Noosa Heads bou­tique The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono is about to open a ware­house in Viet­nam, al­low­ing it to ex­pand its model of “con­scious cloth­ing” man­u­fac­tur­ing and dou­ble its pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity.

Un­til now all clothes made for the bou­tique and fash­ion la­bel have been sewn at the fam­ily home of its lead seam­stress in Ho Chi Minh City.

But soon she will step into a man­age­ment role and other women will do the hands-on work un­der her guid­ance.

The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono founder Janelle Rawl­ins de­cided to scale up her busi­ness after join­ing forces with close friend Nicki Ed­mis­ton, who moved from their home state of South

Aus­tralia two years ago.

“For a while now, we’ve wanted to get a big­ger space (in Viet­nam),” Janelle said.

“The busi­ness is get­ting big­ger, but we don’t have the space to get more ma­chines or more women in­volved.”

The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono be­gan in

2013, us­ing fab­rics that would oth­er­wise go to land­fill, cre­at­ing ki­monos de­signed in Noosa and made in Viet­nam.

Over time the busi­ness has branched into other cloth­ing. It now has an ex­panded women’s range and of­fers ac­ces­sories, a chil­dren’s col­lec­tion and bridal range.

“It (the fab­ric) ends up at th­ese ware­houses and if it’s not sold in a cer­tain amount of time it lit­er­ally goes into land­fill,” Janelle said.

“So we go in there and source all beau­ti­ful silks, linens and cot­tons, and pretty much, I guess, give them a fresh start, re­pur­pose them.”

For hu­man rights ad­vo­cate

Nicki, join­ing her friend Janelle’s busi­ness was a per­fect fit.

School mates in South Aus­tralia, they lived to­gether for a year as adults be­fore Nicki trav­elled over­seas and worked against hu­man traf­fick­ing, then re­turned to Aus­tralia.

“I worked in Africa, in the slums, and against hu­man traf­fick­ing,” Nicki said.

Through­out her trav­els, Nicki stayed in touch with Janelle and “cheered on” her busi­ness from afar.

When Nicki re­turned to Aus­tralia, Janelle con­vinced her to move to the Sun­shine Coast and join the busi­ness.

“I was like, ‘Yes we’re to­tally do­ing a good thing. This is per­fect,’” Nicki said.

After they opened a store in Noosa Heads in Novem­ber 2017, The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono turned from a hobby to a grow­ing en­ter­prise. Janelle said open­ing the bou­tique had helped keep her mind off the grief of her mother’s tragic death two months ear­lier due to bowel can­cer.

With Nicki on board and the youngest of her three chil­dren now nearly 12 months old, Janelle said she was ready for her busi­ness to pick up pace.

And pick up pace it cer­tainly did, she said.

“As we’re get­ting big­ger and big­ger, we’re think­ing, let’s take it to the next level and open a ware­house,” Janelle said.

“It will be a con­scious ware­house – so com­plete trans­parency, all down the sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal route. It would also be a com­mu­nity space for women to come and learn new skills.

“We wouldn’t just be train­ing them in sewing and work­ing for us.”

Janelle said bud­get­ing and English lan­guage were among the skill sets ex­ist­ing staff had ex­pressed in­ter­ested in.

“A lot of them re­ally want to learn English, but it’s very ex­pen­sive to go to English school over there,” she said.

The ware­house will house the The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono brand but also be open to other brand own­ers look­ing to ex­pand their man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity eth­i­cally.

In Aus­tralia, many peo­ple have ap­proached Janelle and Nicki for ad­vice on how to scale up their tex­tile-based busi­nesses.

“They want to ex­tend on their col­lec­tion or size range … but that means go­ing to In­dia or China, where a lot of the time it’s not trans­par­ent and you don’t know who’s be­hind th­ese gar­ments and what’s go­ing on,” Janelle said.

“So we would of­fer that to other brands and be­come a bit of a plat­form for eco and sus­tain­able.”

The pair hope that over time, eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing will be­come the norm, with em­ploy­ees treated well and shar­ing hand­somely in the prof­its of busi­nesses to which they con­trib­ute.

The ware­house lo­ca­tion has been nar­rowed down to a hand­ful of sites within a 45-minute drive from Ho Chi Minh City, where head seam­stress Suong Thi Ngoc Nguyen (known as Men) lives with her two daugh­ters.

Janelle said the tran­si­tion to man­ager would be a sig­nif­i­cant shift for Men, whose hard work and ded­i­ca­tion could be cred­ited for much of the fash­ion busi­ness’s es­ca­lat­ing suc­cess.

“She’s very hands-on at the mo­ment,”

Janelle said.

“A bit too hands on.

“We pay her re­ally well, but I still think she works too hard.

“She’ll sit up un­til mid­night sewing for us, no mat­ter what we tell her … we tell her to slow down, there’s no rush, take your time.”

Janelle said Men would take more of a lead­er­ship role in iden­ti­fy­ing and as­sess­ing sam­ples for po­ten­tial use while new seam­stresses would be hired to make the gar­ments un­der Men’s guid­ance and over­sight.

The Trav­el­ling Ki­mono part­ner­ship has Janelle and Nicki shar­ing the care of Janelle’s three chil­dren and the pair’s busi­ness du­ties as they ac­cel­er­ate its growth.

Nicki said the model used by most largescale man­u­fac­tur­ers was un­sus­tain­able for peo­ple and the planet.

“You walk into Kmart, and you think, ‘How can this T-shirt be $2? Are you even pay­ing your staff?’ Fab­ric costs more than that,” she said.

She said re­search over decades had shown how badly gar­ment work­ers were treated at sweat­shops around the world, par­tic­u­larly in In­dia, Pak­istan and China.

“Is that per­son’s life re­ally worth (as lit­tle as) a $5 T-shirt?” she said.

“Peo­ple need to make con­scious choices, to vote with their dol­lars.”

She said gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers’ lives mat­tered.

“It’s not about pump­ing out gar­ments for the sake of pump­ing out gar­ments,” she said.

“It’s about mak­ing time­less gar­ments, qual­ity gar­ments that last and bring value to the work­ers.”

Nicki said while she be­lieved sus­tain­abil­ity was a jour­ney, not an end point, tak­ing steps to­wards it within a busi­ness should be “the nor­mal”.

“With things like what we’re do­ing, it is driv­ing change,” she said.

“It’s like a chain re­ac­tion. We want to help other brands in the ware­house too. It essen­tially opens the door.” Janelle and Nicki’s story shows how pow­er­ful cre­ativ­ity, pas­sion and an hon­est pur­pose can be. I hope it in­spires read­ers to con­nect with their be­liefs and con­sider how our pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions can make the world a bet­ter place – Nicky Mof­fat.


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