year, in 2018, when we did the summit with Carmen Busquets on artisans in Costa Rica. And we were discussing how do we move this forward because there is so much potential, particularly in Latin America with the artisan population, and how do we bring it to the attention when in much of the world fashion is focused on Europe or Asia or North America. And then Marianne said you absolutely have to come Guatemala, because it is a country with a one million artisans population, which is really big compared to many other countries. And this is how we went on this trip.”
On PACUNAM’s work with Guatamala’s artisans
MH: “We thought it was very important to help in the sustainable development, not only of the Mayan archaeology, but also of the craftsmanship sector, which represents the poorest regions of the country – the ones with the worst nutrition, the statistics with the highest migrationpressures, because of lack of economic opportunities. It’s about 20% of the active labour force of Guatemala and it’s something we need to cherish and help develop.”
How the artisan world fits into ethical fashion
LF: “The fast fashion business model is only able to exist because of exploitation of labour. So the gigantic repercussion on the environment and the impact of fashion is almost a consequence of the exploitation of the people who can produce so much. So on top of the footprint of fashion, we started to talk about the handprint – of fashion – and what are the stories of the people behind the clothes that we wear every day. With fast fashion, becoming more and more sophisticated in sustainability greenwashing and communication, the part that they can never appropriate is the handprint; because they can’t tell the stories of the people that make their clothes because they’re all bad stories. So we started focusing more and more on that. … These stories are incredibly powerful and these are the people who make the clothes that we wear and that for me is true sustainability and what sustainable and ethical fashion is all about.”
On passing down traditional skills
MH: “In that industry it is particularly delicate, because it is an industry that is taught from mother to daughter. And if you don’t instill these values early on in life, it is very likely people will modernise and children will not want to get involved later on. There is a fine line between child labour and heritage promotion and the handing down of traditions.”
LF: “There is so much greenwashing today and so many brands jumping on the bandwagon of sustainability because this is what everyone wants today. For me, I would differentiate between fast fashion, and nromal fashiom. So when fast fashion does a sustainability collection or conscious collection or whatever, I would always look at it suspiciously because the business model of fast fashion is built on what is says – fast fashion. So producing huge volumes very cheaply in big turnarounds – so it’s a gigantic machine that you can never do sustainbly. You can’t. It’s based on exploitation of labour and you can’t do it any other way because they couldn’t produce these volumes so cheaply. So that for me is big greenwashing.
“At Eco-Age we work with a lot of brands that are really starting a serious journey into sustainable practices. And sometimes change happens very slowly because you are talking about very long supply chains and it doesn’t happen overnight. So to start communicating the true values of that company through collections is completely legitimate, as long as that communication is done as part of a wider strategy that you can keep measuring.”
On the threat of fast fashion
MH: “One of the biggest threats to craftsmanship is actually the availability of this fast fashion product, because it really puts artisans in a bind. […] When we visited these communities in Guatemala, they make these crafts first for themselves and their children, and then to sell. And it’s hardly ever a full time job, it’s something they do as part of their own consumption and it’s a part-time activity. Fast fashion is one of the factors that is changing the dynamic of craftsmanship use by artisans the fastest, that and social media.”