Many of us are fashion aficionados. We buy the latest styles of denims and get the trendiest tees in the market. However, we always seem to disregard some very important factors of the industry we source these fashion stuff from: Who makes the garments? How are these done? How does the process of garment-making affect the environment? To answer these queries, Rama Ariadi talks with the team behind Good Krama, an ethical fashion label in Cambodia.
As an economy that has just started to experience a boom, there is little wonder why Cambodia’s financial resources have yet to diversify. In fact, despite the rapid modernisation of the country, the economy is still largely dominated by three sectors — tourism, agriculture, and last but not least, garment and textile manufacturing. Garment factories around the country employ more than 700,000 workers – many of whom are working for clothing manufacturers that focus on fast-fashion. Ultimately, these business are dictated by profit-making and product turn-arounds — and as such, the ultimate priority is cost-reduction through any possible means, including keeping wages low to keep their profit margins high.
But in a country like Cambodia, where general wages are already considered low compared to its regional counterparts, taking such strategy could mean taking food, shelter and education from those who needed them the most. Although on paper the minimum wage of garment workers has been set at $170 per month in 2018, many workers still have to survive with much less, despite the fact that external factors (i.e. declining orders due to global economic slowdown) have created extra exigencies that could leave these workers high and dry. And should things continue on its current trajectory, a repeat of what had happened in 2013 may not be a distant possibility.
“This is only the economic aspect of the industry. We haven’t even began to look at the impact of the fast-fashion industry to the environment,” said the founder and CEO of Good Krama, Katia Nicolas. “Many people would be surprised to know that the garment and textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil and gas!”
One may then begin to ask: how could this industry be as polluting as the oil and gas sector, whose environmental impact could take years, if not decades, to recover from?
As it turns out, according to Ms Nicolas, we often neglect to take into account the entire lifetime of a particular product. “Many people do think about the production process alone, but that is a just a snippet of a particular product’s lifetime,” she explained. “What about the process of growing the cotton, the dyeing and whatnot? A single t-shirt requires more than 2500 liters of water to complete — that’s equivalent to three years’ worth of drinking water”.
Furthermore, the amount of waste generated and how it is processed also needs to be taken into account. “Women in particular, often buy clothes that never see the light of day — unworn with their tags still on — and the amount is actually staggering,” said Good Krama’s digital and marketing manager, Ilena Levy.
“Billions of dollars of clothes are hanging in closets all across the world, just collecting dust while waiting to be thrown away.”
All of these things considered, the team behind Good Krama is trying to slowly change the mindset of consumers — that in a way, fast fashion is the fast-track to environmental collapse. By utilising only up-cycled and ethically sourced materials, the team behind Good Krama aims to reduce their carbon footprint to a minimum.
“By upcycling, we are not only reducing our environmental impact but we are also giving a new lease of life to what would’ve been discarded,” said Ms Nicolas.
“That said, because of the limited availability of the materials that we could use — there will be slight differences to each and every product — and our price point, admittedly, is higher.”
While a high price point and ‘inconsistency’ may not be appealing to some consumers, Good Krama targets a different demographic.
“Millennials are increasingly becoming more aware of what they’re buying, who’s making their clothes and are they being paid fair wages, and what impact do their purchases have on the environment, if not other social causes — and this is our primary target market,” explained Ms Levy.
Although the current majority of clientele are expatriates, continued Ms Levy, an increasing number of Cambodians are becoming more aware of this trend.
“To that end, we have to make sure that the advantages of buying what we produce are clearly laid-out — the savings in carbon dioxide, water, as well as the amount of waste saved — in a way that appeals to them,” continued Ms Levy.
And it seems that their approach has worked to their advantage. Despite the small size of the pond here in Cambodia, the Good Krama girls are making ripples that are felt all the way to the other side of the pond — they have been invited to participate in the Berlin’s Eco Fashion Week this coming July. “Seeing that it is still a fledgling operation, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund our team’s departure in June,” said Ms Levy. “We’re glad to say that with a little under two weeks to go, we have managed to reach 118 percent of our goal.”
“We want to spread our business model along with our ethically-conscious philosophy,” finished Ms Nicolas. “We believe this model should be the norm of the industry, and we are ready to share it to the European market.”