This fashion company is doing something about textile waste – using it

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Like our food systems, the production of clothing can be an extraordinary waste. It is a disturbing and overwhelming fact that at least so much energy, labor and raw materials that go into a meal that we eat or a pair of jeans that we buy are wasted on one that is trashed. Yes, we throw away almost 50 percent of our food, and it turns out that statistic is probably also true for fashion.

Surprised? Remember that story about how Burberry burned millions of dollars in clothes? This is not uncommon in the fashion world – and this Burberry story doesn’t even cover all the waste: “In the factories I have visited, I guess the waste is more like 50 percent on CMT ( Cut make and trim) alone, ”Rachel Faller, the designer of the Tonlé zero waste fashion line, told me.

“I don’t know how much waste there is before the fabric gets to the CMT, in the milling, spinning and dyeing, but I guess there is also a lot of waste there. Unfortunately, we don’t even have good stats yet for the amount wasted, but from what I’ve seen it’s way higher than most people have even estimated, and it’s scary ”, Faller said.

An economic model based on waste


A look from Tonlé’s fall / winter 2018 collection.
(Photo: courtesy of Tonlé)

But there is another way. Faller’s design process focuses on using the waste that other designers throw away, and she has built a successful fashion line based on that idea. His company is based in Cambodia, where his team comb through mountains of textile waste for high quality scraps and leftovers; large volumes of fabric are used in the base line of Tonlé, while smaller pieces are hand knitted and woven into subsequent textiles. Not only are textiles taken out of the waste stream, there is no waste with the waste – not a single piece goes into the trash and even the remaining small pieces are turned into hang tags or paper.

All of this means that Tonlé kept 14,000 pounds of tissue waste out of landfills with just the last collection.

If you think about it, waste is a human concept. In nature, there is no waste, just materials to be used for something else. When a tree falls in the forest, it is not waste; it serves as a home for animals and insects, plants and fungi. Over time, it degrades, enriching the soil with nutrients to support the growth of other trees.


Another look from Tonlé’s Fall / Winter 2018 collection.
(Photo: courtesy of Tonlé)

Part of our “garbage” problem is seeing things as garbage when in reality they are inherently useful. It’s just bad design for a fashion company to create so much junk that another fashion company can create an entire line with it. I spoke in more detail with Faller about how it works

Creation of the Tonlé concept

MNN: Textile waste is increasingly a topic that is talked about more and more in the fashion industry, and which made the headlines last year in mainstream publications, but you have been using it ever since. years. How did you first find out about this problem?

Rachel Faller: I launched the first iteration of my business in 2008. At that time, my main focus was on creating sustainable livelihoods for women in Cambodia, where I lived. But in a place like Cambodia, environmental issues and social justice issues are so closely linked that you can’t tackle one and ignore the other. For example, many fabrics wasted in factories end up polluting Cambodia’s waterways, which are the backbone of fishing and livelihoods for rural communities, or are burned and contribute to the deterioration of the environment. air quality that has a direct impact on people’s lives. And climate change has a very real and documented effect on social issues as well.

Initially, I therefore started to design around second-hand materials, because there was a lot of second-hand clothes pouring into the Cambodian markets. But as I researched markets for these materials, I began to come across bundles of scrap fabrics that were for sale – which were clearly scraps from garment factories. Sometimes it was half-finished clothes with the tags still on. After digging a little deeper and talking to many people in the markets, I was able to trace these remains to the major dealers and factories where the remains came from. It was around 2010 that we really oriented our efforts towards working with these fabric scraps, and 2014 that we were able to achieve a zero waste production model with scraps from other companies.


It may not look like leftovers – and that’s the point.
(Photo: courtesy of Tonlé)

Can you detail how you use fabric waste in your design process?

We start with larger waste (often we get larger pieces of fabric that were either overstock or end of roll) and cut our dresses and t-shirts out of them. The small pieces are cut into introductory strips and sewn into panels of fabric, much like traditional quilting with a modernist touch. The small pieces left after this are cut into “thread” of fabric and woven into new textiles, which are made into ponchos, jackets and tops tend to be our most unique editorial pieces. And finally, we take the smallest pieces of it all and make paper out of it.

Purchase of old or new materials

Has anything changed over the years when you have worked with textiles? Has it become more difficult / easier to source tissue?

I think the amount wasted just keeps increasing so we didn’t face a shortage of tissue but got better by getting closer to the source and buying larger amounts at a time which allows us both to recycle more and to be a little more strategic. We have spoken to a few factory owners about the possibility of working with them directly to source waste, although this does pose some problems. Ideally, we could get to a point where we could work directly with a brand to design around their waste before it’s even made (especially in the cutting process) and we are in talks with a few people over such collaborations, it is therefore an exciting next step!


Look at Tonlé’s editorial shoot, showing textile waste.
(Photo: courtesy of Tonlé)

Do you think that being a pioneer in the creative use of textile waste has been more or less difficult than designing with new materials?

It’s an interesting question, because I can see it both ways. For one thing, there are a ton of limitations around designing this way. But at the same time, as an artist and creator, I think sometimes limitations force you to be more creative, and that’s how I choose to see it. When you start with a blank slate, sometimes you don’t need to think outside the box, and most of your solutions or designs can be a bit more standard, let’s say. But when you have limited resources and materials, you’re forced to come up with new solutions that maybe no one else has done before, and it’s actually really exciting.

So overall I’d say it probably improved my designs more than it diminished them – and it’s definitely nicer to design things that you 100% believe in and you know everyone else is. will feel great along the way. , from the creator, to the manufacturer, to the bearer!

I am happy that these discussions are finally coming to the fore, because all the problems in the clothing industry are related to waste. If we could produce 50% less fabric while selling the same amount of clothing, it would at least reduce some of the human rights violations and the clothing industry’s contributions to climate change. The fight against waste therefore seems to be an obvious starting point.


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