Factories, valuing profit over the environment, waste huge amounts of materials by cutting inefficiently, throwing out "unusable" pieces of fabric, and tossing aside excess fabric that simply doesn’t meet that season’s tastes.
All this adds up to an enormous global problem. That’s where tonlé comes in.
All of our fabrics and most of our notions are recycled materials and components from these factories. A few of our notions including buttons and beads are made by other local Cambodian organizations who also follow fair trade practices. We put thought and care into every step of production to ensure that each piece has the smallest environmental footprint and maximum social benefit, while providing you with a beautiful garment. Learn more about each step in the zero-waste process of making a tonlé product, and read more about our production facility and fair trade production practices here.
True handmade products that don’t use any machinery (or electricity) are perhaps the most sustainable form of production, albeit time consuming and expensive. Unique handmade touches add an element of beauty to many of tonlé’s products.
All of our smallest waste scraps are tediously hand cut into tiny strips and sewn back together to make “yarn.” The “yarn” is then either hand-knit or hand-woven into new fabrics to make our signature jewelry line. This process is both difficult and time consuming, but we believe the end result is as beautiful and unique as it is kind to the planet.
tonlé partners with a weaving group in Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, called Weaves of Cambodia. We are proud to work with the team at weaves to create our signature zero waste textiles from small scraps of recycled fabrics. Weavers at the weaving center earn fair wages and work in a community-centric environment that supports their specific needs and talents. Watch this video for more information
Sometimes the term natural dye can be a misnomer, as “natural” is not always the same as “non-toxic.” Many natural dye recipes rely on heavy metals such as lead and copper to bring out the plant based colors; such metals are both hazardous to the people working on them as well as the ground they are often dumped into.
While tonlé uses some natural dyes in our production, all of our natural dyes are inert, non-toxic, and 80% in fact come from edible materials like soymilk and lemon.
It is hard to find sustainable options for small notions such as buttons, zippers, snaps and thread. Whenever possible, we work with partner suppliers to make custom notions for us in the most ethical way available. For example, we work with a local handicraft organization to make belt buckles, pendants and buttons hand-carved from re-claimed scraps of wood. We’re also working with a ceramic workshop based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which employs people with good wages and benefits to produce handmade buttons and beads from locally dug clay.
When we can’t find something locally made, we use garment factory cast offs for our zippers and notions as often as is possible, while still ensuring the quality and integrity of our garments.
Because of the nature of the way we source fabric, there is some variability in the colors and types of materials we are able to obtain. To tie our collections together and keep pieces cohesive, we use screen printing to bring in accent colors and fun prints that identify our signature look. Designer and founder Rachel Faller designs, often by hand, all of tonlé's prints. They are then given to the printing team to make into screens before being hand-printed on our garments. We use non-toxic water based inks as well as some natural dye paste inks.
Packaging might not seem like a big deal, but wasteful packaging is a huge contributor to our environmental problems. By contrast, we ship all of our products in bags made from 100% recycled materials, and our hang tags are made with recycled cardboard that is hand printed with our logo. For wholesale, we do not pack our products in individual plastic bags unless requested, preferring to group sizes and colors together in our signature recycled packaging materials. In our workshop, we even make tote bags made from recycled materials when we do market shopping trips, and store our fabric in re-usable totes made from rice sacks. All of this enables us to minimize the waste that we are creating and distributing at the tonlé workshops. Read more: About our packaging.