Transgender, trans, cis, genderqueer. Our Western culture has increasingly embraced members of this community through moving portraits, hit television series and Oscar-winning movies. Across the world, however, transgender people still face severe limitations and abuses.
We recently were across the world in Cambodia for Remake Journey #5, where we took graduating fashion design students into clothing factories and maker communities to bridge empathy and build a more human-centered fashion industry. While there we learned that, though not punishable by law, transgender people are often sent to traditional ‘healing doctors’ by their parents or family members, where abusive burning rituals are performed to ‘cure’ the person of his or her perceived illness. In many other cases, transgender people are refused employment.
One of the factories we visited, Tonlé, lowers these employment barriers. The brand is known for its zero-waste making techniques, and we found out that their hiring practices focus on marginalized women, to offering them fair wages, health care assistance and a supportive working environment.
Casey, one of the design students who has designed future forward collections in collaboration with Tide and Intel sat down with Ny, a transgender male who manages Tonlé’s stock room and sources remnant fabric from local markets for the brand’s collections:
Meeting Ny, I’m curious to just get to know him, person to person, and learn about his work-life here at Tonlé.
I’m Ny, I’m 27 and I’ve been working in Tonle’s shipping department for 3 years. I came to Phnom Penh during high school and was a waiter at a restaurant before finding work with this brand.
What’s a typical day for you at Tonlé?
Normally I spend most of my time in the stockroom. When there’s an order I make the tags and sometimes I go outside and help purchase remnant fabrics. The biggest challenge is organizing our merchandise so it fits the order, and I always check over and over to be sure everything is right.
My favorite part of the day is going to the market to run errands and source the remnant fabric for the workshop. I feel so much freedom in this time, especially because I get to go alone and on my scooter. I don’t like spending my entire day in one place so it’s a welcome change of pace.
Is there something that you dream of doing one day?
Someday I definitely want to travel, I really want to see Singapore.
What do you do in your free time? Do you go shopping?
For my clothes I usually go to the market, choose some fabric and have it custom made.
In my free time I like doing silly, random things with my friends. Play games on my phone or maybe watch funny videos on YouTube.
Do you think about the women who buy Tonlé clothes?
I think about how the clothes we sell go all over the world. I also think that the people who buy these clothes must really care about us, the people who work here. Most of the makers in the clothing industry come from really poor places, and they work so hard to achieve better lives. I want there to be more brands like Tonlé so that there are good jobs like mine.
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