• Abby

A Zero-Waste Brand Making a Difference

These days it's hard to find a brand of clothing that you can sit comfortably with in mind, body and soul. As sustainable shoppers we strive to find clothes that fit beyond just our bodytype or sense personal style - we're looking for an ethical match too. Tonlé is a clothing company who are trying to make a radical shift in the fashion industry.

One of the world’s first zero-waste brands, Tonlé’s zero-waste journey starts at fabric sourcing. The design team visits factories to source scrap material to get the waste fabric before it hits the landfill. Excess fabric is put into the recycled paper they make in house, or is hand woven back into new yarn.

At Tonlé, we see fashion differently – from the way it’s made to the way it’s worn. We see it as encouraging the unique in everyone who touches our clothing, from maker to wearer.

There are generally two strategies for zero-waste fashion: creative pattern making that uses 100% of a given material, and generating garments from remnant materials. The only approach the staff at Tonle felt truly honored their sustainability philosophy was a marriage of the two.

The company claims 'every thread matters', and they mean it. From the people who work on the clothing to using every single scrap of fabric that comes through the workshop, they care about every step in the process of getting a piece of clothing to your hands, and each person who touches it along the way.

Tonle partnered with Greenstory to help quantify the impact of your purchases with through their website, which you can now see on each product page. Here is how the impact is calculated.

Producing a 220 gram t-shirt in a conventional manner uses the following avoidable resources:

Creating cloth from scratch requires agriculture, fabric production and dyeing. These stages have massive CO2 emissions, water consumption, pesticides, and harmful chemicals associated with them. Our zero waste process of making of clothing from factory scraps eliminates these steps and avoids CO2 emissions, unnecessary water usage, and harmful pollution from dying and pesticides. Using recycled packaging and avoiding the use of single use plastics also significantly cuts back on our carbon footprint, and even reduces the shipping footprint because items can be packed more tightly. 

Rachel Faller spoke to Mother Nature Network about the beginnings of her business: I started the first iteration of my business in 2008. At that time, I was most focused on creating sustainable livelihoods for women in Cambodia, where I was living. But in a place like Cambodia, environmental issues and social justice issues are so intertwined that you can't tackle one while ignoring the other. Case in point is the fact that many of the fabrics that are wasted in factories end up polluting Cambodia's waterways, which are the backbone of fisheries and livelihoods for rural communities, or being burned and contributing to worsening air quality that directly impacts people's lives. And climate change has a very real and documented effect on social issues as well.

So initially, I started designing around second-hand materials, as there was a lot of second-hand clothing flooding into the markets in Cambodia. But while searching the markets for these materials, I began to come across bundles of scrap fabric that were being sold — which were clearly off-cuts from garment factories. Sometimes they were half-finished garments with the tags still in them. After doing a little more digging and speaking to many people in the markets, I was able to trace these scraps back to large remnant dealers and the factories that the scraps came from in the first place. It was around 2010 that we really switched our efforts toward working with these scrap fabrics, and 2014 that we were able to achieve a zero-waste production model with the scraps from other companies.





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