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What does asking 'Who Made My Clothes' actually mean?

April 16, 2019

Dorsu Penh Lenh Women In Business

Kunthear Mov & Hanna Guy, co-founders of Dorsu; Rachel Dodson & Srey Mao Saron, co-founders of Penh Lenh  


 

Fast Fashion and mass-manufacturing brands have been subject to the uncovering of human rights violations across their operations and supply chains for decades. After witnessing the brief public statements blaming secondary producers and empty commitments to change one could be forgiven for believing that brands haven’t really cared. Until now.

Higher social and political engagement from everyday consumers and deep concern over the current environmental crisis could all be contributing to the growing demand for ethical fashion. Whatever the reason, we like it, but, what does asking “Who Made My Clothes?” really mean?


There is one approach to answering the “Who Made My Clothes” question that doesn’t sit so well with us- sharing intimate details of who the person actually is. We’re uncomfortable with the increase in brands selling the personal traumatic story of hardship of their makers. That’s not transparency, it’s something more like pity inducing marketing and  poverty-porn. A brand does not hold the right to share, and sell, anyone’s personal story to sell clothes.

Rachel, co-owner of Phnom Penh based jewellery label, Penh Lenh:


“So why do you want to work at Penh Lenh?” I ask the young girl across from me.  She took a day off work to make this interview. I know she currently works at a garment factory and taking time off work means an immediate dock from her salary, so I am impressed at her willingness to come for an interview.  She says she has been married for a year, but lives more than an hour outside the city near the factory she works at and wants to find a job in the city so she and her husband can be together. She tells us that she is a hard worker, but even she has a hard time keeping up with the demands of the garment factory.  “The daily production requirements are steep and hard to obtain, and if we don’t keep up we get yelled at and cursed at. I always have to work overtime six days a week to make a livable salary and I’m afraid if I work in the factory for a long time my health will suffer.” I’ve heard these stories before, not to mention much worse…

“When I asked to take a 15 minute break because my cramps were so painful, they told me to take a picture of my period blood to prove I was on my period.”

“We get blamed and cursed at for not meeting our production goals even when the machinery breaks and it is not our fault.”

“If I take one day off they deduct $20 from my salary.” (for perspective, this would be about 10-15% of the monthly salary)

“I got so skinny when I worked in the garment and shoe factories because I inhaled harmful fumes all day, always felt sick and didn’t have enough money to eat properly.”

“In order to get our Khmer New Year vacation days, we had to work every day until 9pm for 2 weeks to make up for the hours.”

Can you imagine the uproar, the indignation, and the outrage if employers in the western world treated their employees this way? So, why should it be any different here in Cambodia?  I mean, human rights are human rights regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, religion or any other status, right? That’s definitely what we believe at Penh Lenh. 

We believe through the simple act of treating our artisans fairly, providing safe and dignified work, respecting and fighting for our workers rights and abiding by local laws, and even going above and beyond to provide educational opportunities and additional benefits that we can actually move the needle in the right direction.  As a social business, we aim to be a company that is transparent from the top down. When we are transparent and proud of our values as a company, our artisans are also empowered to be proud and feel dignified in their employment. We respect our staff and value their abilities and opinions. We work together with our artisans to create marketing messages that they can be proud of (and constantly share on Facebook because they too, want to show off the cool work they do)!  When pressured by customers and outsiders to talk more about the personal stories and hardships of our staff in our marketing, we educated ourselves on ethical storytelling and had honest conversations with our staff about how that would make them feel. When most of the artisans told us it would make them feel betrayed, unsafe, and like their stories were being sold, we respected them and listened. As a company, we’ve decided to focusing on how bad-ass our staff is and the amazing accomplishments they are achieving in their life right now.  If we take a cool shot in the workroom or a want to post a cute selfie of the artisans, we ask for their permission before posting. It seems simple, but all these little acts create an environment of security and empowerment.


Our hope is that sustainable or ethical fashion will no longer be a small section of products made to look over-the-top “ethnic or tribal” but rather, the norm.  Why do stores even have an ethical section? Shouldn’t that inherently make us assume everything else in the store is made unethically? Why should ethical even be optional?  It shouldn’t. It should be compulsory.


So this year, as you ask, “Who Made My Clothes?” don’t just ask for a name, demand transparency.  We challenge you to be sagacious enough to dig deep and ask more. Knowing your maker means you know the workers are being paid fairly, that the work space is clean and safe, that their human rights are being upheld along with the local laws.  On the other hand, don’t take it too far. No, you do not deserve to know your makers’ entire trauma history or the hardships of their life. Because why would that matter anyway? Human rights are human rights, right?

 



Knowing the maker isn’t about changing the life of one person or being motivated to save people from trauma through buying clothes. AskingWho Made My Clothes goes beyond to ask what is systemically wrong with this industry and to demand change.

We’re excited to work with Penh Lenh across Fashion Revolution Week, a brand that we admire here in Cambodia. Together, we hope to help you understand the context that our teams are working under and what we’re trying to achieve in this industry.

 


 


Our Design Process
Design

We collaborate as an entire team, combining design and production priorities.

