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TAMGA Designs has created a supply chain that focuses on ethical treatment of garment workers, and environmentally-friendly dyes and fabrics in an industry infamous for its mistreatment of workers, pollution of air and waterways, and intense use of water and chemicals. This addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals of responsible consumption and production, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, and partnerships for the goals.
“The story of our supply chain is the story of our company,” says Co-Founder Yana Barankin. It is also the key innovation of the business. TAMGA’s innovation is about the business model of affordable bohemian clothing where sustainability is at the core of every element of the business. They stand out in a world where traditional retailers produce clothing with huge environmental and human costs, and where sustainable clothing options are often expensive and plain basics.
Producing sustainable clothing begins with environmentally-friendly raw materials. Creating the process to do this was not easy. “We started off with no contacts...We knew sustainable factories, mills and dye houses existed so we traveled for months meeting with agents, factories, and asking anyone we could,” Barankin explained. After learning about the sustainable clothing industry on the ground in Indonesia, the co-founders partnered with Lenzing, a leader in sustainable fabric manufacturing. They chose to use the cellulose-based TENCEL®, MICROTENCEL®, and LENZING Modal® as their fabrics. As a small, new company, they were able to leverage the resources of this large supplier to ensure the sustainability of their raw material. Lenzing’s fibers are biodegradable, uphold European environmental standards, are FSC-certified, and uses a biomimicry circular lifecycle model. TAMGA also uses Indian cotton certified to be ethically sourced by the Global Organic Textile Standard. This translates to a fabric that is far less energy and water intensive than petroleum-based polyester, and viscose, which is responsible for the clear-cutting of ancient rainforests.
Responsible production and protection of waterways continue at the dye houses and print houses which transform the fabric. All their mills use OEKO-Tex Standard 100 Certification, which ensures that the dyes used do not harm the environment, garment workers, or customers. Responsible business is truly at the core of TAMGA. Even the tags are made from 100% post-consumer paper, and the garment bags are made out of biodegradable cassava starch.
TAMGA believes it has an obligation to raise awareness about responsible consumption. To do this, TAMGA publishes how much energy, water, and emissions were saved by purchasing each of its garments instead of traditionally-produced pieces. They also publish all their suppliers on their website - this transparency is unusual in the industry and aims to challenge the status quo and promote sustainable businesses. Furthermore, they create sustainability-related content on their blog to educate customers.
For countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia, the fashion industry is a large employer and has the power over the lives of many in a developing country. “We’re a small company so we don’t have the influence or resources to dictate supplier actions, or to audit them,” Barankin explained. Instead of using influence, they have created a supplier code based on the International Labour Organization’s conventions which dictates shapes they work with. This outlines details for decent work, wages, treatment, and much more for suppliers to abide by. Lenzing helped by disclosing ethical mills and dye houses. This ensures that not only are the workers paid fairly but that the chemicals they work with are safe. By contrast, most dyes in the industry are carcinogens.
As many fabrics are cellulose-based, the fashion industry plays a large role in the deforestation of Indonesia’s ancient forests, including the Sumatran Rainforest. In 2018, TAMGA partnered with the Sumatran Orangutan Society and the Orangutan Information Centre and now donates 1% of their annual sales to the cause of reforestation of the region. This relates to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from climate change to life on land.
In 2014, co-founders Yana Barankin and Eric Dales were working in the non-profit sector in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When they first lived in Dhaka in 2013, the industry was put under a microscope following the Rana Plaza building collapse which killed over 1000 garment workers. The co-founders saw firsthand the impacts of Bangladesh’s main export, clothing and textiles, affecting the various parts of life in the country. In Dhaka, it was also how water was being polluted, workers were exploited, and, in general, the dark side of the industry. “Being that it was the main export, we saw how the fashion industry negatively impacted so many of the people. We were inspired to do something to different,” Barankin said.
In the short term, creating an ethical supply chain with sustainability at its core helped narrow down where TAMGA would produce its products, and whom it would work with. Indonesia was chosen due to the issues with transparency in Bangladesh, and its sewing industry with small businesses focused on sustainable operations. The core focus of sustainability naturally meant that TAMGA worked with suppliers that had similar values regarding the treatment of employees and the planet. The company was built around values rather than having the industry shape it, which has helped the company in making good partnership decisions.
It has been less than 5 years since TAMGA was founded, so long-term impacts have not yet been fully realized. Nonetheless, this small business is setting an example of what the future of fashion can be like. The challenging of the status quo by small companies with more resource constraints than fast fashion giants should put pressure on them to adopt different strategies. Furthermore, as brands like TAMGA educate customers on the options available, sustainable fabrics have a chance at making their way into the mainstream, which can truly transform resource usage in the industry. Overall, the awareness that they bring to sustainability through blog posts and the statistics on resource use of clothing draws awareness to the greater issues around the industry. In the long-term, this could bring changes to the industry if it is scaled up.
The protection of the Sumatran rainforest is a cause that is at the core of TAMGA. Along with the 1% For The Planet donations, their blog posts and t-shirts draw awareness to the rainforest. While the impacts are small today, this has the potential to make a significant impact in battling the deforestation. It takes many small voices to bring attention to big issues, and TAMGA is part of that.
As consumers are increasingly voting with their dollar, TAMGA's sustainability focus provides part of its competitive edge as an e-commerce fashion brand. The innovation serves a growing demand for sustainably produced fashion. The innovation is very much linked to their revenues as their demographic of customers lives by similar principles of environmental and social ethics in business. The alignment of values also applies to employees at TAMGA. Barankin described it bringing happiness and fulfillment to the lives of the small team. Furthermore, the alignment of values has contributed to helping to make strong relationships with members of its supply chain.
Operating sustainably is often associated with higher costs for businesses and consumers due to higher wages, safer materials, and better waste disposal. However, the reduced water, energy and resource use brings with it a lot of savings, increasing profits.
On its homepage, TAMGA discloses its real-time impact on the environment. Since their founding in 2014, 5,725 kg of CO2 emissions were avoided, 3,336 kWh of energy were saved, and 22,859 litres of water was saved, at the time of writing, through the avoidance of traditional production methods. They have partnered with GreenStory, a sustainability analysis company, to assess the net impact of their clothing and other less ethically produced clothes for comparison. This efficient use of resources like water and energy improves the lives of humans and protects the environment. For example, using TENCEL instead of Viscose saves 46 days of drinking water for one person, and saves 15 km of vehical miles, cutting down on air pollution – a source of health issues for many in developing countries. The responsible use of water is also critical in keeping waterways free of chemicals and dyes that contribute to issues in food and water supplies, as well as important ecosystems.
The livelihood of workers in the supply chain are also impacted. According to Barankin, “in Indonesia and in the industry in general, most garment workers are women.” Safe working conditions with decent pay positively impact the lives of women. Many studies show that improving economic conditions for women is key in supporting economic development. This also means that workers, men or women, have fair wages to pay for health care, education, children, and other things to improve their quality of life. Paying fair wages as opposed to the slave labour still practiced in the industry can one day have a great impact on the overall development of the community and country, especially where fabric and garments are a large export.
Lastly, TAMGA’s support for the reforestation of the Sumatran rainforest contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and protects the precious biodiversity.
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Yana Barankin, Co-Founder, Creative Director
TAMGA Designs (TAMGA) is an e-commerce sustainable fashion retailer known for its bright colours and patterns. Founded by Yana Barankin and Eric Dales, TAMGA’s guiding idea is to prove that fashion can be a force for good. Based in Aurora, Ontario, it sustainably delivers stunning, and ethically-made clothing to customers all over the world.