Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
La Luce boutique owner Erika Macchione was working as a production coordinator in Miami, Florida working alongside departments that managed the imports and exports of goofy graphic tees and other items for major department stores such as TJ Maxx and Macy’s, when the shocking realities of fast fashion landed right in her lap.
“It was kind of a wakeup call,” she said. “When you’re outsourcing and you’re seeing what you’re paying for it, you stop and question, ‘So, what does the person who’s making this get paid?’ because we were paying cents for these. That was the first thing that dawned on me. Are we sending these to sweatshops? You hear about it, but you never really think twice when you don’t see something. That got me started in the process of researching companies that are trying to make a difference.”
Macchione did her research before diving into the boutique game. She subscribed to The Good Trade to keep track of ethical clothing companies on the rise and has paid special attention to the Fashion Revolution campaign. Recently, the owner has taken to social media (@laluceboutique) with #whomademyclothes, tagging fast fashion brands to ask for transparency and accountability for their employee working conditions.
“There is this movement starting in the fashion industry,” she said. “It’s bringing awareness to the consumers that you have the power to influence this: how the clothes are made, where they’re made, whether the workers are being treated well in safe working conditions.”
At nine months old, La Luce has at least 25 different brands that are designing apparel and accessories with some aspect of social impact, whether it be sustainable design, fair trade and handmade items, zero-waste or donation focused.
These include brands like Groceries Apparel out of California, a line that blends recycled plastic with organic cotton for their fabrics. Everything is made in the United States.
Garment workers at Krochet Kids sign the inside of each article of clothing, a personal connection between the industry and consumer. On the clothing line’s website, customers can come face to face with the person who signed the garment and read how the job affects a worker’s life and family or how a community benefits and changes.
There are several accessory lines at La Luce. For every purchase of a Half United item, the company provides seven meals are given to a child in need in locations within the United States, Haiti, Cambodia and Fiji.
The Article 22 Peace Bombs jewelry line is made from bomb shrapnel and pieces of the 8 million unexploded ordinances that never went off on impact during the Vietnam War. Funds from each jewelry purchase help the company disarm and clean up the explosives from areas in Laos and Thailand where they continue to injure and kill residents nearby.
Macchione also works with artisan friends and local designers, selling bags that were handmade in Ecuador and designating a table for the Schenectady-based clothing company Positive Ink, who promote positive and motivational messages through fashion.
The owner is constantly looking for new lines to work with. The awareness of ethical style is growing, with both makers and consumers, and a diverse selection of items in the shop is starting to come together.
“It’s not easy,” she smiled. “A lot of customers will come in like, ‘Well what do we do? Throw away our whole wardrobe?’ No, it’s not about that. It’s about recycling and repurposing. Being conscious of what we’re buying and where we’re getting it from, where it’s made.”
While fast fashion companies are able to rapidly pump out products in time for a new season, La Luce is receiving spring and summer pieces like light dresses, kimonos and colorful patterns slowly but surely. “It’s been a long winter,” Macchione said. Ethical fashion takes close attention, care and–most importantly–time.
La Luce Boutique, 248 Lark St., Albany. (518) 275-0355