Tonlé: zero-waste fashion offers one-of-a-kind style handmade in Cambodia

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Meet Cambodia’s largest ethical apparel company.

An average apparel company may create as much as 40% waste in their production process, piling up bolt ends, scraps, and offcuts into already overcrowded landfills.  Zero-waste brand tonlé knows that garment industry waste is actually worth something. Crafted in Cambodia, tonlé CEO and designer, Rachel Taller creates stylish, comfortable clothes for women.  The company adheres to principles of transparency, fairness, and waste reduction in everything they do, from fair wages down to the materials in their buttons. Imagine my delight when I heard from their marketing manager, Kaitlyn, who offered to send me a gift of a gorgeous grey scarf. I’m pleased to feature their handmade designs and unique design story at Sasstainable. Keep reading beyond the break to find inspiration for the new fashion future, where tonlé makes waste passé and there’s cash to be made from garment industry ‘trash’.

Feeling my new tonlé and the sun on my face.

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A few ecochic truths. Vegans rejoice.

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Image courtesy of tonlé press release.

One hundred percent zero-waste fashion.

Tonlé has an unwavering commitment to the environment, through their zero-waste approach to design. Their team sorts through tons of discarded fabric, tossed away as waste material by larger manufacturers, and reclaim “the highest quality remnant fabrics”. Then, they go a step further, working with their production team to use the smallest scraps of their own material waste so nothing is thrown away. That’s how they made my scarf. Actually, it was made by three women in particular, named Leak, Ming Srey and Yang Nary. These three women weave together my asymmetrical scarf from scraps of leftover jersey material. Totally #whomadeyourclothes, thank you very much.

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The tonlé production process leaves 0% waste, instead of the typical industry standard of up to 40%. That’s nearly half of all materials, wasted! 90% of the fabrics and materials tonlé use would otherwise have ended up in landfill, and with the other 10% of materials, they seek to support local suppliers who adhere to the same principles. What motivates this approach to design? An earnest push for transparency, and connection, to our clothes. “A huge disconnect has grown between people who make textiles and those who wear them. We want to break down these barriers, connect you to the people behind your clothes, and build a culture of communication where suppliers and production staff are not hidden, but celebrated as partners.” – tonlé

Additionally, Tonlé pays employees well above the local minimum wage. Employees work in creative teams in a safe and comfortable Phnom Penh workshop while earning fair wages and benefits. They also have access to training and career opportunities, such as managerial promotions. Sadly, a living wage and the prospect of upward career mobility are egregiously uncommon standards of practice in the global garment industry.

Autumn/Winter 2014

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tonlé’s latest collection features feminine, easy to wear pieces, like two-tone dresses with geometric details and designs with navy nautical stripes. The collection also includes a classic-cut dark denim blazer, punctuated with easy to wear shirts and dresses in pops of colour, like that brilliant shade of red above. tonlé is a brand for women who seek to make a mark, but not a wasteful impact on the world, all with relaxed, confident style.

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After successfully funding their Kickstarter campaign in October (effectively doubling their goal), the brand plans on expansion in the months ahead. With exciting growth over the last year, including the launch of online retail in Australia and most recently in the US, their popularity is set to grow.  I invite you to browse the entire AW14 lookbook here and shop your favourite looks from the collection, including my stellar scarf, here.

Thanks once again to everyone at tonlé, we wish you every success in the months ahead.

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About the Author

Angela is founder and editor of Sasstainable, an insider voice on sustainable lifestyle and ethical luxury. In 2013, she completed her MSc in Environmental Management at the University of London, at the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy. Her passion for the environment grew out of her family's rural property in Raglan, Ontario, now a designated Natural Heritage System area in the Ontario Greenbelt. In 2009, she was granted Ryerson University's Top 30 Under 30 Alumni award, because of her work as a motivational speaker. She inspired over 30,000 high school and university students across North America. She is a published writer, contributing articles to Geez Magazine, Eluxe Magazine and Feelgood Style, among others. She enjoys fashion, cooking, art and yoga. She served on the board of directors for Toronto Zooshare Biogas Co-operative and Toronto Green Community. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada, with her 3 year-old daughter, Charlotte.
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