Walking towards a better fashion industry – Walk Sew Good11 months ago
Contributor: Megan O’Malley of Walk Sew Good
“People want to do the right thing and are hungry to connect with and support other humans creating change.”
Almost 4 years ago, I was sat on my couch reading the latest issue of Dumbo Feather when I came across a particularly inspiring interview. The subject was on Satish Kumar, a man who had walked 13,000 km across the world to promote peace and nuclear disarmament. It was such a powerful statement and gave me goose bumps. I decided then and there that I would walk across Asia to promote an issue I was passionate about, sustainability in fashion.
After realising that I had little to no survival skills, I roped in my good friend Gab and Walk Sew Good was born! We crowd funded and planned (with stress) and in November 2016 we started our 3500 km journey on foot across Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Along the way we met with brands, suppliers and organisations creating fashion in positive ways. Our aim was to share their stories with as many people as possible. There are a lot of negative stories about the fashion industry, many of them coming from countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. People hear these stories and feel guilty but are unaware of the alternatives, therefore keep shopping at the same high street brands. We wanted to share the good stories, so people can feel empowered to support and engage with a better kind of fashion industry. Gab and I interviewed over 50 different people from brands, suppliers and organisations, all with incredible stories to tell.
In Kampot, Cambodia tears were shed when Dorsu Co-Founders, Kunthear and Hanna, described their friendship. Dorsu is a brand that designs and produces modern everyday cotton essentials in-house at their big, beautiful purpose built warehouse. There’s a shop in the front of the building that has views right through into the workshop, allowing visitors to have insight into how the clothes are made. Kunthear and Hanna have been friends and business partners for over 8 years. They wanted to create a clothing label that they were proud of and in doing so, had to overcome many challenging obstacles. The importance of business doing “right” was really highlighted to us when we interviewed them.
Kunthear makes regular trips to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, to source the fabric. The city is famous for its hundreds of factories that produce cheap clothing on a massive scale. She visits the warehouses that sell the end of roll materials left over from the garment manufacturing, burn testing the fabric to make sure that it’s 100% cotton. It can be hard to find what they need because the supply is dictated by whatever the garment factories don’t use. Kunthear can spend days in Phnom Penh searching for the perfect fabric for their next collection. They prefer to use these remnant fabrics instead of creating material from scratch.
Gab and I were able to walk freely around the workshop, watching the magic happen. You don’t often get to see your clothes being made first hand. In most cases, the process is hidden away because it’s not always a good story to tell. Dorsu bucks that trend, preferring to be open and transparent about how their clothes are made as fairly and ethically as possible.
A week after visiting Dorsu, we walked through Takeo Province and were warmly welcomed into the home of Samnang and her family. Samnang coordinates some of the operations for Goel Community, a cooperative of weavers. They employ women in the surrounding villages to weave scarves, mats and fabric that are then transported to their offices in Phnom Penh, to be sold or made into clothing.
In recent years many women have been leaving their homes in rural areas to seek out work at the garment factories in Phnom Penh. This has had a huge impact on families as children are often left to their own devices, with only extended family to look after them. When we spoke to Mr Han, the founder of Goel, he talked about the rising drug problem among young children in these villages who are easy targets for drug dealers. Goel is trying to combat these issues by allowing women to work from home and around their family’s needs. When we took a bumpy, borderline life threatening motorbike ride to visit some of the weavers, Samnang brought them fruit and sat down to chat with them. It was clear that she cared, wanting to help in any way she could.
The community building in Takeo houses six or seven weavers and has natural dyeing facilities on site. The organisation has also just started to grow their own indigo. Mr Han told us that he decided to work with natural dyes after concerns over the environmental impact of synthetic dyes. The runoff from the dyeing process makes its way into the waterways and the soils, easily ingested by humans when they drink the water or eat food grown in contaminated soil. They are trying to do everything they can to genuinely improve their impact.
These stories are just two examples of some of the spectacular humans we met. The women at the HOLI workshop bravely taught us how to sew with machines in Siem Reap. In Northern Thailand we visited one of Y Development’s producers and one of the older women generously offered to pierce Gab’s ears so she could try on the earrings they made. In Luang Prabang the Hmong women at Passa Paa exercised extreme patience, teaching me how to hand stitch a beautiful coaster. In Vietnam we visited the innovative factory at Thygesen Textiles that manufactures the leggings for Girlfriend Collective and Gab took part in some midday aerobic. It was the adventure of a lifetime!
We are still in the process of editing a lot of these interviews into short videos and sharing them on social media (website, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram). The response and the engagement have been really amazing. Strangers have messaged us about their new purchases after watching a video about jewellery handcrafted in Vietnam. Designers want to get in touch with some of the suppliers we visited in Cambodia. Lecturers and speakers have used our videos in some of their presentations. People want to do the right thing and are hungry to connect with and support other humans creating change.