Made in Cambodia: Why I Chose to Manufacture Overseas

Here at (Ag)+(Au) we value ethical and sustainable production over pretty much everything else. We strongly believe it's our duty as a business to do no harm to the people, animals, or the planet that we all call home. Call it hippie-dippy if you will, but we just call it responsible business practices: If you're creating something, the least you can do is do your best to be sure it's making the world a better place, not worse. 

Anyways, you may have noticed (or not, but in that case you should definitely follow us on instagam!) that we recently moved our manufacturing overseas, and for a brand that's so staunch about their manufacturing policies you might be thinking...WTF?

Totally fair. And in the spirit of full transparency, let me explain. 

For the past 3 years I've focused all my energies with (Ag)+(Au) into building a *home grown* brand. I love my community and want to support it as much as I can, and my grand plan was to produce everything locally, source my fabric locally, donate to local charities and give back to my own community as much as possible. 

Unfortunately, for me and for the direction I want to take my business, this proved a lot harder than I thought. There are many wonderful local manufacturers, true,  but production at Canadian prices isn't sustainable for a fashion company that wants to create many different looks and styles.  I found that my prices were forced higher and higher and part of my business model is to make sustainable fashion more accessible, not less, so sky high prices just aren't really my jam.

I also found that, while I could source natural, organic fabrics no problem, they were all still coming from China, with very few actual textile mills in Canada (like...one), and our sinking dollar making sourcing American grown brands less and less manageable. Though I was supporting a Canadian wholesaler, I always felt slimey that I didn't actually know where or in what conditions my fabrics were being made. It felt hypocritical to me, to be spouting the importance of knowing where your clothing was made, when I didn't even really know where my own supply chain led (more on this in another blog, coming soon). 

Last year, I visited Cambodia (partly to source fabrics, partly as a last ditch hurrah to my 20's) and I absolutely fell in love with the country. The people, the colours, (some of) the smells, the landscape, and the overall 'vibe'. The whole country felt like it was brimming with possibility.  Of course Cambodia is a country that is riddled with some horrific recent history, and definitely still has some issues to work out within its own government, but it's also home to some of the most resilient people I've ever met. Beautiful, kind, trusting people with an amazing sense of humor and just the right amount of sass. Love me some sass.  I promised myself that I would get back there someday, somehow. 

Enter FairSew, a totally transparent, ethical and environmentally conscious small-scale manufacturer located smack in the center of Phnom Penh.  I found them completely on a whim, and I. WAS. JAZZED. They almost sounded too good to be true. Their business practices aligned completely with my own, in that they put the safety, happiness, wages, and care for their workers ahead of everything else.  Their values are: Fair for employees, Fair for the clients, Fair for the environment.  BINGO.

I'll get right down to it and address the elephant - because Cambodia is still a developing country, production costs are muuuucchhh cheaper than in Canada. Full disclosure - you may have called me a hippie just now, but I'm still a business person and I still need to make a living - money did come into play in my decision to move overseas. I reached a point where I couldn't afford to continue (Ag)+(Au) if I didn't make a move, which would make me (and hopefully you!) very sad. So I made the move. That said, FairSew pays it's employees fair wages, much higher than standard, and costs of living are (obviously) significantly cheaper than in Canada. As I've mentioned, this was a major reason I chose to work with them - they treat their employees well, they listen to their needs, they care for them - which is really all we ask from our own jobs, isn't it? Whether we work in Canada or Cambodia or Egypt or America, we're all just asking for our employers to treat us well.  (and if you missed my post about the myths of production overseas vs. home, read up here)

Now, something that I hadn't thought about until I got into this business - it's very nice to want to provide jobs within my own community, but due to the lack of a garment industry in Canada, these jobs just aren't super popular. These positions end up being highly specialized so that, as it turns out, you end up employing someone with a highly sought after skill that would have no problem finding a job anyways.

Somewhere like Cambodia, however, sees women often lacking work and unable to provide for themselves and their families, especially if they have had to move to the city from a farming community for any reason. Companies like FairSew and Samatoa (which I spoke of in my last post) offer vocational training and often even English lessons that help their employees not only find gainful employment but to get ahead in their own communities and provide for their families - something they may not have been able to do if not for this training. 

What's that phrase? THINK LOCALLY, ACT GLOBALLY. I've been told this over and over by various business consultants and other fashion designers, but I've never found it to be so true as when I realized that maybe I'm not helping people in my direct community, but I AM able to provide significant jobs and help for people who actually, really need it, and if I can get to know them and make them part of MY community, then it doesn't really matter where in the world they call home!

 PHEW! That was a long one. If you've stuck with me this far, I thank you, and hope that you are happy to follow along with the rest of my journey! 

I'm going to do my best to be as transparent as possible with my production, but if you have ANY questions, please email me! I love to chat and I'm always happy to learn when I can do even better!  

xx

Kait