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Rags to Riches: Lydia shares how tonlé is changing the way fashion is done in Cambodia

The textile industry in Cambodia is known for abysmal working conditions and huge amounts of manufacturing waste. Lydia gives a first hand account of how tonlé is setting a higher standard.


Our very own Anthony (The Boss) Lance is close friends with tonlé's Retail Manager, Lydia Ng, so when she was passing through Hong Kong we jumped on the chance to have a face-to-face with her and find out how things are going over at the tonlé workshop in Cambodia. You can watch the video above or if you prefer to read you'll find a tidied up transcript of the interview below:

Could you tell us a bit about tonlé?

tonlé is an eco and socially conscious brand that started out in Cambodia 6 years ago. It’s zero waste production and we also help the communities in Cambodia.

Why did tonlé really draw me? It has the aspects of international development, which is what my passion and my schooling is in, as well as the environmental side of things.  Cambodia is also very well know for all of the factories, a lot of clothing factories and manufacturing factories, that have just abysmal practices in terms of the rights of the workers and their work environment. My home is actually really close to a few of those factories and everyday I can see these people coming in and out of work. It’s a very hard place to be at. I just think it’s really important to have good work value and a very good workplace environment. In a way [tonlé is] kind of changing the way we’re doing fashion in Cambodia.

Lydia Ng in tonlé Keang Top Lydia modeling the tonlé Keang Top

First of all it’s not a factory that we work out of; it’s a workshop. So we have teams of sewers, printers, dyers, cutters, and they work in teams and it’s more of a communal working together on a piece of clothing. As for their salary we pay them quite a bit above the minimum wage and have bonus options for them, as well as benefits. Work hours are proper and we adhere to all the WHO laws and then some as well. So we don’t really view them as our workers, but it’s like we’re a big family and we’re in it together and we’re a community.

And in terms of waste, some of these factories can waste up to 50% of their fabric and so for us one way we can undercut that is to use this fabric that’s been thrown out in the name of efficiency, because maybe there’s little holes or little stains or sometimes they over-purchase. So we purchase that from these factories and then we use that fabric to create our clothes. Then from our own scraps that we’ve cut we make other styles. So we design some of our styles to be made out of that scrap fabric as well, and even the tiniest pieces are crocheted into little hand-knit pieces. Even the smallest pieces that we have left over we incorporate with our recycled paper. So we make recycled paper and now we’re printing on those and making more products out of that as well.

tonlé Tess Wrap Dress with cream and gingko print tonlé Tess Wrap Dress with cream and gingko print

Give us your take on big retailers and issues with supply chain integrity.

Sometimes, even if a factory is at certain standards that the retailer knows about, sometimes these factories are outsourcing their products to other factories and other people that do not adhere to those standards. There just needs to be more of a follow up and more control in those kinds of policies. Sometimes it’s because these factories just don’t have the capacity to finish these products in time. So maybe [retailers should] dial back on how much they demand out of these factories as well.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share about Cambodia or tonlé with us here in Hong Kong?

I would just like to just encourage all of you guys to just get educated…I mean obviously, if you’re watching this video you are and you’re trying to make a difference. So kudos to you, and keep going, and all the best!


tonlé Sophear Dress in raspberry tonlé Sophear Dress in raspberry
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