Berlin Fashion Show was an amazing opportunity for our team to connect with new brands and projects. Among these it was with great pleasure that we met the founder of an amazing British brand whose roots spread across the UK and Vietnam. The two women-founders of Tamay & me met, in fact, in Vietnam, Tamay’s home country, when Hannah was there visiting.
The concept behind the label is pretty powerful: helping Vietnamese women earning a sustainable living while maintaining their textile heritage, the ancient skill of Red Dzao embroidery, passed down from generation to generation of women, until these days.
After few weeks we reconnected with Hannah, the British half of the duo, to unravel the story of this unique enterprise.
Thanks so much for meeting with us! It was such a pleasure to meet you in Berlin; we hope it was a great opportunity for the brand to connect with the European market. So, tell me a bit more about the founders of this great brand, Tamay and yourself. Is this a four hands operation or you have more important people as part of your value chain?
It’s so great to be meeting with you too! Tamay and I are a double act, but what is really exciting is that at every step of our value chain there is an important person. Tamay runs all the production in Vietnam, she co-ordinates the making process from the cotton to the finished jackets. We have the cotton growers who also spin and weave the cloth in their homes. There are 4 women at moment working at this stage they sell their finished cloth to our principle indigo dyer and we buy the cloth from her. We then have a team of 5 whom, on a flexible piece-by-piece basis as it suits them, make the jackets into the finished garments. We have proposed making a studio to work from but everyone insists that they want to work from home, I am relaxed, so long as the quality is good. What is important is to make beautiful quality jackets that benefit all our makers. I work from the Bristol Textile Quarter, an amazing hub of small businesses working in ethical fashion and textiles, we help each other out loads, and it is so great to work in a supportive environment.
Let’s retrace the main steps of your first encounter with Tamay and the moment your brand was born. How did you both make it happen?
We first met in the Sapa market near to Tamay’s village of Taphin back in 2008. I was fascinated by the embroidery Tamay was making and she asked me if I wanted to learn. I was at the beginning of a year-long travel adventure with no fixed plans except to make art, it was perfect. We ended up sitting together for 3 months. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but it gave me so much personal strength that I now use everyday. It was amazing to be able to be part of Dzao life and culture, such a gift.
Soon after, we set up Tamay & Me in its first manifestation. We sold beautiful vintage pieces buying from families who didn’t have any access to sell to the tourists and needed money. We always sold so many of the vintage men’s jackets but they were running out and becoming harder and harder to find. So a few years later Tamay and I thought we should make new jackets, but in the old way. The first step was to find cloth, and we wanted local cloth. When we found the cloth producers we use today they were still growing cotton, this blew my mind. To see clothes growing is not something we are used to in the west, it is pretty exciting to see veg growing but the idea of growing your clothes delighted me! This was when I got really excited and felt like I wanted to share this story far and wide.
At the moment you’re focusing on creating a unique piece of clothing, the hand and naturally dyed indigo jackets both in the basic version and its hand-embroidered alternative. Do you think this will continue to be your main product or are you thinking to expand the production?
Well it’s the question I keep asking myself and but we don’t want to jump before we can run and find that we can’t keep everything in balance. We are currently getting really excited as we are experimenting with different depths of indigo saturation. For the moment we are going to push the jacket design as far as it will go and to operate almost like the indigo jacket version of a jeans company. The jackets are a really great design, so functional, a zero waste pattern and so versatile to wear.
I am really inspired by Margate Howell’s authentic, functional approach to fashion; I have daydreams of a bigger collection but need to take it steadily to maintain our integrity.
I love that the aim of the brand is focused on preserving traditional craftsmanship, I always agreed on the quote that “crafts are the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage”. Did you get to this project by simple chance or you were always motivated to work with artisans?
I love that quote! I really believe that so much of the Dzao culture is embodied in their textiles and that the textiles really influence what Dzao culture is. The Dzao embroidery is certainly a tangible manifestation of their intangible cultural heritage.
I am originally an anthropologist but have always loved textiles. I stumbled across the Dzao but Tamay & Me didn’t just happen, it is built on a relationship of trust that has grown and developed over our nearly 10 years of friendship. That’s what makes our brand so unique. I don’t feel like I could work with another artisan group in the same way. We want to encourage the traditional craftsmanship in the region but also want to work in a really sensitive way to not trap the younger Dzao in their cultural heritage, embroidery takes a very long time. I hope we can encourage the continuation of the traditional skills by giving it the value it deserves. It feels like we are doing this just at the right time before they could be lost, it’s exciting. The local people can’t believe that we think it is cool to use the hand woven cotton, I want the Dzao traditional lifestyle to be recognised as cool before, just like everywhere in the world, it disappears into the blur of modernity.
Of course the other key point of your concept is, to me, the fact that you’re able to create something so attractive and unique and make it a statement piece, very adaptable to modern fashion. Is it challenging in your opinion to present a new, ethical way of doing fashion or is the world ready to embrace it on a larger scale?
Ethical fashion is going to be more expensive and it is also going to be slower to produce but I feel really optimistic that there are a lot of consumers out there who are tired of the fast fashion industry and are looking for other ways to buy and wear clothes.
I love traditional, timeless clothes. I also love how function is so embedded into the design, which happens when you use high quality materials. Fewer beautifully made clothes feels so much more luxurious than a wardrobe full of fast fashion. I hope the world is ready to embrace ethical fashion on a larger scale but there are so many people in the world living on the poverty line that can’t be expected to buy expensive clothes. I love the saying “with privilege comes responsibility”, if those who can start to buy better then we can start to lift some people out of poverty. It is going to be a long process but one worth embarking on.
As you know FCTW is very proud to support incredible brands like yours, who are offering the world a new type of fashion that helps people and defend the planet, instead of harming them. Do you have a personal point of view on the present situation of the industry and possible strategies to help this conscious transition to succeed?
Fashion is wrapped up with so much that is dirty – vanity, waste, chemicals, modern slavery…Having said this fashion is a powerful communicator and hugely seductive.
The success of Viviane Westwood’s campaign and Everlane suggest it is possible. I love the way Everlane have made their costs and pricing structures so transparent. It is so important that we all understand where our clothes come from, just like our food. Conversation takes time but it is beginning to happen. The Dzao clothes don’t really have anything to do with fashion and that is what is wonderful about them. I love being able to bring them into the fashion world. We want to celebrate the way the Dzao make and wear clothes and share it as an example of an alternative for fashion world we know. The Dzao show it is possible to live well with less.
Discover more at www.tamayandme.com