tonlé: Zero-Waste Fair Fashion in Cambodia
Rachel Faller is not your average women’s clothing designer. Based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the positive impact her brand, tonlé, is having on the country socially, environmentally and economically makes her a uniquely new force in the sustainable fashion industry. I was first introduced to her by a friend sometime last year and was immediately intrigued by her mission. After reaching out to her, she graciously offered to make time to talk more about what she’s creating with her newest line, tonlé. Both Rachel and tonlé are an absolute delight and I’m so excited to tell you all a little bit about them!
After graduating from MICA with a degree in Fibers and moving to Cambodia in 2008 on a Fulbright Scholarship, Rachel started building her team of local Cambodian seamstresses and workers. She set out to build a company that makes modern, sustainable and affordable clothing while creating job opportunities and sustainable livelihoods for Cambodians. Her employees are paid well above the local industry minimum wage and are provided with benefits, training and advancement opportunities. In creating a positive work environment that encourages employees to express themselves creatively, they are given the opportunity to flourish both professionally and personally.
After debuting her first line of women’s clothing, Keok’Jay, five years ago, Rachel has created a new, more mature fashion label called tonlé. Not only are tonlé’s designs both affordable and wearable, the means by which they are made are pretty amazing.
According to their website about 90% of the materials used in their collections are recycled fabrics from the local factories, while the other 10% are made by local and sustainable suppliers. When it comes time to collect fabric for a new collection, tonlé’s design team heads to local factories to comb through tons of fabric cast aside by large manufacturers searching for the highest quality fabrics.
The team handmakes every single piece in the collection by hand-knitting, hand-weaving, hand-sewing, dyeing, and screen printing each item. Tonlé aims to use natural dyes, however since it’s not always possible they use inert and non-toxic dyes—most coming from edible materials like lemon and soymilk.
In a style true to Rachel’s beliefs, tonlé recently partnered with the Cambodian Weaving Village and Sonas World, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women through micro entrepreneurship, to design fabric that uses all of their leftover scraps. In order to make the “yarn” used to weave the new fabric, employees painstakingly hand-cut and sew back together any and all waste scraps. From conception to completion tonlé’s production leaves 0% waste!! To put that into even greater perspective, the average factory produces up to 40% waste. How does tonlé accomplish something so seemingly impossible? They make their own recycled paper to use in packaging. Can it get any better than that?
You should head to tonlé’s website to learn more about them and check out their designs! Psst psst, they are also in the midst of a Kickstarter to help fund their official launch in North America and to set up a new workshop in Cambodia. Check that out below, or here!
*All images courtesy of tonlé’s website and instagram.