There’s a lot of waste coming from the fashion industry, and one of the main sources is the fabric itself. Most factories waste approximately 40% of their raw materials, but growing ethical fashion brand Tonlé is upending this inefficiency.

Tonlé first started as a fashion line to help lift marginalized women out of poverty by providing wages that are well above the minimum national requirement. The brand, whose workshop is located in a two story house on a nice residential block, encourages a workplace that builds a sense of family rather than an assembly line. In the context of Cambodia’s clothing factories at large, this is a safe haven for garment makers.

We visited Tonlé’s workshop in our Journey to Cambodia, toured the facility and had lunch with the makers. Allie was impressed by the warm environment. She got to sit down with Srey Pov, a maker who, like Allie, is in her early twenties.

Sitting with Srey Pov, I soon learned that she was interested in my life as a designer as much as I was keen to understand her’s as a maker.

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“My name is Srey Pov, I’m 24 years old. I live with my older sister, who works as a housemaid. My salary helps support her too. My parents past away when I was 9, so now it’s just the two of us!”

Tell me about your life at Tonle?
An NGO taught me the basics of how to sew and recommended me to Tonlé. I’ve been here for three years now and love it because I don’t just get to sew – I also screen-print, cut and go around and help others. I really like the freedom and enjoy talking to people at work. I feel like I have community here.”

Some of my friends work in big clothing factories, where they have to meet piece rate quotas. They are often forced to work until 9 pm almost every day, while I get to go home at 4 pm. My friends are struggling a lot in those factories. They make very little money and are alone all day, surrounded by people but unable to talk to anyone all day.

What do you do for fun?
I really like listening to music when I get home. I love disco music! My friends and I go out dancing on the weekends.

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What are your dreams for the future?
Day-to-day I don’t really think about my future. Even my future in 5 years is unclear. But, if I could be anything I’d be a tailor. I actually think about fashion designers and dream sometimes about being one just like you. But a more realistic dream would be to some day have my own tailoring shop rather than being a designer!

“I want designers to know the struggle of makers in bigger factories. How my friends get small salaries while rent and food costs are so high now. They really aren’t left with anything. I hope designers invest more in makers’ skills, so we can also move up in life.”

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