Can you tell us a little bit about your background/history that has led you to this point?
I actually spent my previous life working for the United Nations, which brought my (now wife) and I to Dhaka, Bangladesh from 2012 to 2015. While working there we had exposure to so many confronting problems – everything from overcrowded urban slums to the pressure that a changing climate was putting on some of the poorest people in the country. But ultimately, everything around us was being shaped by the fashion manufacturing industry. It employs millions, drawing people into big cities with the promise of steady work and pay. We had arrived in the country after the Rana Plaza Factory collapse in which more than 1,100 garment workers were killed due to shoddy building quality and labour controls. It was devastating to see the role that some of our favourite brands were playing in this crisis, and we couldn’t simply remain un-involved.
In 2013, TAMGA started as a side project. Yana and I were creating Kimonos with a group of tailors who were paid fairly and well looked after and selling them internationally on Etsy. It was exciting to do something more than point a finger at big fashion brands – to offer consumers an alternative. While we were still working our day jobs in Dhaka, our satisfaction was increasingly coming from our work on TAMGA. It grew to a point where we felt that we could positively impact more lives through TAMGA than through our other work, so we took the plunge. We visited factories across three countries, researched environmentally friendly materials, and built an ethical and traceable supply chain from scratch.
Tell us about your product/brand and the inspiration behind it?
TAMGA Designs is all about creating a positive example in the fashion industry, proving great style can also be good for people and the planet. We’ve always felt that the ethical fashion market doesn’t need more neutral tones and basic cuts. We design our own prints in-house using inspiration gathered on the road and match them with flowy and bold designs. TAMGA is all about standing out from the crowd, it gives us and our customers the chance to tell the story behind each garment.
How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?
For us, sustainability has always been the #1 concern. When we first started the full-fledged business, it was a year before we sold a single product. Eight months of this time was spent finding high-quality, environmentally-friendly materials and ethical suppliers. Only after that was in place did we move into design. We’re all obsessed with product and customer experience, but we simply wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the motivation to create something with a truly positive impact.
For our customers, sustainability is also incredibly important. It’s always been our goal to create fashion that can compete with any designs, sustainable or not. However, we’re fortunate to have a community of customers in more than 25 countries that understand the impact of their dollars on the world.
What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?
We all need to get a feel for sustainability in our daily lives and businesses. We don’t have the luxury to keep turning a blind eye to what’s happening in the world around us, whether it’s in policy decisions at the top level of government or in daily lifestyle choices of an individual. I think this is becoming more and more obvious to everyone, but it’s especially difficult for an individual to know what to do about it.
Entrepreneurs and businesses have a huge role to play in creating alternative products that fill consumer desires and tread lightly on the natural environment. Entrepreneurs innovate and solve problems, and we have such a massive set of environmental problems to sort out. Ultimately, a lot of the issues that our planet faces have been driven by irresponsible business practices, it’s up to a new generation of business to provide better options.
How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?
We’re an e-commerce business, so we’re engaging with technology in a lot of the same ways that other companies are these days. But there’s one thing about technology that often gets missed in our industry: it’s an incredible enabler for transparency. The fashion industry is known for being very opaque, with lots of “blind spots” where big environmental and human risks exist. We now have these great tools to communicate about our suppliers and materials – like images, videos and links to their location – that make it easier than ever for consumers to see where a garment has come from.
We also have a great partnership with another Canadian company called Green Story, who helped us to research the environmental impact of every garment we produce. We can now share how much water, emissions and energy that every garment we produce has saved by using environmentally-friendly materials. Simple technology like this makes a big impact in an industry that can be pretty confusing for the consumer.
What does wilderness mean to you?
Wilderness is humbling. It’s incredible to see how complex a self-sustaining ecosystem is, whether it’s a small meadow that’s been left alone or a massive old-growth rainforest.
If you had to choose one place to live with only the basics available to you where would it be and what would you take with you apart from the obvious survival gear?
My family’s 200-acre farm in Ontario, Canada. I’d bring flour and salt to make bread, a fishing rod and ideally a lot of coffee and beer.
Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?
To have proven that businesses can create real value while still celebrating people and the planet.
What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. If one of your initiatives or products proves to not be as sustainable as you thought, learn from that and improve! Our industry is a little too obsessed with perfection, when we really need to be bold because we definitely don’t have all the answers.
Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it?
“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
― E. O. Wilson
What brands do you admire?
Patagonia because they’ve shared so much of what they’ve learned over the years and continue to make great quality products. In the women’s space I admire Eileen Fisher, she continues to push the envelope in terms of sustainability even when she clearly doesn’t have to.
How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers?
It’s becoming more and more important and it’s great. The more we find brands that are transparent and authentic, the more we call bulls*** on many others that aren’t.
What is your favorite animal and why?
Penguins. Hardy, resourceful and pretty damn entertaining.
What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?
Anything disposable. My wife and I have cut down on single-use plastic dramatically but we’re still not at absolute zero – we’re enjoying the challenge of finding reusable options in everything from groceries to household cleaning products.
Learn more about TAMGA Designs here: https://www.tamgadesigns.com/.