A factory project update: it’s long overdue.
My goodness, what an insane 6 months it’s been. Since I haven’t been posting super regular updates, this one will be a doozy. So much has happened!
First, the entire structure of the company has changed. My previous plan to open a manufacturing facility as a partnership with a single local partner fell through painfully. I experienced a couple of quite dark months reeling from that loss and the “wasted time” I had to deal with- as many months had been spent waiting and working on the original plan.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it led me to dream a bit bigger and re-think how I was going to make things happen. Instead of opening up a partnership, I opted to register the business as a stock corporation in the Philippines. This has a myriad of benefits for the long-term growth and stability of the company, as well as the level of accountability I’ll have. Plus, It opens things up to the possibility of worker ownership, since I’ll be able to offer shares in the company as a benefit to employees. I love this concept- when the company does extra well, everyone from the CEO to the stockholders to the quality control agent to the woman working the buttonhole machine get dividends.
Right now, the company has 6 incorporators (myself and 5 other trusted business people). Ownership is 60% Filipino, 40% Foreign, majority female. Each board member brings something different to the table in terms of business savvy, social entrepreneurship experience, and expertise. I’m incredibly grateful that after several un-fruitful months of feeling like things weren’t moving along, the right people came into the picture at the right time.
We have a name: It’s TELAstory Inc.
Nope, it’s not an intentional misspelling of “tell a story”. TELA is the Filipino word for fabric (yes, it’s also the Spanish word!). I chose the name for a few different reasons.
- I wanted to use Tagalog in the company’s name as a nod to national pride and my intent to keep ownership and profit local. There’s also a bit of allusion to a truly Filipino tendency in the name choice- the love of a good pun or double-meaning (I saw a alterations shop the other day called “Tailor Swift”).
- We’re creating garments that tell good stories, rather than stories of exploitation and environmental damage.
- We want the story of your garment to be accessible. With full transparency, published wages, and more, the end consumer will actually be able to tell the story of their garment beyond “It has a fair trade label” or “the website says the workers are paid ‘living wage”.
We’ve got space!
I just signed a lease and paid a 4-month deposit (standard practice here in the Philippines) on TELAstory’s first space! We’re renting two rooms in a historic building, surrounded by a lot of other makers and creatives. The building is an art deco masterpiece built in the 1920’s by the son of a famed artist, and is beautifully maintained. We’ll outgrow this space quickly, so our lease is only for a year, but it’s the perfect place to launch and build our core team. TELAstory will occupy two rooms- the larger one will be our sewing workshop and training space and the other will be our office and storage area.
We’ve got those Kickstarter designs comin’ right up!
Our Kickstarter rewards will consist of 5 different garments- two sweaters/jackets, one top, one skirt, and one pair of trousers. They will all be made from innovative, 100% Filipino-grown natural fibers including local organic cotton, pineapple fiber, and abaca (a hemp-like fiber that comes from a plant that looks like a banana tree!). There will be ZERO synthetics- even the buttons will be made from coconut shells. The dyes will also be completely natural and botanical, coming from roots, bark, and leaves that are native to the Philippines. Samples will be ready in just a weeks’ time- I can’t wait to share sneak peeks!
A few FAQ's that I've been getting:
Q: Will you be looking to partner with independent, start-up brands?
A: Yes! We're intentionally keeping our order minimums much lower than the norm for other manufacturing facilities in Southeast Asia so that we can work with young ethical brands. Within our first 6 months, we're hoping to actually be able to offer full design services, meaning that we can help you with patterns and tech packs as well as doing the actual production of your designs. We'll also be able to help you with sourcing ethical fabric!
Q: Can I manufacture with you guys?
A: Sure! Warning: We've got a bit of a waiting list, so email me if you want to get on it!
Q: How are you determining "fair wages" for workers?
A: Great question! We're basing starting wages on the research done on Asia Floor Wage. Our wages will end up being three times the Philippines' legal "living wage" and much higher than the average wage of a garment worker here.