TOWARDS HONEST CLOTHING
A SUNSHINE COAST FASHION LABEL AND CLOTHING BOUTIQUE IS OPENING AN OVERSEAS WAREHOUSE THAT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO HELP OTHER BRANDS DO THE RIGHT THING
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,”
“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.
“IT’S ABOUT MAKING TIMELESS GARMENTS, QUALITY GARMENTS THAT LAST AND BRING VALUE TO THE WORKERS.”