Challenging fast fashion from the bottom up

Fast fashion’s impact on the earth is catastrophic. The pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that sufficient environmental standards are not met – so NEOMA Business School graduate Daphnée Poupart-Lafarge has made it her goal to change perceptions of fashion by breaking traditional codes to make the process not only more humane, but also sustainable

After graduating from NEOMA Business School in 2017, I knew that I did not want to enter the corporate world. The thought of entering a nine-to-five job in a big business environment where your impact can sometimes be minimal did not appeal to me. I felt that I still wanted to discover the world and take time to think about myself and my future, so I embarked on a five-month solo trip around Latin America.  

Traveling alone is exciting – the adventure is much more powerful when you do it by yourself. You are pushed out of your comfort zone and have no choice but to interact with people from across the globe. This can lead to amazing opportunities, and that is exactly what happened to me. Just weeks into my trip, I discovered the creativity and craftsmanship of the Wayuu people – an indigenous group of the Guajira Peninsula in the northernmost part of Colombia and northwest Venezuela.

I came face to face with the mochilas, traditional bags handmade by the Wayuu people. At that moment, something clicked and I knew there and then that I wanted to dedicate my professional life to this handicraft, and to share the beauty of these creations on a wider scale.

However, it was more than just the beauty of these bags that compelled me. I quickly became aware of the poor living and working conditions of the Wayuu people, and was determined to support and improve the lives of these talented, yet undervalued and exploited, group. 

But where to begin? At first, it was a tad overwhelming – I had a marketing and communications background, and I had acquired fantastic commercial skills during my studies at NEOMA, but the jump into an independent business venture in an unfamiliar part of the world was undoubtedly a risk. After long days and nights of research and exploration, myself and my Co-Founder, Jeanne Cornilleau, founded Mazonia towards the end of 2017. Mazonia is an ethical fashion brand that works with the Wayuu people to create and manufacture mochila bags that are 100% handmade, with each purchase contributing to the improvement of their living conditions, and supporting their threatened indigenous culture. 

A different fashion brand

Mazonia’s supply chain is very different from other fashion brands, especially ‘fast fashion’ brands. Many brands tend to overproduce stock when they create a new product, and then proceed to sell it in huge quantities online. We do it the other way around – people pre-order before we produce it.

This means that the Wayuu artisans only create what people want, allowing us to avoid mass production and reduce waste. It also prescribes a higher value for the work of our artisans – they aren’t machines, they are talented hard-working individuals. People must wait two months to receive their order, and  this allows customers to appreciate how much goes into creating the final product. People must realise that they are purchasing an artwork, handmade by an artisan in the middle of the Guajira desert.

Encouraging slow fashion

Fast fashion is impulsive. It focuses on producing quickly and selling at low prices, with products intended to be replaced from one season to another. Across the globe, fast fashion’s impact on the earth is catastrophic. The pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that sufficient environmental standards are not met. Mazonia encourages ‘slow fashion’, which focuses on quality over quantity. The company intends to change the way people view fashion, by spreading its core values of ‘time’ ‘talent’ and ‘tradition’. We want people to realise that fashion isn’t just about the product, it’s about the whole process.

Ultimately though, both mine and Jeanne’s main goal is to have a lasting impact on the artisans’ lives, by bringing jobs into the Wayuu community and supporting traditional handicraft and non-factory working conditions, as well as fair wages. Each weaver receives 21% of a bag’s price of a bag – far higher than is common in the traditional fashion sector, where workforces receive between 1-9% of the price of a bag.

My Co-Founder, Jeanne, now lives in Colombia, and can work firsthand with the Wayuu communities. This allows the company to be in direct connection with all the people we work with and ensures that there are no ‘middlemen’ who might encourage exploitation or simply leave insufficient income for the community.

Being patient with success

The past two years have been a whirlwind. It has been exciting, but it has also been a huge challenge. The biggest trial of all has been learning how to be patient with our successes. Everything worthwhile takes time and hard work always pays off in the long run. It is so important to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone – it’s also good to make mistakes because we learn from them.

Already a success across Europe, Mazonia intends to expand and we have ambitions to open our own shop, and to widen our range to include new handicrafts in the nearby countries of Peru, Mexico and Guatemala. The main goal, though, is to change perceptions of fashion by breaking traditional codes to make the whole process not only more humane, but also sustainable.

In recent years, people have been making more informed decisions and have become more aware of the ethical issues surrounding fashion. There is still a long way to go, but through Mazonia we are making it our mission to continue to educate and encourage positive change from the bottom up.

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries that generates a substantial environmental and social impact. As well as the disastrous effect on the environment, fast fashion exploits workers, in turn leading to the abandonment of cultures and identities. Countering this abuse of fast fashion has been, and always will be, at the heart of the Mazonia project.

Daphnée Poupart-Lafarge is the Co-Founder of ethical fashion brand, Mazonia, and a graduate of NEOMA Business School.

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