Artisan Business Owner Spotlight | Meet Rachel
Meet the Artisan Business Founder and Creative Director of Tonlé, Rachel Faller.Rachel’s journey started on the East Coast of the US. Like many girls, her interests included art, fashion and eco-issues. In her case, these interests took her to Art college in Maryland.
However, her first divergence from a more typical career path was obtaining a Fulbright Scholarship. For those that don’t know, this is a program that provides merit-based grants to support educational exchange between the US and rest of the world.
Rachel chose to use her scholarship in Cambodia, to better understand sustainability and fair trade from an international perspective. Her aim was to employ a few women at home, and show that it’s possible to create beautiful clothing while treating employees fairly. Enter, her first fashion label - KeoK’jay.
While KeoK'jay didn't live on, there were incredible lessons learned during its existence that ultimately led to the creation of Tonlé - a company that could do more, employ more people, and reach further in the efforts of sustainable and ethical fashion.
There are many things I love about Tonlé, but here are the main differences for why we sought after them as a partner for our Fall Collection.
1) Their commitment to zero-waste: A typical factory can exude about 40% of waste during production. Through creative pattern making that uses 100% of a given material and generating garments from remnant materials, Tonlé has pioneered their own formula to ensure that absolutely zero waste comes from their factory.
2) The usage of sustainable materials: 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. Therefore, about 90% of the materials Tonlé uses are recycled fabrics from these factories. The other 10% are made from local and sustainable suppliers in Cambodia.
3) The way they treat and empower their employees: Employees receive a variety of practical benefits that are based on their circumstances, as well as a generous wage at Tonlé. They invest in standard Western practices like staff development, mentoring opportunities, retreats and promotions. Even the way they run their production allows for employees to learn new and different skills so that they become more diverse and coveted in the workforce.
“In the [other] factories, we could only do one job . . .but here I get to learn a lot of different skills,” says Ravy, one of Tonlé's top employees who used to work at another factory where she was only allowed to fill out receipts in the accounts department.
4) How they have banished the assembly line: Efficiency and productivity are the cornerstone to any factory because they directly impact the bottom line. When a factory is trying to squeeze the most out of it's set costs, the biggest cost is often the people doing the work. This is where the monotony of production lines comes into play.
At Tonlé, they’ve looked at how to balance efficiency and production through creativity, team building and staff development. They recognize what an employee does all day strongly influences how they feel about themselves and their life. So instead of assembly lines, the staff is set up into teams that are responsible for different types of products. The teams are mini-business units in their own right, giving each team member a sense of achievement and empowerment far beyond more typical structures, thus creating more opportunities for career progression that just aren’t possible in more traditional factory setups.
All this to say, we're THRILLED at the opportunity to partner with such a renowned company doing incredible and worthy work not only in Cambodia but in the ethical fashion industry as a whole. Rachel has proven to be a resourceful and creative soul of the first order and we're grateful for the chance to create a collection with her and her powerhouse of a team.