Our design and sourcing processes are inter-linked. Sometimes we design and then source fabrics we wish to produce in, and other times we discover fabric we love and can create accordingly, quickly.

Our Product

Meticulously designed for everyday wear, focusing on quality above all else. 

Inspiration

You inspire us - our #DorsuCrew! We love talking to you and learning about what you do, what you need, and how clothing fits into your life. Every day, we meet fellow travellers from around the globe, visiting us during their holidays in Kampot. They buy Dorsu for our quality; withstanding weeks or months of adventures. When they return home, they have their go-to essentials for work, weekends, and holidays.

We make our own rules and don't abide by trends, mass consumption or over-production. By investing our time and talent into thoughtful design, we create pieces that will be mainstays in your closet.

In-house Pattern Making

Our patterns are made in-house by our Co-Founder and Head of Production & Design, Kunthear. With years of experience and training, she opts for the traditional method of measuring and cutting paper to transform concepts into complete, graded patterns.

Dorsu Collections

Every 8 weeks, we release new collections consisting of 3-4 thoughtfully designed, intentional pieces to be worn with one another and across collections. We use limited edition fabrics, meaning each collection is small-batch, sitting perfectly alongside our year-round Core Collection. 

Our Production Process
Step 1: Cutting

The first step in the cutting process is washing the fabric, to test shrinkage and colour fastness. Our cutting team cut paper patterns from the originals, laying them on the material in a way that minimises wastage. Cutting up to 25 layers at a time, we bundle each piece according to size.

Step 2: Production room

The cut and bundled pieces are then moved into the production room and delegated along the production line. It’s fast and straightforward, ensuring we create consistent end-products.

Step 3: Initial quality control

The sewn products are washed and individually measured against their specifications, checking they’re true-to-size.

Step 4: Finishing & final quality control

The final step in production is ironing and the second check for shrinkage, warping, construction or fabric faults. The final garments are folded, packed and stored for sale. Some are moved directly into our studio store (located at the front of our production space), while others go to our flagship store in Kampot, or sent to Australia for international retail.

Safety

All production staff undergo extensive training and skills development to ensure safe, efficient and quality work by all team members. We train all new staff on our internal Human Resources policy, including occupational health & safety procedures, fire safety and evacuation, and child protection. We update and renew training annually, with ongoing instruction on equipment safety and maintenance, as well as the protocols to assess risk and responsibly address incidents in the workplace.


Fair and safe employment is the responsibility of all companies, and we prioritise the physical and emotional well-being of our employees above everything else.

Customer Service & Sales
In-Store Retail

We have two storefronts in Kampot, Cambodia - our Old Market Flagship Store and our Road 33 Production Studio Store. All team members take part in regular training on our new ranges, inclusive of design concept, fabric, fit and styling. 

Our Kampot based retail team manage the in-country delivery program, speaking directly with customers to facilitate the order and delivery process. 

Online Retail

We ship all online orders from our distribution space in Tasmania, Australia. Our online customer service team work against Australian EST, providing consistent and quality support to our international customers.

We welcome your feedback and are open to answering any questions you may have about sizing, construction, fabric, or our production practices. 

Wholesale & Custom Orders

We ship all bulk orders from our Road 33 Production Studio in Kampot, Cambodia. Most of the time, these are made-to-order. As a result of having a close-knit team, we can offer a seamless buying experience. Our sales staff speak to our Production Manager, face-to-face so that you can have the most accurate updates on the status of your order. 

Learn More About Factory Remnants

Our fabric is remnant cotton jersey sourced from independent suppliers in Phnom Penh.

Remnant fabric (also known as "deadstock" or "surplus") is unused and unwanted leftover rolls of cloth in its original condition.

As a result of Cambodia’s pervasive garment manufacturing industry and issues that occur along the fashion industry’s incredibly complex supply chain, vast amounts of fabric are deemed unusable by brands on a daily basis. This waste arises due to reasons such as incorrect or oversupply of cloth, last minute changes in production schedules and the ever-increasing need for brands to be immediately responsive and adaptive to fashion trends.

These fabric leftovers are sold on from brands and factories to a local fabric supply industry, who then sell on through the Cambodian supply chain. We scour the warehouses of our preferred suppliers and purchase rolls of fabric per kilogram. When sourcing for our collections, we buy up to 100 kilograms of a collection colour (like burgundy) and up to 300 kilograms of a core colour (like black and navy).

Due to the nature of sourcing factory remnants, we can't guarantee consistency in the fabric blends. Consequently, we burn-test every fabric we buy to ensure it has very little or no synthetic fibres.

We pre-wash a sample of every new fabric, testing for colour fastness and shrinkage.

We know that using factory remnants has limitations. We know we can’t trace the true origins of our material. But, we are doing what we can, within the context in which we work. Cambodia doesn't have cotton mills or weaving facilities so, we are limited by access. As a small brand, we experience financial barriers of meeting minimum order quantities of suppliers outside of Cambodia and then importing fabric into the country. We are acutely aware of our impact on the local economy, and we choose to place our money where it has the most significant impact.

Dorsu Employment & Safety Policies
Safety
Policies

All Dorsu team members are required to read, understand, sign and abide by our internal human resource policy that is inclusive of: