Tonle: A New Way

One of our favorite vendors; Tonle, is a company comprised of a caring group of Cambodians and Americans who work together to make a beautiful clothing line happen. Working intentionally in this war torn country, it is unique in its ethical business model as it has created a zero waste model of production. This means Tonle is as environmentally friendly as it is friendly in it’s production process. Tonle upcycles fabrics to make new clothing. ZERO waste. That means even the tags are scraps.
But make no mistake in thinking these pieces look recycled. The empowered artisans they employ celebrate the culture and beauty of Cambodia while making the latest chic fashion statements. The art of garment making is perfected and is demonstrated in the beauty of the clothing and also the care of the community in which it is made.
 
We are so excited to chat with the founder and creative director of Tonle, Rachel Faller, to get the inside scoop on what is happening this holiday season.
Inline image 1
Your zero-waste business model is remarkable and completely different than any other model we’ve ever seen. How have you possibly managed to make this model sustainable?  
 
In short, it is always a challenge! And each time we create a new collection, we have fabrics that we have to recycle from the previous collections. Some people have commented that our products should be cheaper because we pay so little for the materials. And it is true that the materials are cheaper because they come to us in smaller pieces that other companies consider not usable. However in reality it is much more expensive to produce this way because we have to take time to first of all pick out the materials, hand cut them, sort them, and then process all the small scraps. Of course, hand knitting and weaving new fabrics is tedious. What we love about the process is in the end much more of the final price goes to the artisans than to material costs. Big win! But it doesn’t mean it is cheap! 
 
Would you say consumers are enticed more by the zero waste aspect or the fair employment aspect of the business? Does one hold more weight than the other?
 

It’s hard to say which is more important to people, but I will say that the zero-waste aspect of our business gets quite a bit of attention because it is quite unique. There are few companies in the world doing what we are doing in that regard so I think that really stands out to people, and it piques their curiosity – they want to know more about the process and learn what zero-waste means to us. Personally speaking, I think they are both very important, because first of all I know all the people who make our products and how much this work means to them; they are like family to me as well. At the end of the day though, our environmental mission and social mission go hand-in-hand; people who live in places that are deeply affected by pollution from the garment industry, like Cambodia, can testify to that.

 
Tell us about your exciting local partnership that is helping produce the new line this holiday season?
Weaves of Cambodia! We send them the smallest scraps left from our production and they hand-cut them into new yarn, and weave them into new fabrics. The whole process is quite tedious but the products are uniquely beautiful. Many of the weavers have disabilities from landmine accidents, as this region of the country has been war torn until the late 1990’s. Landmine clearance has really just begun in the last 15 years. This work creates not only a vital revenue stream for them but they say that the work and the community is really important and meaningful as well. The weaving is integrated in most all our products, however some of the new line statements which show the handwoven work is the sol triangle tote, srey crop top srey long vest. and the phnom scarf.
What are your plans to grow and keep things going?
Thinking about growth is very interesting because as a zero-waste company – we don’t want our growth to come at the cost of the planet. But at the same time, growth of companies like tonlé mean that more artisans are employed with fair and livable wages, and hopefully reducing the number of toxic products that are produced. So we continue to think about growth with all the caveats attached regarding staying true to our principals and mission.
Advertisements

Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Katie of Elegantees

My ideal top is one I can move around in without showing skin, needs no special bra, and one I don’t regret wearing three hours into work. It needs to make me look great and be versatile enough to fit with different jewelry and bottom sets. In addition to being captivating, versatile, and comfortable, I’d also like my top to save women’s lives.

Almost sounds too good to be true. Enter Elegantees.

Let us reintroduce you to the beautiful cotton clothing designed for the everyday woman who is socially conscious and loves to look good. This October I had the opportunity to speak with the founder of Elegantees, Katie Martinez, to get an idea of how she came up with this genius company and how it works.  We talked style and the holiday rush and what that means to her company.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tell us more about the concept behind the beauty in your more conservative fashion pieces. How does your clothing reflect the models and the everyday consumer purchasing Elegantees?

I designed Elegantees because shopping was hard. I needed tops that were pretty and comfortable, and with proper coverage. Having spent my life both on a farm in Iowa, and in the Fashion District of New York City, I’ve seen two extremes in the way women dress. A common approach is to avoid fashion altogether and wear the same tee and jeans or leggings daily. The other extreme is to place so much emphasis on fashion that it becomes an identity. Elegantees is for the woman who seeks to find a balance between fashion and life, with a tee that looks like more than a tee.

Our aim is to break away from the unrealistic standards of beauty. I believe that ideal beauty is an expression of something that comes from the inside. When a woman takes care of herself, and others with kindness, she’s at the height of beauty. True beauty is in being clothed in strength and dignity.

What does it mean to your business when people choose to do their holiday shopping with you? Specifically, what will it mean this 2017 season?

