This week, we have found ourselves inspired by TAMGA Designs.
TAMGA is a Canadian company founded by a pair of aid workers. Yana Barankin and partner Eric Dales were working in Bangladesh and were struck by the harsh impact that fast fashion was having on the planet. They realized there was a need for a socially and environmentally conscious company in the fashion industry. And so TAMGA was born.
When building TAMGA, Yana and Eric focused on two specific issues: is conscious fashion as cost prohibitive as companies seem to think? And does style have to suffer in order to remain accountable to the industry and the environment? They believed that the answer is NO in both these cases, and set about convincing the rest of the fashion industry to come onside. And of course, they led by example.
Combining bold and bright designs, a custom created, and hand-picked suppliers, TAMGA has produced a stylish brand with fairly paid workers with the potential for upward mobility, safe working conditions, and a reduced environmental impact. Yes, it truly is possible to create a business that is fair to people, to commerce and to the environment all at the same time. All it takes is the vision, the drive and the passion to make it happen. For that and more, we find TAMGA incredibly inspirational.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
TAMGA began in the hot, bustling city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, where we (Eric and Yana) worked for three years in the aid sector. While living in Dhaka, we saw some of our favorite brands from back home being made in really terrible conditions. It became clear that, as fashion consumers, we’re not given the full story about how our clothes are made. We could see that pointing fingers at the fashion industry was going to have a limited impact. Ultimately, change will only happen if a brand can “walk the talk” and give customers a better alternative.
As it happens, Yana was already making her own clothing with a team of local tailors as a hobby. As she built a relationship with them, she found that they work in great conditions, getting the wages, training, and respect that they truly deserve. We opened an Etsy shop and began selling ethically made Kimonos and promoting them on Instagram. The response was incredible, and it became obvious that there were many more people like us that want to feel good about how their clothes are made.
After a year selling on Etsy, the demand outgrew our little supply chain. We saw the positive impact that TAMGA was having and decided to take it on full time. We set out with an ambitious goal: to build an ethical and eco-friendly supply chain from fiber to fashion. Our goal is not to create sustainable fashion for rich people – it’s to make sustainable fashion accessible and exciting. This is the adventure we’re on every day!
What is your WHY?
Our WHY – because the world needs businesses to take accountability for their impact on people and the environment. The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world, next to oil. It’s also a massive employer of child and forced labor. It’s really important to recognize that this is the current state of the fashion industry, but it doesn’t have to be the future of it. It is entirely possible to make stylish, affordable clothes with a more positive environmental and human impact. We’re out to show that fashion can do better.
What are the biggest challenges/setbacks you’ve had to face?
Being a start-up, there are challenges every day! Someone once said that starting a business is like jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down. A bit dramatic, but not entirely untrue.
From the start, we had high standards for quality, environmental and social impact – so finding the right suppliers took us a long time. We got rejected left right and center approaching factories and textile mills who just weren’t interested in answering our questions. It took us 8 months of cold calling and traveling around Indonesia to find the amazing suppliers that we now work with. It was difficult to keep going at times, but we’ve got a great team and kept each other motivated.
Today, we face the same challenges as any start-up. Getting financing, adapting to the fast-changing world of online retail, and bootstrapping pretty much everything – all while focusing on delivering an amazing product and customer experience. But for every challenge or setback so far, there’s been an equally amazing opportunity. We’re getting better at dealing with the highs and lows, and making sure that we learn something from every experience.
What’s piece of advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do, or trying to follow their own dreams?
Don’t sell yourself short. Whatever your idea or dream is, the best tool you have is your own persistence.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
A small organization in Bangladesh that is very close to our hearts called FPP. This organization is run by a tailor in Dhaka who grew up as an orphan, and now uses all of his extra resources to run an orphanage and school for “working children” (children from slums who have no choice but to do odd jobs to help their families). FPP doesn’t have a fancy website or marketing materials, but it has a real and direct impact. Even though we left Dhaka 1.5 years ago, we still support FPP with a monthly donation and any other help we can give. If you’re interested in learning more about FPP, feel free to reach out to us any time.