Let me tell you a different story.
Fashion Revolution Week has been a worldwide social phenomena. This year it was celebrated after Holy Week. So on April 25, it was fitting that I met an ethical fashion ‘Messiah’; Hannah Theisen, founder and CEO of TELAstory Inc. who seems to have arrived to save us from the corrupt world of unethical, fast fashion.
Hannah extends her hand, ready to pull drowning garment workers up from the ocean of exploitation; she is ready to pull drowning consumers up from the sea of fast fashion. She comes bearing good news from the bible of ethical and sustainable fashion.
I met her when I attended the two-part TELAstory ethical fashion event on day four of Fashion Revolution Week. TELAstory had teamed up with the Fashion Revolution organisation for an open studio event to introduce participants to their conscious fashion story. They held a DIY workshop where attendees got the opportunity to meet the makers behind the clothes and even taught us how to make a tote bag.
TELAstory provides ethical garment manufacturing services to conscious fashion brands. Hannah launched her business in the Philippines when she realised how fast fashion had invaded the country and that Filipinos needed to be educated about the true cost of fashion. She felt the country needed ethical alternatives to business-as-usual production services.
There is much waste in fashion. Manufacturers overproduce to fufill consumer demands for novelty but this means lots of unwanted and end of season stock. Burning waste is commonly practiced by big brands and mass manufacturers to deal with this problem. TELAstory does things very differently. The business minimises waste by manufacturing only what is required. Since inception, the business has not produced any textile waste – even the shirts the team were wearing at the event were made from fabric remnants!
Originally from the West, Hannah Theisen set up camp in Manila, providing refuge for women working in the fashion industry. While she doesn’t have a background in fashion, Hannah is driven by feminism and activism; her purpose is to create a difference in the lives of garment labourer. TELAstory is an instrument in this, the business fights for victims of modern garment slavery and offers services to brands who wish to produce collections ethically and respectfully.
The business provides a living wage for all garment workers. Hannah defines a ‘living wage’ as something that doesn’t just help workers to survive and meet day-to-day expenses, but provides enough that they have enough for recreation. TELAstory provides a financial management program to empower its workers to manage their savings wisely.
After the TELAstory introduction, we made our way down to their workspace, located one floor down. TELAstory garment workers, Susan and Angeline introduced themselves and informed us of how lucky they felt to have stumbled upon a TELAstory ad on Facebook. It was clear that they were grateful to be a part of the team. They shared how their passion for creating clothing is all-consuming, and even extends to when they get home. Despite working a full day, they happily sew outfits for their families. TELAstory enables them to make a living from doing what they love to do.
The Fashion Revolution movement was born from the Rana Plaza tragedy; a way of commemorating the more than 1,300 garment workers who lost their lives, and the 2,500 that were injured. Hannah shared how she had recently flown to Bangladesh and visited the Rana Plaza site. She told the story of how the government didn’t want to build a monument to remember the victims; how they seemed to want to remain silent, as though they wished to forget about the tragedy. Instead, in 2013, a monument was erected by the families of the victims. They will never be forgotten.
TELAstory tells us a different fashion story. From the garments and fabrics they use, through to the way they respect Filipino land and the country’s natural resources, through to how well the laborers are treated – from garment workers right through to the farmers. Hannah, the Messiah of ethical fashion, sends a clear message with TELAstory that seems to say:
‘We will not be silenced! Fashion Revolution lives on and we will not stop talking about the Rana Plaza incident until more people are aware, until more people are pulled from the the corrupt world of unethical, fast fashion.’
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All images supplied by author.