"Crafting and making has long been a part of my life—bringing me personal fulfillment and joy, and connection to family and community.

But despite my love of making, I initially resisted a career in fashion since I knew the fashion industry did not provide the fulfillment and joy I experienced to most people working within it. In 2008, after graduating with a BFA in Fiber and Textiles, I accepted an opportunity to travel to Cambodia and spend a year learning from artisans preserving traditional crafts. I also began learning about business models that fostered the type of connection, intention, and community I had always found in my personal art practice. I was curious to see if it was possible for crafting and making in the way I experienced it—as a fulfilling, joyful activity—to be at the center of an alternative business model that could reconfigure the extractive, exploitative fashion industry.  

I saw two extremes of garment production during that first year I spent in Cambodia. I visited factories where 5,000 workers sewed, on assembly lines, to produce fast fashion for export. They worked without speaking to each other, in alarming safety conditions. I also got to know and work with smaller craft groups who often struggled with scale and market access. During this time, I was introduced to 5 women—Ravy, Srey, Eng, Sokha, and Nimol—with whom I co-created the first iteration of the business that has become tonlé today. Creating a business together was often challenging, but always rewarding. Although the core team did not want to take on the financial risks and stresses that come with running a small business, all the team members who have been a part of tonlé have shaped the business into what it is today. As such, although I am, on paper, the primary “owner” of this business, I consider many people who have contributed to tonlé’s success to be co-founders. The primary request and priority for most of our team members has been that the business create stable, well-paid jobs in an environment centered around mutual care, collective decision making and creativity. As tonlé continues to grow, and is able to make more comfortable profit margins, we will distribute that profit accordingly among our team as well. 

tonlé is first and foremost a group of makers—everyone at tonlé has participated in the making process at some point. It never ceases to astound me how many fashion brands do not make clothes—and in fact don’t even know how to. They are actually marketing houses which buy garments from factories—outsourcing the making of the very product that they sell—and they do not believe that the people who make their clothes are core to their business. But manufacturing is where many of fashion’s most pressing problems are happening, it is where the change needs to start. As such, we believe makers should be leading the sustainable fashion movement. Operating a manufacturing-based production business is incredibly challenging, but also incredibly rewarding and important. I’m indescribably proud of everything our team has accomplished together. I believe tonlé is a product of the love, resilience, and creativity everyone brings to our table, as well as the many creators, investors, mentors, teachers, and customers along the way. But there’s so much more to learn, and so much more work that needs to be done. So please, pull up a chair, and join us.”


- Rachel Faller, tonlé co-creator