Zero-waste, ethical fashion is possible

Rachel Faller's clothing manufacturing company Tonlé succeeds on scraps and she says other businesses can do it too.

Technological advances have made way for giants in the fashion manufacturing industry. As a result, an estimated one million tons of textile waste is dumped in landfills around the world each year. The environment is not the only victim. Those employed to work in assembly lines are often led to believe that their only option is to work for below a living wage, without benefits or opportunity for growth. Rachel Faller, founder of Tonlé designs, hopes to provide an alternative to fast fashion by exhibiting her Cambodia-based fashion brand as an example of eco-friendly, human-centred manufacturing.

Boasting a zero-waste design process, Tonlé’s designers work alongside a production team to produce collections that incorporate even the smallest discarded scraps of waste material. This is sourced from the cut-offs discarded by larger manufacturers.

“Like a chef sourcing local fruits and vegetables for a seasonal meal, our design team can often be found combing through literal tons of fabric cast aside by large manufacturers to find the highest quality remnant fabrics,” reads the company’s website.

The company goes a step further by supporting local suppliers with a similar ethos. “This includes buttons made from locally sourced clay, belt buckles carved from re-claimed scrap wood, and fabrics woven from remnant threads,” says the company.

At Tonlé, employees are more than a cog in a manufacturing assembly line. “While the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry is horrifying, the human impact is simply tragic. Employment conditions in many factories are likened to modern day slavery,” says the company.

According to Faller, employees find refuge at Tonlé. The lead designer says they are properly paid and opportunities exist for growth and training within the company.

“We’ve thrown the assembly line model to the wayside, and quite frankly, we’re happy with the results,” she says. “Our clothes tell a story inspired by the beauty of Cambodia through fabric colours, textures, and intricate screen-printed designs.”