Interviews

Talking Sustainable Fashion And Mercado 32

Words by: Tahlia Sanders


The opening of Mercado 32 last week marks another step along the Globalisation Tightrope towards a more sustainable and ethical ecosystem of consumption for Perth. Our city already hosts a range of high-end designer consignment stores and op shops but no facilities for the exchange of more everyday, quality apparel. Mercado 32’s founder, Katey, identified the gap in the market for sustainable fashion and set about investing blood, sweat and tears into filling it.

Thanks to her ingenuity and hard work you can now visit her store in Leederville, make space in your wardrobes without the guilt, and invest in sartorial satisfaction without the strain on your budget. By trading in your old clothes at Mercado 32 you can receive 30% of your items’ sale price in cash or 50% in store credit. By incentivising a cyclical trade system within her store Katey has crafted her own ecosystem of consumeristic sustainability.

Prior to speaking to Katey, I had heard some buzz about the fight for ethical practices and sustainability in the fashion industry, but much of the action being taken didn’t seem to have reached me as an everyday consumer yet. I knew that the manufacturing process for clothing was problematic but didn’t understand the details of the issue. My understanding of sustainability was extremely limited. Katey’s insights and work through Mercado 32 have made these complex topics a lot more accessible to people like me. She has kick started a movement within our local community that we, as consumers, can carry on.

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Here’s what Katey had to say about her work with Mercado 32.

Hey Katey, can you tell us a little bit about Mercado 32 and the story behind it?

Hi Tahlia! I am originally from the US where second-hand shopping is huge. I grew up shopping primarily at Buffalo Exchange – a fabulous store/brand that originated in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona (32*N). For me, buying and selling fashion was the norm and the only way as a student that I could afford to wear something different for every party. Even after starting my professional career in the US I continued to shop secondhand because it allowed me to access interesting fashion that I couldn’t either afford or find in regular boutiques.

When I moved to Perth in 2012 I was so surprised that there was nothing like this here – only a few higher-end consignment stores, Gumtree, and Facebook groups. The Internet is great, but personally, I like the experience of flicking through racks to find a gem, trying on clothes and inspecting something before I buy. So, rather than wait for a store to open, I decided to go for it myself!

Regarding the name, “Mercado” means market and that’s what we are – a place to buy, sell, or trade the best of local and international fashion.  I aim to stock an eclectic blend of current, vintage, everyday basics, and high-end pieces – so a little bit of something for everyone.

“32” identifies the latitude of my hometown — Tucson 32º N — as well as my new home — Perth 32º S. Besides reminding me of the various adventures that got me to Perth, it also (hopefully) serves to remind us that each item we own has its own long and complex history – from field, to factory, to our closet. In turn, this gentle reminder aims to encourage thoughtful behaviour in how we consume and how we protect this amazing place we call home.

Why do you think sustainable fashion is so important? Can you explain to us the concept of “slow fashion”?

Slow fashion (a term coined in 2007 by sustainable design consultant Kate Fletcher) is a broad concept addressing the whole cycle of fashion – from design, to production, to use and potential for reuse. It is the antithesis of the fast fashion that gives us a new $4 shirt every week at a high cost to the environment and communities. It is a movement that encourages consumers to pause and think about how and what they buy. How is the garment constructed? Can it last multiple washes? Can it be repaired? Who made it? Where did the raw materials come from? Slow fashion encompasses sustainable fashion, which includes using more renewable and pesticide free materials (e.g., organic cotton, hemp) as well as recycling and up-cycling items.

Slow and sustainable fashion is so important because the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil! We’ve become conditioned in the last decade or so to fast fashion and the idea that we can buy something new and trendy for cheap, wear it once, and then toss it. However, fashion should not be disposable and our planet cannot really afford for it to be. Furthermore, when a shirt costs $10 in store, there are a lot of hidden costs behind that – we’ve all heard about the terrible reality of many foreign production facilities. Thus, I think it is important that we start investing in quality over quantity – be it new or secondhand.

