Meet our Mates: Walk Sew Good
Walk Sew Good are a fabulous duo that got together in 2016 to walk across South East Asia, raising awareness and bringing light to ethical fashion and production throughout the region. Megan and Gab started in Ho Chi Minh and walked through Cambodia, Thailand, Loas and Northern Vietnam in 10 months, met an abundance of designers, producers and businesses and gathered hundreds of hours of footage to share with the world. We sat down with Gab to hear all about their journey, their biggest challenges and lessons, how we can all be a part of global change and what they have planned for Walk Sew Good in the future.
For our readers that haven’t heard of you- what is Walk Sew Good all about? Tell us little about who are you, what you do, why and your journey so far.
Walk Sew Good is about sharing the stories of clothes that are made in a way that doesn’t harm people or planet, or at least minimises that harm, nobody is perfect. We are a team of two, Megan and Gab, and we walked across Southeast Asia for just over 10 months. Starting in Ho Chi Minh in southern Vietnam, we then crossed into Cambodia to Thailand, then North to Laos and finally finishing in Hanoi in northern Vietnam. Along the way we met with people working in the fashion industry who are working on making positive change and we filmed their stories. We shared our day to day lives on social media, which was often messy, funny and a bit raw. At the heart of it Walk Sew Good is a project that is focused on sharing stories from Southeast Asia and educating people about clothing.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned whilst meeting ethical brands and producers throughout South East Asia?
One of the biggest lessons about the industry that we learned was probably that everyone has different approaches. There’s no one way to recycle, there’s no one answer to all the world’s problems. The people we were meeting along the way all had their own way of tackling issues and that critical thinking and ingenuity was so motivating, it really made things seem possible. Another thing we learnt was that some brands are doing some seriously amazing things, but often the problem is marketing or advertising. Social media is something that we take for granted, but many don’t know how to use it, or are unable to read or write, let alone type. It makes getting the product out there very difficult.
In terms of overall “life lessons” we learnt so much; making compromise, being able to think on our feet and adapt to situations, to trust strangers, to being grateful and sharing. We also learnt how much work goes into making clothes! It’s a lot, and it’s so hard! We really suck at it, we have to leave it to the professionals haha.
What was the best thing about your journey?
One of the biggest takeaways was the sheer kindness and love that we were shown, people were so welcoming, even though we were strangers and we spoke a different language. People often stopped on the side of the road to see if we needed help, they would give us food and water and help give us directions. We learnt how to say “walk” in each language and then followed it up with how many kilometres we had left for the day. We also tried to learn how to count in each language (I - Gab - only got to three in Vietnamese because damn that’s hard) so we could say the kilometres. Often we would say the name of the town and people would shake their heads or nod accordingly. The friendships we made and the kindness of strangers was easily the highlight of our experience. For example, once we were hiking through the Northern Thai province of Nan and we got to a town with no accomodation, we were going to just sleep at the temple, but the border police stopped us and offered to let us camp at the station. Then a lady fed us pho from her stall and then the police offered us whiskey and to watch television with them, it was sweet. In Cambodia we couchsurfed with this amazing local man Ratha in Siem Reap, he was the best. He and his housemates opened up their house for strangers to come and stay and share each others culture. We had a massive dance party in his room learning the moves to “No Smoke” and sharing food his housemate Mlis cooked for us. Each night at dinner he would teach us about the history of Angkor Wat, we got obsessed with saying “KING JAYAVARMAN THE SEVENTH”. Ratha is a guide during the day and also trains other guides how to be better at their jobs, he gives so much back to his community.
What was the most challenging/ difficult part?
The most challenging part was being away from our loved ones. The walk was hard of course, but being so far away from our friends and family was really hard. Obviously a journey like this doesn’t come without it’s difficulties, we had heat stroke, we got sick, we were harassed by dogs, we had limited food and sometimes nowhere to stay. But all of that was manageable, we found our own solutions. Another hard part was going to these interviews with some amazing people and then walking away, often we wanted to do so much more to help the people we were meeting. We are very privileged to be able to travel freely and for so long, and an even greater privilege was being able to leave. We are going to continue working for our friends and sharing their stories for a long time to come. I (Gab), think that we never will truly leave, I think we both have a little part of ourselves left in Southeast Asia (at the very least there’s a lot of skin from our blisters on the side of the road and Megan’s toenail is around somewhere).
