Tonlé, Cambodias eco and sustainable fashion brand are committed to zero-waste production. They are currently the largest ethical apparel brand in the country, offering fair wages and a secure working environment since 2013.
Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.
I grew up in the Boston area of the Northeast US, and from a young age I was interested in social justice and activism, mostly inspired by my parents. I also always considered myself and artist and looked for a way to merge the two passions. I studied at the Maryland Institute college of Art, where I became involved in textiles and received a BFA in Fiber.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
I made clothes from a young age (I made my first Halloween costume in 3rd grade out of second hand clothing, and by high school I was making clothing and bags and selling them to my peers. But I always knew there were problems in the fashion industry, and my conscience prevented me from pursuing study or a career in that field. In my last year of college, I had the opportunity to visit Cambodia with a family friend who had interested in starting a textile business there – and that was the first time that I came into contact with artisan groups who were trying to practice fair trade principals in making textiles and other handicrafts. This inspired me to realize that the fashion industry is not going to change simply by criticism, but needs change from within and that was the first time that I saw the possibility of participating in that.
What is the importance of the idea of ethical and sustainable fashion to you?
The fashion industry is one of the world’s largest industries, and also happens to be one of the greatest contributors to pollution, climate change, human rights abuses, modern slavery, suppression of women’s rights, and the list goes on. Fashion also is not going away any time soon, so we need to find a way to change it for the future of our planet and our people.
What about ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
Right now ethical fashion is defined in a number of different ways and I do think there is a need for greater definition and standardization of what those words mean. But I do think it is admirable and important that there are so many new designers coming up that are trying to consider doing things differently, and even larger companies that are changing to incorporate greater transparency into their supply chains.
What is Tonlé?
Tonlé is a zero-waste, fair fashion company. We design, make and produce contemporary women’s fashion and accessories in our workshop in Cambodia.
What are some of its feature products?
Tonlé is most known for its signature t shirts and easy to wear t-shirt dresses, which are versatile and well loved. Some of our newest ranges include products that are handwoven from tiny scraps of remnant fabric into unique new textiles. These products are higher-end price wise, but have been picked up by many designer boutiques that appreciate the craftsmanship and style of the products.
Many factors come into the fold for consideration within this movement. It is international, moderate in size, and growing. Tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires in 2012. This implies human rights, worker rights, and, in many instances, women’s and children’s rights. What are the importance of human rights and worker rights in this new movement, and to the garment industry?
Many people forget that the United states was what we would now consider a “developing country” in the 1800s and early 1900s. Child-labor and abhorrent factory conditions were commonplace – health and safety standards were non-existent. It is only because of the hard work of activists, women’s rights advocates, and unions that we have the laws that now protect workers in American from those conditions that are still common place abroad. And while the US still has a long way to go, it’s easy to forget when these jobs are shipped overseas that the freedoms we enjoy in the US took the hard work and preference of many to achieve. It’s very important to empower workers abroad to fight for their own rights as well, so that they too can achieve the same conditions. With the globalization of the industry this is much more complicated nowadays, when it is so easy for a company to move their manufacturing elsewhere when conditions become unfavorable for them or wages are too “high”. That’s why we need a multi-pronged approach where consumers, brands, factories, and governments all need to take action to be a part of the change in the industry.
Continued on Part two here.