It means a lot! Holiday shopping sustains our operations, and provides for my family and our nonprofit partner. Revenue from the Elegantees sewing center funds rescue operations at one of the border stations at Nepal-India. Each border station rescues two to three thousand victims each year. The sewing center provides full time work for 17 people, most of them are women. I want to hire 3 more seamstresses by end of this year. If we hit a certain number in sales, it will happen. We are normally slower in the summer months, so being able to set aside that cash reserve as savings will ensure nobody gets laid off.

19780642_1583877124990523_8300954885000105383_o
Katie with her beautiful daughter in Elegantees!

Holiday shopping is not just about gift giving for the new and growing companies that Route partners with.  Your purchase from them can make huge and lasting growth happen in their business – often in the form of more employment for people who need it the most.

We have LOVED getting to know Katie and her staff as we have worked with them and watched their growth.  Consider including an Elegantees purchase in your holiday gift giving to help make their goals and dreams for their company come true!

Happy Ethical Shopping!

Love,

Liz, Christina and the Route Team

Maker Story; Sonya

Greenola Style shared with us a story of one of their makers, Sonya:

“Sonya, from our Tikas Women’s Cooperative,Tikas, is one of our newest cooperatives that we helped form. We first met Sonya, her sister Vasilia, and Beatrice (all pictured in the team shot on the left, below) through a Catholic organization in Bolivia. At the time they were handcrafting greeting cards in which they sold in local communities without great success. After much relationship building and understanding their needs and personal goals, we learned that all their husbands work quite hard to support their families but were still struggling with the financial demands.

These three women needed to work, but were finding it hard to balance finding work and seeing their children off to school.  In Bolivia children attend only a half day of school making it hard on caregivers to find profitable work. Also their schools are  often many miles away and due to safety concerns the mothers take the public transportation and/or walk the many miles with their children.

Unfortunately the small profit from selling greeting cards was not enough.  Upon scoping the raw material markets, GREENOLA learned that there is an abundance of raw seeds available. With that, we decided to create jewelry recycling these seeds into fashion forward designs. This process was also an easy skill to teach. Starting with these three women, we have been able to grow this project into a community project. Sonya, Vasilia, and Beatrice have welcomed their cousins, friends, and neighbors into the project and now help employ more than 20 women in their community. With this project, the women of the community in which they reside (Buena Vista) have pulled together to form a women’s group that comes together for much more than working on this project. They have gotten their community church involved, created programs for their children, rallied to have public transportation run to their community, and so much more.

Sonya is quite the woman. In addition to contributing financially to her household, she has taken on guardianship of her nephew raising him as her own. This last year we learned that she has been having stomach problems challenging her ability to eat, function, and live a healthy life. With our on the ground partner, SolidarityBridge.org we have been able to provide Sonya the healthcare she needs to work on this challenge and improve her quality of life.”

Greenola Team

 

We are so excited to support organizations like Greenola who take the time to get to know their artisans, as well as makers like Sonya who are determined and hardworking.  Over and over again we hear the stories and see the statistics that when women are employed the money that they make goes to support their families and then their communities.  Sonya is one of thousands of stories of women who are changing their communities because of their employment!

Tonle: Eco-friendly meets Socially Conscious

Almost a year ago I texted some friends and ask them to help me hunt for clothing that was ethically sourced, we were really wanting to see pieces that were classic, well priced and were easily styled with other simple, functional pieces that we already owned.

Minutes later my friend Kate texted me this photo from an Instagram post and I did a happy dance!

 

After spending time reading about Tonle and Rachel Faller, their fearless leader, we were so excited to reach out, learn more about their work and goals and bring their clothing into our product selection.

Tonle works in Cambodia with small groups of weavers to supply their fabric and carefully trains their tailor’s to create their clothing in zero-waste facilities (They actually boil down their little bits of remnant fabric and make it into paper used for tags and packaging!).  They do a great job working with their employees over long periods of time and celebrating their promotion when it’s earned.  Meet Dara, their most recent employee to be promoted to Sewing Team Leader!

You can find photos and some bios of each of Tonle’s makers here.

From first hand experience we know how hard it can be to commit to a group of people, to train them, carefully treat them with respect and produce products that are consistent and high quality.  Rachel and her team manages this with humility and care.

In their effort to make their production holistically eco-friendly they consider natural processes and traditional craft as much as possible.  This gorgeous image below shows several fabrics in the coloring process next to the materials used to create the dye.

Learn more about their dying, packaging and production practices here.

Tonle has proven that economically and social conscious fashion is possible, through hard word and dedication they are creating a line that we hope will become a model for countless other clothing manufacturers.

We are so proud to be promoting and selling their beautiful clothing!

These Tonle pieces are currently up on the online shop and we have a larger selection in the Columbia shop.