Can you tell us a little about some of the incredible people you were able to meet?
Well we seriously loved hanging out with the team at Dorsu, but another woman we loved meeting was Vannary San from Lotus Silk. She’s a wonderful Khmer woman who worked really hard from the ground up to start her business and is helping revive silk production in Cambodia. She came out and met us on the road one day and took us to Champa in Takeo Province to meet with a master weaver, Samoeun, who learnt his skill from his mother but then went on to teach himself even more difficult techniques on Youtube and through practise.
We met another amazing woman in Northern Vietnam called Tamay, she is from an ethnic minority called the Red Dzao (or Yao/Mien). She didn’t go to school and she never learnt how to read or write, but taught herself English and now helps run tours to her village. She teamed up with a British woman and they started their own label together using traditional weaving, dyeing and embroidery. It means that her rich cultural heritage can be preserved because there is still a market for it.
What do you see as some of the biggest obstacles to achieving an ethical clothing industry?
We need a massive clean up of supply chains, we need brands to be more transparent in what they are doing, where they are working and under what conditions. We need government agencies to help regulate products that are allowed into a country to ensure they aren’t made by illegal means (forced labour, unpaid labour, underage labour etc). We need to start using what we already have and encourage a circular economy (no waste). We need workers to be able to stand up for their rights and be educated enough to know what their rights are. We also need shoppers to buy less, but buy well and make sure they are paying the right price. If all of these things happened, we would see some seriously amazing changes. The challenge is getting each stakeholder to do their bit; brands, government, worker and shopper. I think that the responsibility should be up to brands, but having the shopper place pressure on them to change really helps.
Where do you see the fashion industry heading in the future?
I see a massive reduction in the amount of clothing we produce around the world, instead people will be looking for more durable garments of higher quality. Minimalism is becoming very popular and I think that many people will look to declutter and as a result wardrobes in the West will become smaller. I would love to see a complete circular economy whereby all the clothes that are made come from materials that already exist and then can be used again or composted.
What is Walk Sew Good up to now and what do you have planned for the future?
At the moment we are working seperate jobs to pay our bills and in our limited spare time we edit the footage we have taken so we can produce videos. We write blogs and share photos of Walk Sew Good on our socials and we try and promote better fashion choices by reaching out to others in the field, talking on the radio or talking to other journalists. For now we are just really focused on finishing the videos with the hundreds of hours of footage we have! There is soooo much to edit, hands up who wants to help?
How can people be a part of the Walk Sew Good journey?
They can follow us on Insta @walksewgood, Facebook, Twitter or Youtube. We aren’t very popular with the later two, we don’t really know how to use them. Also feel free to reach out to us and get in touch, we love getting messages and talking with people about our experience. Oh and we are talking the walk LIVE in March 2018 at WOMADelaide with Clare Press. It should be lots of fun.
Do you have any advice or tips for consumers just starting out on their ethical fashion journey?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Nobody is perfect, you can’t single-handedly save the planet. I would start by buying less. When you do want to buy something ask yourself if you need it or if you just want it. If you really do need it, how much is it and where is it made? Can you get it second hand?
But my biggest recommendation would be to use what you already have, literally just use what is already in your closet, clothes can be readjusted and upcycled if you need change. How often do we go to the cupboard and say we have nothing to wear? And at the same time people take 15kgs of luggage on holiday and end up wearing the same two outfits for two weeks anyway. Just wear what you have, or see if a friend wants to swap with you. If I’m with a close friend I will literally just open their cupboard doors, hold up things and be like “Hey I’ve never seen you in this, when was the last time you wore it?” “Oh I don’t like that dress, I was going to get rid of it.” “Okay cool, it’s mine now.”
If you really really need a new wardrobe, I’d recommend starting with your basics, which you can easily get from Dorsu! Another place to try could be ecomono.com.au
What or who inspires you?
My walking buddy Megan, because she stares fear directly in the face and she takes the leap regardless.
Walk Sew Good dropped by our production studio in Kampot, Cambodia and chatted with our co-founders Kunthear and Hanna about business and friendship.
See more videos with featuring Dorsu and other businesses from throughout South East Asia.
Like their printed tees? We make custom screen printed t-shirts and tanks for businesses, groups and events all over the world. Bring ethical SWAG into your supply chain and look as good as these ladies doing so.