Who made your clothes? That’s one of the key campaign messages of Fashion Revolution. The organisation founded in 2013 in response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,000 workers and changed the lives of their families forever. With the fashion sector employing up to 75 million people worldwide and still lacking vital employment regulations, it’s never been a more important and relevant question. We chatted to Hanna Guy, co-founder of Dorsu, a Cambodia-based company creating considered wardrobe essentials, about why, in the thick of it all, they pride themselves in being a progressive, transparent and socially responsible label.
As an Aussie native, how did you end up living and working in Cambodia?
I moved to Cambodia in 2007 to work with Chumkriel Language School, a local Kampot community organisation. As a means to raise money for CLS, I began working with my co-founder Kunthear, to produce and sell one-off dresses and t-shirts to passing tourists. Over the years Kunthear and I have slowly and organically grown this small venture into Dorsu as it is today. We’re incredibly proud of our team and contribution to such a critical global industry.
Tell us the series of events and inspiration that led to you co-founding Dorsu.
After seeing the increasing demand for more transparency and quality in the fashion industry, Kunthear and I decided to make the most of our unique position and grow into a business that broke down the barriers between producers and consumers. We restructured Dorsu and focused on building an approachable and progressive company.
How did the joined store and workshop concept come about?
Housing our production and sales under one roof was always practical, efficient and cost-effective. Engaging with people while they experience our company put us in a unique position to be responsive and consistently transparent. In 2015 we renovated a large, run-down old building into our current modern workshop and we did not want to sacrifice our approach, so incorporating a store was a given.
With our management and design team under the same roof as our production and sales team, we’re able to ensure a collaborative, considered approach to running a company.
With our store located in the same building, our customers are able to see where and how their clothing is produced, and by whom. It closes a huge gap between production and consumer. It gives depth and meaning to the question of “who made my clothes”. We are proud to offer this opportunity to our customers to see their clothing being produced. As well as the opportunity for our production team to see their hard work bought and appreciated!
Cambodia is home to a lot of fast-fashion production. In the thick of it all, why does being an ethical label matter to you?
Whether we were based in Cambodia or not, we believe that operating ethically is the right thing to do. Every business has the responsibility to provide a safe and fair space for their team. As a clothing producer based in Cambodia, however, it is critical that we provide an alternative working environment for garment workers, as well as a different perspective on skills development, employment and financial management for Cambodian workers and their families.
Do you feel the perception of sustainable fashion has changed since you launched Dorsu? If so, how?
Yes, absolutely. The perception of ethical and sustainable fashion is continually growing and developing. This is because we all (business and consumers alike) are becoming more aware of our impact on people and planet. When we first restructured Dorsu it was in response to a growing demand for transparency among privileged communities in Western countries such as the USA & UK. Being ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ has become somewhat of a trend, with global companies jumping on board and brands of all sizes overusing the terms. A lot of this is greenwashing. From exclusive price points, eco-influencers to varying definitions of what ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ actually mean, the space is continually developing. Simple actions won’t solve the complexities of this industry and the impact it creates. Individuals need to commit to learning, critically analysing their personal impact and using their best judgement to find ways to improve that align with their lifestyle and personal capacity.
We want to remain a steady and constant pillar among it all, consistently providing a source of information and reliable product to those who wish to invest in a mindful, low-impact wardrobe.
As an entrepreneur in the sustainable fashion space, what keeps you driven and motivated?
The essence of my choice to operate in this space is thus a desire to be an active player in life. That is to say, I don’t want to succumb to the status quo. It isn’t easy, especially when considering the scale of the global garment industry. But, my business partner, Kunthear’s bravery and tenacity is a driving force. She grounds me a lot and is a constant source of inspiration to be better, to work on our part.
I’m also surrounded by an incredible community. Our Dorsu team’s loyalty and strength have allowed us to get to where we are today. I am also incredibly lucky to move in an extended circle of game-changers, talented creatives and passionate, dedicated individuals. The current social, environmental and political climate is so destructive and confronting. I’m just excited to know that I am on the right team, the fighters.
What is one thing you wish people knew goes into running an ethical business?
When the people that work for you are the purpose of the company’s existence, there is an incredible amount of pressure that comes hand in hand with every single business decision. This is not a burden, but a driving force to keep going.
Photo credits: Rita McNeill for Dorsu Cambodia
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Susannah is a fan of prints, sunshine and dogs. The founder of ZERRIN, she's passionate about making sustainable style accessible, inclusive and empowering for all.