The Maera Shift Dress

The Kayla Tulip Dress

Photo Credit: Tonle Design

Ethical Fashion; The Challenge & The Solution

At Route a new season means new products. The goal is always to purchase and design pieces that will come together to form a beautiful collection and make a significant impact. There are so many factors that go into our purchasing, not the least of which is price. We work hard to keep our price point affordable, while still provided lasting impact to our makers.  At the center of our passion for what we do is a desire to both get the word out about how products are made and create routes of access for individuals to purchase ethically.

It is possible to be incredibly well dressed in an entirely ethically produced wardrobe with a robust if not endless budget, but so few of us are able to purchase without a budget.

We believe the growth of ethical purchasing should continue, more people should have access to products they can afford and therefore the option to purchase ethically. There are so many ways to creatively organize the production chain so that safe working conditions and fair wages are sustainable AND the retail price of a product is reasonable.

We are excited to introduce a series of comfortable and versatile dresses to our online store this season. These simple pieces are exactly what we want to be selling.

As they come in, please give us feedback on whether or not you are getting enough information about them, do they look like something you’d want to wear? How would you style them? Can’t wait to share more, for now don’t forget that your purchase makes ethical fashion possible!

Photo: Sugar Bean Photography

Introducing; Mingle Sets

Mingle Sets delicate Gold Necklaces

We’ve finally “officially” put the Mingle Sets up online and we are so excited. For the last couple of months we’ve partnered with an organization here in St Louis, Forai, that trains and employs refugee women. They meet once a month, and then the women are able to do the rest of the work at their own pace and schedule from the comfort of their own home.

We developed the Mingle Line because we love delicate everyday jewelry and have struggled finding it in ethically produced channels. We put our heads together and came up with the Mingle Sets. Bought separately, but can be worn together for a layered look or by themselves for a simple everyday look. Keep checking back–we’ll be adding more pieces!

For now, these are online only but there’s always free shipping to the Route shop in Columbia. Shop the Abigail Mingle.

Mingle Sets Route Forai

Featuring; Greenola

Greenola Team Route

We have been deeply touched by the authenticity and humility of the Greenola team.  They don’t claim to be perfect and acknowledge that they are on a journey to facilitate ethical production while holistically supporting communities.

Their vision is to empower makers around the world through design training, community building, and health services. In 2009 they started in Bolivia with 12 makers and since then they have grown to Kenya and India with over 75 makers.  In Bolivia, they have sent artisans to local universities for design classes and have been able to train leadership positions within the cooperatives.

Creating systems beyond employment is a priority for the Greenola team.  They provide access to healthcare to all of the makers including free eyeglass.  They also work to help them open businesses in their own communities.  Working alongside the makers, they strive to understand each individual’s potential, personal goals and visions for the community.  With years of invested work they are seeing tremendous and lasting impact, as well as the pleasure of making life long friends and colleagues.

Greenola Earrings

The Next Step On Our Journey….Hello Holidays

The beginning of November is the deep breathe before the parties and the shopping and the family and the crazy. At Route, we know the holiday time of year so well, we work hard to prepare for it and we breathe. We do what we can to create space in our time and our thoughts to remember why we are here, what we are doing and why it is significant. Selling anything can feel like selling your soul, pushing products, encouraging people to spend money on items they may or may not need. Balancing simplicity with social expectations-what we may want and what we may need. Longing to give generously and hoping deeply that the gift will be just right, appreciated and communicate our love.

The holidays are a step for us, a step in the direction of world change – we sell more in the next two months than the rest of the year combined. We work hard to choose what we will offer wisely, to maximize impact and to communicate clearly that giving a gift from Route is also giving hope and sustainable change. We want to have pieces that you want to give. Pieces that are beautiful and well made, that you would be proud to wear and carry. So please, buy more! In doing so, know that we are proud to sell to you, to stand behind each beautiful piece and are confident that the purchase you make will bring happiness, joy and everything that we work so hard to remember during this season.

Breath with us, and remember the change, then celebrate the difference we are making together!

30 Second Style Ethical Style

So often those few precious moments we dress ourselves in the morning are completely determined on how we feel. We want to feel comfortable and look good without having to put too much thought into it.

Our philosophy is basics, neutrals, and things that can be thrown together quickly and still look perfectly put together. Black jeans, bulky cardigan, boots and one of our long necklaces, done. A floral dress and sandals paired with our delicate gold jewelry, classic. No time to do your hair? No problem, the messy bun and dangly earrings will save you every time. Our goal…simple pieces that go with every outfit in your closet and can be easily combined. Added bonus: ethically made. No effort, you just know that whatever you grab creates a great finishing touch.

From delicate layered necklaces to lightweight tiered earrings and a cute leather tote, pile it on and forget about fussing with the rest, nearly everything that we carry on the Route site can be mixed and matched for effortless pairing.