WHAT IS ZERO WASTE FASHION?
There are generally two approaches to making zero waste fashion: creative pattern making that uses 100% of a given textile, and creating garments from reclaimed materials. The approach we feel best honors our commitment to lighten fashion’s footprint is a marriage of the two. Not only are we diverting waste generated by others, but we strive to use every scrap of textile that comes into our workshop.
Our design team scours the remnant markets in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where pre-consumer textile waste from large garment factories is collected and resold. Back at our sewing workshop, makers and designers work together to create designs from the larger pieces of reclaimed fabric. The small scraps left over from making those garments are cut and individually sewn into yarn. The yarn is then handwoven and knit into new pieces—this process creates our iconic twice-recycled fabric pieces. The small amount of textile waste that remains from making our garments is mixed with used paper from our office and pattern making to create our own handmade paper. By being purposeful each step of the way, we are left with zero material waste. Our process shows that waste is only truly waste when it gets wasted. Learn more about our zero waste process here.
All of our fabrics are a combination of deadstock, cut-waste, and textiles that, although high quality, were not seen as fit to be used in industrial production. Our expert sourcing team visits remnant markets weekly to select the highest quality bolts and bags of scraps. Searching for just the right fabrics is a treasure hunt; it is part of the design process because fabric selection drives what we can make. Many of our designs are available in limited quantities because of the amount of fabric we are able to source, and we feel this adds to the specialness of each piece.
In large factories, textiles are cut on long tables with cutting machines. Given strict procedures and the rush to produce quickly, entire bolts may be thrown out because of one tiny defect or hole in the middle of the cloth, leading to increased waste. By contrast, we cut the majority of our garments by hand to utilize every piece of fabric, making the most of textiles that are considered unusable by mass manufacturers. Textiles with obvious defects can be turned into yarn and woven into new pieces. The cutting team makes on the spot decisions on how to handle each piece of fabric that comes into our workshop, partnering with design and quality assurance teams to insure the integrity and intention of each garment.
tonlé partners with Weaves of Cambodia, a weaving collective in Cambodia's Preah Vihear province. We are proud to work with their team to create our signature zero waste upcycled textiles from small scraps of reclaimed fabrics. Weavers in this collective earn fair wages and work in a community-centric environment that supports their specific needs and talents. Watch this video to learn more.
Screen printing and painting
Our collections are tied together using screen printing, incorporating accent colors and fun prints for tonlé’s signature look. Each of our custom-designed prints is hand-printed on our garments using nontoxic water-based inks and some natural dye paste inks. Our hand-painted designs use the same water-based textile inks—and each is created, one at a time, by members of the tonlé printing team.
Our fabric yarns—made from tiny scraps left over from making other garments that get cut and sewn together by hand—are used to hand-knit and crochet sweaters, scarves, bags and home accents.
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; these metals are hazardous to the people working with them and damage the ecosystems they are often dumped into without being treated. While tonlé uses some natural dyes in our production, all of our natural dyes are nontoxic, and 80% of these dyes come from edible ingredients like soy milk and lemon.
This technique is used by cultures the world over to save and reuse textile scraps, especially those that are precious and valuable. Our patchwork designs take inspiration from historical quilt designs and give them a modern twist—while making sure no scrap of fabric goes to waste in our workshop.
Quirky, hand-stitched embroidered patterns all have slight variations; the detailed handwork is a reminder of the skill and love that goes into every tonlé piece.
Thread, buttons and other notions are often hard to source sustainably. 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 craft organization that makes wooden and ceramic belt buckles, beads, and buttons. When we can’t find something locally made, we use garment factory cast offs for our zippers and other notions as often as possible, while still ensuring the quality and integrity of our garments.
Wasteful packaging is a huge contributor to the environmental problems our planet is facing. We ship all of our products in bags made from 100% recycled materials, and our hang tags and promotional materials are printed by eco-friendly printing houses on recycled paper. All of this enables us to minimize the waste that we are creating at the tonlé workshop and distributing to our retail partners. Read more about our packaging here.