Goel Community was first started with the objective to meet the needs of weavers who were struggling to sustain a viable livelihood through their craft. This weaving heritage, originating from the 7th century Angkor Empire, was almost wiped out during the long years of civil war, and its viability continues to be threatened today.
One of the factors leading to the devaluation of hand weaving was the displacement by industrial clothing manufacturing. One might think industrialisation is an improvement from traditional methods, but this is not always the case. Much of modern clothing manufacturing employ low-wage labor and the use of cheaper, faster synthetics and harsh chemicals, for greater profits. However, this all comes at the cost of the health of producers, consumers, and the environment. As consumers we are led to believe we’re getting a good bargain, without knowing what really entails in the making of our clothing. We do not realise someone else bears the majority of the real cost, and we also ultimately also pay dearly through our health and the environment.
Is there a solution to this? They say where there is a problem, therein lies opportunity as well. Traditional textile production techniques- weaving, use of natural dyes and fibers- are better for us and the environment. Therefore, we have chosen to revive and sustain such heritage know-how, restoring the value and dignity of this craft practiced by generations in Cambodia.
It feels better
Your skin can breathe- handwoven cloth is also known to be more breathable, as the weave is not as tight when made by hand, allowing air to pass through more easily.
Natural fibers, such as cotton, linen and silk are recommended for persons with sensitive skin as they tend to be non-allergenic. In addition, natural fibers are highly hydrophilic (absorbing moisture easily), wicking sweat away and leaving your skin cool and dry. That and lightweight fabrics are best for warm humid weather (as the rate of drying is dependent on the amount of water contained in the fabric, independent of fabric type). Coming from tropical Cambodia, most of our clothing is designed for this type of weather!
The average factory-manufactured garment goes through 20 chemical processes. Allergic skin reactions are most often the result of formaldehyde finishing resins, dyes, glues, chemical additives and tanning agents used in the processing of the clothing fabric. Despite the known irritancy and toxicity of some of these agents, they are employed for cost reduction, color fastness and “smart fabric” qualities (stain/wrinkle/odour-resistant). In contrast, we only use natural dyes with neutral mordants, starch rice water from during the weaving process, and a final wash with mild detergents.
It’s safer for you and the environment
At Goel Community, we use only natural dyes from plant material, sourced locally here in Cambodia. We choose dye materials that are safe when in contact with skin, and some of these plant materials have antimicrobial and medicinal properties as well. For mordants (which help bind dye to the fiber), we use alum and iron, which are considered non-toxic mordants.
Synthetic dyes are cheaper and may have brighter and color-fast qualities, but their potential health and environmental cost far outweigh their benefit. One class of dyes still widely used because it is cheap, quick and color-fast is azo dyes, a highly toxic class of colorants. Despite its high toxicity (it is carcinogenic and mutagenic), it is still fairly pervasive especially in countries where most clothing is made due to lax regulation. The textile dyeing industry is one of the biggest polluters, posing a health and environment hazard as toxins from the conventional dyeing process enters our waterways.
This is why we have chosen to use only natural dyes for the safety of our consumers and producers. Even so, we err on the side of caution when it comes to the discharge of effluent from natural dyeing. At our dyeing workshop, we have built a wastewater discharge system, to ensure no detrimental effect from the discharge to the surrounding land. As our weaving and dyeing community rely on rice farming as a supplementary livelihood, we will not risk the health of their farmland.
Another consideration is what happens to our clothes after it is discarded. With so much textile waste generated every day, we do our part by ensuring our workmanship is top-notch so your clothing last longer. When they do end up in landfills, natural fibers have less of an impact compared to their synthetic counterparts. Natural fibers with minimal chemical treatment decomposes naturally, whereas synthetic fibers do not decompose easily, leaching chemicals or ending up in our foodchain.
It’s a win-win for us- when we employ methods that protect the health and the environment of our producers, it is also good for the health and safety of our customers.
It was made with dignity
There is an enigmatic quality about handwoven and hand-dyed textiles- they convey the emotions of the producer as they made it. More than that, these textiles are a product of skill and know-how that was passed down from generation to generation, with patterns unique to individual family, and ultimately a craft unique to their culture.
We believe in the importance of such craftsmanship given its inherent cultural value as well as the economic, social and environmental opportunity it provides. That said ultimately our primary purpose is to provide a viable livelihood for our producers. Not just economic opportunity, but in working conditions conducive to their context.
Indeed, handmade products are more expensive than machine-made garments. However we hope more consumers realise the real cost of factory-made garments, and the better lasting value in quality, ethically-made clothing.
Make good decisions, and your skin and future generations will thank you.