Who Makes Your Clothes?Written by Tigre Haller
Celebrating and Honoring Fashion Workers
Ask yourself, “Do I know who makes my clothes?” If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t.
On April 24, 2013 the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 people and injuring over 2,000 more.
In reaction, fashion industry insiders from around the world collaborated to launch the Fashion Revolution to radically “change the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed.”
Held during the third week of April, Fashion Revolution Week commemorates the tragedy and asks brands to share information about their practices. It also challenges consumers to look at their buying habits and post comments on social media with #whomademyclothes #whatsinyourclothes
Had you heard about Fashion Revolution Week before reading this article? The horrific tragedy recounted above might not have happened if industry insiders and consumers alike had taken a more active role in demanding change, and holding such exploitative manufacturers accountable beforehand. It was an open secret that such practices were more the norm than not.
Fortunately, change is happening. If anything, the pandemic also shone a light on the dark recesses of fast fashion whereby more people had more time and took more of an active role in making sound and informed buying decisions.
This is your wake-up call, your chance to get to know the people who create your clothes. At Beckett Simonon, our artisans are the lifeblood of our company. Their skill, passion and dedication to the craft of shoemaking is truly awe-inspiring. We honor them every day. Not only by expressing our appreciation for their work, but in more tangible ways.
During the pandemic we have been able to retain 100% of our administrative staff and team of artisans with full pay and benefits even when the workshops were shut down. We even added a few staff members.
The return to the workshops was phased in over a long period of time, and with strict protocols in place, to be sure everyone is as safe as possible. In addition to providing a safe and ethical working environment, free from harsh chemicals, all of the artisans work a firm 48-hour week, receive an above-average wage (with paid overtime when needed), enjoy a host of benefits, paid caregiver leave, paid vacations, annual bonuses and the freedom to form unions. Additionally, we have never used and won’t ever use child labor, forced labor or prison labor.
The production of the Beckett Simonon collection is actually spread out over three workshops in Bogota, Colombia. Truly, visiting any one of these locations is like entering a rare world full of skill, passion and an abiding love for the arts of leatherworking and shoemaking.
Read on to learn more about these highly specialized operations, and to meet some of the amazing artisans who create the items:
Shoes and Boots
Founded in 1946 by Gabriel Fonseco Guio, our shoes and boots studio is a hive of constant activity where, on rotating shifts, 69 men and women work in concert to cut, stitch, and finish our line of shoes and boots. Every person has a specialty, and quite a few of them can execute every step in the process.
“This is a family business,” explains Oscar Fonseca, the operation’s current manager, “You might say it all began with my grandmother. She wanted my father to get a trade and she sent him to help out at a shoemakers’ when he was seven years old. When he came of age, he moved to Bogotá and set up a cobbler’s. He started making kids’ shoes, and eventually moved on to men’s shoes. When he established this company, at the end of WWII, he designed all the shoes himself.”
You can imagine what an undertaking that must have been. But, Oscar’s father persevered and sent his son to Italy at the age of seventeen so that he could apprentice in some of the best shoe design studios.
Oscar continues, “We’ve always had the mantra, Quality! Don’t make shoes to sell; make shoes to make people happy. That’s a huge difference.”
A difference that is evident in all the beautiful shoes and boots these amazing artisans craft daily, like the Fonseca Boots which Oscar actually designed.
Hector, one of the shoemaking masters in this studio, applies his decades of experience to everything he does.
His current focus is on mounting the uppers, something he loves doing. “Here we make gorgeous shoes,” Hector says, “It gives me so much joy that these shoes are being enjoyed internationally. My life was very beautiful, and continues to be beautiful, working within this art. My happiness is in all the shoes that I’ve made.” Hector and his colleagues pass on that happiness to everyone who wears the shoes they make.
The powerhouse duo behind the production of our sneakers are the sister and brother team Paola Andrea Gómez Lucero and Jeisson Andrés Gómez Lucero (pictured below). Employing a small team of highly skilled and competent artisans, it’s almost unfathomable the amount of sneakers this workshop creates monthly.
The siblings, who are both in their mid-twenties, entered the world of shoemaking through their parents Jorge and Constanza, who also run a shoe studio (which is where we first started making Becket Simonon sneakers). “Neither my brother nor I thought we would end up in the family business, but as I’ve grown up, I have discovered that there’s nothing quite like it.” said Paola, “Life is unpredictable, and we both decided to form this company together.” With the support and guidance of their parents, she and brother Jeisson opened the specialty workshop
Ernesto, a sneaker maker who has been in the industry for over 22 years, summed up his love for the craft (and perhaps spoke for all the artisans) when he said, “It’s beautiful to create something. It’s beautiful because you take all the parts, put them together, and then when you see it complete, you say, “Wow, gorgeous.” Even more so when you see it nicely finished off at the end.”
Bags and Belts
Flor Alba Galeano and Hector Quintero started this workshop in 1978. Although they are still on the production floor daily, it is their son Daniel who now manages the operation. After graduating with a degree in Industrial Design from the European Institute of Design, Daniel returned to Colombia with his Swiss wife. And he never thought twice about continuing in his parents’ footsteps.
One of the star members of the accessories production team is Luz Emilce Garzon who is in charge of a team of belt makers. “I put all my love into this work. When I look at belts, I only see love,” Luz Emilce expressed. She also appreciates how her team is always there when she needs them. “I know both bag and belt making inside out. But belts are best, in my opinion.”
No belt or bag would be complete without the hand forged hardware attached to them. Nadin, the youngest metalworker in the forgery, arrived in Bogotá from the Caribbean coast when he was sixteen. “I started from nothing and was taught on the job,” he remembered, “Now I’ve almost seventeen years of experience. I do my job with pride. We are creating beautiful objects, and every day I continue to learn.”
Nadin explained some of the ins-and-outs of hand forging the solid brass belt buckles, “When you put the sand in, it can’t be too compacted, or the buckle comes out porous. Neither can it be too weak, because it can collapse. If it’s too wet, it will react with the molten brass when it gets poured in; extremely dangerous.”
I hope you enjoyed getting to know just a few of the incredible artisans who make up the Beckett Simonon family. As you can tell, even though each one has a unique story, they share the passion and love of their craft.
This love truly shines through with everything they do, and is perceived by our happy customers like Jim P. He also expresses his appreciation of the updates he received during the productions process, which gave him a "backstage pass" into our processes:
“The process of guiding your customers through the shoe making procedures makes one feel that they are watching their personal pair of shoes being cobbled together. It created a sense of pride, and the anticipation grew as the shoe made its way along the production line. The biographies of the artisans added to the feeling that these were going to be shoes of the highest quality. And I was not disappointed! The two pairs of shoes that I ordered arrived in shoe boxes that are simply too beautiful to throw away. Every aspect of the shoe was meticulously finished. The polishing and burnishing were immaculate, every stitch was precisely sewn, and the lining was so well done that it was clear to me that an obsessive compulsive personality had done the work. I could not be more pleased.”
THIS IS A IMPORTANT MESSAGE RE ETHICS.
Great article. I know you are doing socks now- any plans on branching out into shirts, pants, etc.? Would be great. I would trust you over most companies I buy from. Companies like Allen Edmonds I used to trust, but something has changed there. I like your philosophy on transparency. Also, I don’t like it when companies don’t tell you where something is made – typically when it is a controversial place like China. I avoid China and would rather give my business to companies making products in the USA or companies like yours for your customer service, quality and pricing, and that you treat your employees right. All is top notch. Other companies sell a brand and not quality. They charge you a lot and it’s made some unknown place of marginal quality materials. I’m trying to move away from that.