5 Women-Owned Companies Revolutionizing the Zero-Waste Movement

Tonlé: a zero-waste, ethical fashion brand

Tonlé is a zero-waste, ethical fashion brand on a mission to reduce waste and set an example in the fashion industry, which has dealt with reports of exploitation and practices that harm the environment.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the conventional production of an average t-shirt, 2,700 liters of water are used. This same shirt could require ⅓-pound of chemicals and pesticides, too.

Fast-fashion factories pollute an estimated 70% of China’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, to the point where they are unsafe for human use. Approximately 11 million tons of textile waste are dumped into landfills around the world each year. The impact of the fashion industry on the environment is devastating.

“Living in North America you can easily separate yourself; you don’t see landfills or trash being burned. You don’t see waste in the ocean,” Rachel Faller, founder of Tonlé, tells Teen Vogue. “In Cambodia, you see the influx of trash from the way corporations design and manufacture products.”

The majority of Tonlé’s finished goods are made in Phnom Penh, where, according to Rachel, the entire production team is Cambodian and female-led. Tonlé sources scrap waste from mass-clothing manufacturers for handmade clothing while avoiding unnecessary water usage and toxic dyes. The brand also pioneered its own formula for making recycled paper to close the loop in production and bring waste down to zero.

Tonlé also partners with local organizations to hand-carve reclaimed scraps of wood into buttons, zippers, belts, and buckles, and work with a weaving group, Weaves of Cambodia, to create zero-waste textiles from small scraps of recycled fabrics.