Mercado 32 allows you to enjoy a bit of both worlds. You can buy something that is new to you, wear it once, then sell it back and get something new again. Rather than spend $10 on a fast fashion shirt that won’t survive one wash, come buy something higher quality and second hand.

Lastly, there is so much focus on organic foods and beauty products – but our skin is our largest organ and it really matters what we put on it. We’ve all heard pro versus anti-fur and leather debates but no one talks about how most of our cotton T-shirts come from GMO and patented seeds that are putting local farmers out of business and are dusted regularly with large quantities of chemicals. It’s a very unsexy topic, but sustainability is a large concept with many facets.

Do you have any tips for readers who hope to educate themselves on sustainable fashion and general sustainability but don’t know where to start?

I cannot recommend enough that people watch the documentary ‘True Cost.’ It is an absolutely brilliant look at fast fashion and the hidden costs behind the industry from labour rights, to water pollution, to seed and agricultural issues. From there, there are some great blogs looking at eco-fashion and sustainability. My favourite is Ecouterre. Fashion Revolution is doing a lot to connect consumers to brands to learn about who made your clothes – check out their Instagram @fash_rev and #whomademyclothes to see questions and brand responses. Locally, Ethical Clothing Australia provides certification for brands and a database for consumers. Also, Ethical Consumers Australia just launched a brilliant app called ‘Good On You’ that allows consumers to see how brands rate for ethics and sustainability regarding people, the environment, and animals. The data and ratings are drawn from international certification schemes and independent rating projects.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion is the outermost representation of who we are, who we want to be, who we identify with and also (sometimes unbeknownst to us) who will identify with us. It is both practical and fun. Whilst for some people it may not mean more than “this keeps me warm and covered”; for others, it’s an exciting journey to find something new that makes you feel good about yourself. I personally love the fun in fashion and that you can change your image and look by switching up styles, from Boho, to preppy, to avant garde.

I also seriously miss the days of being a little girl when it was totally socially acceptable to wear whatever you felt like that day – sequined leggings, a tutu, and a jumper to school? Why not!

Fun aside, I think fashion is also a vehicle for change – from empowering women in the workforce (e.g., Dress for Success charity) to socio-political commentary. Its’ clout is often underestimated.

How do you hope the community will engage with your concept?

Obviously, as a small business owner, I’d like people to buy things! Equally importantly though, I’d really love to see the community engage with second-hand retailing overall. This means people coming in to sell and find their clothes a new and happy home. You are effectively sharing clothes with your friends, but you just may not know who these friends are.

One of the things I’m doing in store is ‘Buttons for Bags’, an initiative to raise money for local and international charities as well as eliminate plastic bags. When you come into Mercado 32, you will see a few boxes with buttons at our checkout counter. These buttons represent a $0.10 donation to a charity – or the price of a plastic bag.

When you check out, we can wrap your goodies up in a bag to make it easier to carry out, or we can give you a button to donate to a charity. There are usually three different charities to choose from, and they will change every couple months. As thanks for sparing the planet and us a plastic bag, we will donate whatever sum the buttons raise to each specified charity.

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Image credit: Tahlia Sanders

What was the process of establishing your store like? Have you faced many challenges so far?

 It was a labour of love… My background is in law, so that made it a bit easier to think through the logistics of planning, budgeting, and assessing the viability of the concept. But it was still a challenge to recalibrate my knowledge of how this works in the US for the Australian market, as well as finding and securing a lease! We are lucky in Perth to have an amazing Small Business Development Corporation in the CBD that provides workshops and free advice on the important – but boring – aspects of a business like financial forecasting and business planning. Other than that, it has been a blast designing a store, shopping in the community for stock, and trying to build a brand!

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In what way do you see Mercado 32 growing in the future?

I’m planning to expand to online and to operate numerous stores throughout WA and eventually Australia. In a way, I’d like to be as ubiquitous as fast fashion stores and get involved with communities nationwide to encourage recycling and shopping locally. And don’t worry boys – I will be getting into menswear as well!