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Interview: Ethical Fashion with Bhalo

When you think of clothes, do you factor ethics into the equation?

Well, the owners of the Australian company, Bhalo, do just that by creating quality garments and improving the lives of their employees in Bangladesh. I have always been on the lookout for companies that are well-rounded, not only treating their customers with respect but also their employees and manufacturers. Often, we pay more attention to how cheaply we can purchase a garment without questioning the hidden cost behind its creation. With Bhalo, I’ve gained such a refreshing perspective on apparel production that I wanted to share their story with you.

What is the meaning behind the name Bhalo and how does it relate to your label?

Bhalo is the Bangla word for ‘good’. When I started the label with my business partner Shimul (who is Bangladeshi) we just wanted a simple word that conveyed what we were trying to do with the label. We just wanted to be good, in all senses of the word! ‘Good’ in terms of quality design and more importantly, ‘good’ in terms of ethics.

What is your inspiration for the clothing designs?

We get inspiration from anything really, but our biggest inspiration is Bangladesh. We have come to be known for our Bangladeshi-style prints and embroidery, which are inspired by traditional Jamdani (woven muslin) and Nakshi Kantha (hand embroidery) techniques and patterns. There is really so much variety and history in Bangladesh, I don’t think we could ever run out of inspiration.

Bhalo is a fair-trade label that employs people from Bangladesh. What made you choose this particular country? How has it influenced the manufacturing process?

I chose Bangladesh after volunteering at a school in Dhaka for 3 months back in 2008. I was teaching English and really fell in love with the people. It was there that I met Shimul, who had been working with rehousing and finding jobs for families from the slums of Dhaka. When he found out that I was a designer he proposed that we somehow used both of our specific skills to help disadvantaged people in his country.

It took us a long time to find the right people to work with. We now work with 2 producers – one in a village 5 hours from Dhaka, comprised of 200 women, and a group of indigenous weavers from tribal areas of Bangladesh. Both groups are comprised of marginalised people who need the work to make a living. We originally wanted to work in the slums of Dhaka, but we realised that the slums were inhabited mainly by rural migrants who had left their home in search of work. So we thought if we took the work to villages it would give people less reason to migrate to Dhaka. This is turn keeps families together and reduces the stress on an already exploding city where where 500,000 people migrate annually from rural areas seeking employment or education.

Because we work in rural and remote areas, things like electricity and technology are not always available, which is why we focus on hand made garments. This allows isolated people to make a living without having to outlay large amounts of money for machinery or generators. The mechanisation of the garment industry has led to a loss of employment for rural people in Bangladesh so we wanted to support that industry in any way that we can, and keep the family traditions going.

Describe the person that would wear Bhalo designs.

Someone with discerning style yet unpretentious, and conscious of the world around her. And hopefully looking hot because she is wearing Bhalo!

What would like to see changed in the fashion industry?

I think that ethics should be a given. I don’t think we deserve a pat on the back for simply not exploiting people – to me that should be expected. I would also like to remove this idea that we all need 1000 cheap items of clothing and that garments are disposable. We all need to be more conscious of who is making our clothes. I certainly don’t want a cheap shirt enough that I will justify a small child sweating over it. Its just a shirt. I would rather go naked!

What do you see for Bhalo in the future?

In the short term, we are about to launch our next collection ‘Golden Year’ in late August, which we are excited about. Long term, we want Bhalo to eventually expand to including more types of accessories, and also start working with some new producer groups in Bangladesh. We also really want some new international stockists, particularly in USA, Canada and Europe. Apart from that we would just love the opportunity to keep doing this for as long as possible – we are loving every minute of it!

For more information, go to: http://www.bhaloshop.com/

FYI, the current collection goes on sale June 25th and the new collection will debut in August.

*All photos provided by Bhalo

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Stephanie June 20, 2011, 8:12 am

    I really love this line. Of course, if I were to buy an item from it, it would have to be a present of sorts (it’s beyond my budget =/) BUT the Mota Shorts, the Shipbreaker dress in gold and the Shefali skirt in peach are calling my name!

  • kimchi girl June 20, 2011, 5:41 pm

    great interview jess! very eye-opening. it’s actually sad that a company like this is not the norm, and makes me realize we all need to be conscious of where our clothing comes from.

    thanks so much for such an informative interview!

  • Anonymous June 22, 2011, 3:15 am

    I’m so in love with the cropped shirt worn by the model on the first picture. Maybe I can craft something similar.

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