Fast fashion has afforded the world access to new trends every week, but it’s taking a toll on the environment. As companies focus on producing clothing quickly, the disposal of "out of fashion" pieces becomes an afterthought. Soon, products find their way to landfills. As this standard becomes the new normal throughout the industry, it's no wonder that fashion companies are the source of a significant amount of waste worldwide.
Rachel Faller realized that it can be very difficult for consumers to determine which clothing is created with ethical standards and the least amount of harm done to the environment. After traveling to Cambodia to study about sustainable fashion, the designer decided to take matters into her own hands and set a new example through her own company, Tonlé.
Tonlé is Faller’s way of proving change and movement is possible in such a large industry. By upcycling discarded pre-consumer fabric from clothing factories, she transforms fabric destined for the trash can into treasured clothing, bags, and jewelry. Based in Cambodia, Faller’s team regularly visits manufacturers to save hundreds of pounds of scrap materials from landfill.
Once saved, her production team works to make sure every single scrap is put to use. Large scraps are cut down to make clothes while smaller pieces are made into a yarn like material to be woven. For the tiniest scraps, the company has created a formula for paper which allows them to turn small bits of scrap into hang tags and office paper. Through this process the company is able to close the loop in production while working in tandem with their zero waste mission.
Apart from saving scraps to use as materials, Faller also incorporates natural dyes into her line. All the dyes are non-toxic and most are derived from edible foods, like soy milk. One of the trickier aspects is finding things like buttons, zipper, and snaps since those often require a certain amount of consistency. The team works with local Cambodian craftsmen to make sustainable notions when they can’t otherwise find factory leftovers.
Once all the materials are collected, the process of creating the clothing and accessories is just as crucial. One of Faller’s goals was to give her entire team a work environment that was not only safe, but well paying. Every piece is handmade by her team of Cambodian makers who sign their finished pieces to add a lasting human touch to each item.
Since there is inevitably some variation in the fabric scraps, Faller often ties her line together with a signature look through screen printing. Her designs are added by using natural materials such as non-toxic water based inks. Finally, to keep in line with the company’s zero waste principles, all the items are packaged in 100 percent recycled materials. But is all this painstaking work worth the effort?
The answer is a yes. Tonlé has been able to make tangible progress as a fashion label and has already prevented tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere. By avoiding virgin materials, the company continues to simultaneously save resources and avoid pollution while creating something new and useful. Through her hard work and ability to think outside the box, Faller has created a truly unique line of zero waste clothing which she hopes will set a new standard for the fashion industry.