Spotlight on Tonlé – a Zero Waste Fashion Business
Currently underway in Boulder, the Unreasonable Institute brings together international entrepreneurs trying to solve social problems. Over the course of their five weeks in Colorado the entrepreneurs live together and work with world-class mentors to develop their ideas.
Unreasonable Institute CEO Teju Ravilochan says during a trip to India with his father he encountered a young boy his age begging for money. The scenario confused Ravilochan and he asked his father why this Indian boy was encountering hardship he himself was free from enduring. As Teju and his father discussed poverty, and the near impossibility to overcome it the wheels in Teju’s mind began to turn. The seeds of the future Unreasonable Institute were sown.
“My dad’s a doctor and he talked to me about various stories over the course of my life at the time where he’d saved peoples lives when it didn’t seem possible. He used the word impossible in those context. And so, I asked him how he learned to save those people’s lives and how he learned how to do that impossible thing and he said he went to medical school and he had great teachers there. And so, to me, the next question was why isn’t there a medical school for poverty. Why isn’t there a place where we can learn how to solve the world’s biggest problems? And to us that’s what the Unreasonable Institute is. It’s a place where you can go, someone driven to make a meaningful difference in the world, to learn exactly how to do that. So that, to us, is why it’s important. You know, you can get a university education and prepare yourself for a job but what if you can get an education where you not only can employ yourself and others but also make a meaningful dent in some of the world’s problems in the world. That’s why the Institute is important to us.”
One of the young entrepreneurs currently staying in Boulder and participating in the 2015 Global Unreasonable Institute is Rachel Faller. She’s the founder of Tonlé, a Cambodian based modern fashion company that uses remnant materials from garment factories; making Tonlé one of the only zero waste fashion businesses in the world. Faller explained just how damaging the traditional garment industry is to the environment and what Tonlé is doing to combat that damage.
“So the garment industry, many people aren’t aware, but it’s actually the second largest polluting industry in the world. It has polluted over 70% of China’s waterways, for example, with toxic dyes and chemicals. Tons of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere. Half the world’s textiles are actually made out of petroleum and when you burn that, or put that in a landfill, it obviously has devastating consequences. And, in addition to all that pollution, about half of the materials that are created are wasted in the process of getting them to us as final products. So, imagine if we were able to cut that waste down. Imagine if we were able to cut that production down in half by just not wasting as much. That would be a pretty huge impact on the environment even before we start changing the dye processes, water usage and all these other problems. So, our production every years saves 22 thousand pounds of material from going into the landfills, at our current production capacity. And by doing so, we are also saving 174 thousand pounds of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere and saving 46 million gallons of water. That’s because the average T-shirt takes so much water to produce. One T-shirt can take about 1,700 liters of water to produce because of that amount that goes into farming cotton, into dying and washing the materials. And so, by just using recycled materials we can avoid that water consumption.”
Rachel Faller says being away from her business for five weeks is a bit daunting but she is incredibly grateful to be part of the Unreasonable Institute. Faller’s attendance at the 2015 Global Unreasonable Institute could result in the acquisition of additional funding for Tonlé but she is guaranteed the aid and advice of world class, and world famous, entrepreneurs promising to serve as a mentor for her for years to come.