Maggie Stoll’s business, Burke Mercantile, is a pinprick-sized light in the dark, unsustainable world of fast fashion. At least, that’s what Stoll intends; to take several of the eye-opening lessons she gathered during the eight years she worked for an international retail giant, and then do exactly the opposite.
“A lot of the accessories and clothes I carry are designed to live in your wardrobe for years and years, and have that quality, and move away from that fast-fashion mindset we’ve all gotten into; having as much as possible for as little money as possible and tossing things after wearing them twice,” Stoll said.
The Cincinnati native moved to Long Beach almost 10 years ago, sleeping on a friend’s couch until she found an apartment and a job. Long story short, she climbed the proverbial ladder at Urban Outfitters, starting as a sales associate and working her way up to a visual merchandising position. At the five-year mark, she imagined herself becoming the visual director of the company until she began to feel a distance from the brand.
“I started to get disconnected with all of it and found a passion for discovering small, independent brands, the ones that were being the change makers in the industry and practicing fair labor, sustainability and ethical production,” said Stoll. “That’s when the idea started to plant that I would maybe love to have my own store to offer that type of product.”
Fast fashion has been faulted for producing greenhouse gases, unhealthy conditions for workers and unrealistic expectations for consumers. Google the term and you’ll find stories questioning how companies can justify selling clothing so cheaply, whether fast fashion can be sustainable, as well as the latest big-name designer to call for lessening its negative impact on the environment.
Stoll has done her part. Since opening a Belmont Heights-based brick and mortar in April, she’s organized mending workshops that teach small groups how to repair their clothes so they’ll last longer. She donates five percent of her net profits each quarter to rotating charities and gave 100 percent of the proceeds from her grand opening raffle to Algalita, a local organization working to end plastic pollution.
Granted, they are small, tiny, steps when matched against an economic ecosystem that has conditioned consumers into tossing clothes in short order to make room for the latest, cheapest, fashion trends. Still, it’s how she answers her own questions about Burke Mercantile’s relevance in today’s political climate.
“It was like, is this really important to be doing right now?” Stoll said. “Just putting more stuff into the world and trying to get people to buy things? That was one reason why I wanted to be really thoughtful about the product I was putting in here, but also be able to do more to give back.”
Of course, though Burke Mercantile exists to combat the real and present danger of fast fashion, the dream of opening a storefront was put in danger by those things all too familiar to any small business person. Consider, Stoll couldn’t get a loan without a signed lease for a space and she couldn’t get a lease for a space without a loan.
Not to mention, being a single female made the loan process even more difficult. Despite companies commending her for creating a strong concept, making sacrifices to gain the experience to run her own business and taking all the necessary steps to apply, she said she was told that not being married, not having a partner with a job of their own, would be her biggest hurdle to procuring a loan.
“Business-wise I understand that, but there was part of me that [questioned] are they saying that to single guys, I wonder? It was just hard to hear, especially since that process took so long,” said Stoll. “It was hard to keep hearing that I had done everything that I was supposed to do but it was playing against me that I was a single female without a secondary income from a spouse, so that was the biggest battle.”
It looked as though Stoll’s dream would never be realized until the owners of Kuarto, who had been in the 272 Redondo Ave. storefront for two years offered her the opportunity to take up half their space—the two split the cost of it, which helps with Burke’s overhead costs. It’s a sign of the times, what with rising rents in Long Beach, that more businesses are forming similar partnerships and pop-ups to stay in the black.
“I would say the [advantages] are having two completely unique shops under one roof, and doing curated co-branded events has a lot of benefits,” said Kuarto co-founder Diego Diaz. “You gain access to each others’ demographic and it’s a good way to support one another.”
Founded in 2016 by Guadalajara-born brothers Diego and Raul Diaz, the name Kuarto is a modern take on the Spanish word for room. The shop is a reflection of their Mexican roots, but is heavily influenced with a Japanese aesthetic. Two years ago when they signed the lease they, like Stoll, felt they were adding a type of retail to Long Beach not available at the time.
“We primarily like bringing in products that are design driven,” Diego said. “These are all brands/products we couldn’t find in any shop in Long Beach, so we decided to open up our own space to bring them in. A huge part of that was bringing in Japanese-made goods. Their attention to detail is unrivaled and we’ve always been very inspired by that.”
Burke Mercantile carries products (online and in-store) made by small brands from Barcelona to Brooklyn as well as local makers, including Long Beach native and womenswear designer Kelsy Parkhouse. For Stoll, it’s also the everyday objects designed beautifully and with multiple functionalities that always catch her eye.
“There’s no reason your tape dispenser has to be ugly,” she said with a laugh.
Items at Burke Mercantile range from $5 greeting cards to a nearly $400 silk dress, amounts not only wide-ranging, but pricey for a lot of customers. Stoll considers these items investments, especially the more expensive ones, and used the first time she bought something “outside of the fast fashion world” as an example.
The $350 pair of wide-leg jeans had been in the back of her mind for three years before she nervously clicked the “buy” button. But after they arrived at her doorstep, she tried them on and said they felt better than any garment she’d ever put on her body.
“Once I owned them among a mess of an exploding wardrobe of fast fashion stuff and I reached for that same pair of jeans every single day I was like, ‘Oh, there’s something to this,’” Stoll said, who’s had that pair for six years now, and still wears them at least once a week.
“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised how well people have responded to the clothing and accessories because the price points do reflect the quality and the way they’re produced,” said Stoll. “If that happened more all over the fashion industry those prices would go down, but that just doesn’t exist yet.”
Learn more about Burke Mercantile here and visit the space at 272 Redondo Ave.
Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her on Twitter and Instagram @theasiamorris and via email at [email protected]
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