GUEST POST BY YANA BARANKIN of TAMGA
Some people know what they want out of life. If they’re driven enough, focused enough, they work hard and reach their goals. In the world of entrepreneurs and start-ups, these stories are everywhere. But you know what? I don’t think they’re helpful. Most of us don’t know what we want out of life. We follow things that we’re good at, or that interest us, and see what fits.
I’m a creative person that wants to have a net positive impact on the world; that’s a pretty general mission statement.
I've lived and worked in six different countries, from walking catwalks to working in a cholera hospital. I was building experience in marketing, fashion and humanitarian work, not knowing how they would all come together – just following my interests. Strangely, it wasn’t until I ended up in Dhaka, Bangladesh that it all started to make sense.
i’ll start there.
Arriving in Dhaka for the first time is a sensory overload. Heat, mosquitoes and a whole lot of attention from strangers awaits you as soon as you land. My partner Eric had landed a job with the UN and already been there for 6 months. We found an apartment in the neighborhood where most Westerners live, and I started working on a contract with Save the Children.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the impact of the fashion manufacturing industry on Dhaka. The rapid growth and construction, the thousands of young women in colorful salwar kameez making their way to work in the factories, the stalls on the side of the road selling popular western brands at impossibly low prices (or were they impossibly low?). The country had just gone through a painful experience when the Rana Plaza complex, a shoddily built building containing several garment factories, collapsed and took more than 1,100 lives with it. Fashion manufacturing in Dhaka isn’t just an industry, it’s a life force. It’s building cities, wiping out poverty, and causing astonishing vulnerability all at the same time.
becoming an entrepreneur was an accident.
I was buying vibrant and colorful local fabrics and making kimonos with a local tailor named Dino that was known in the expat community for making great clothes. We visited Dino at home and his place of work, and gradually became close friends. He paid all his workers well, trained young people so they could earn money, and ran both an orphanage and a school for slum children with whatever extra money he could cobble together.
Eric and I saw the chance to support Dino and his workers, produce beautiful clothing, and create a positive example in a fashion industry that sorely needed it.
I never thought that TAMGA would be received so well. Within 13 months, our Etsy store had customers from all over the world who were so excited about our brand and mission.
We started to feel that we could have more of a targeted impact on the world through this project than our respective jobs.
But we had one problem: the beautiful fabrics that we were buying in Dhaka’s old city were part of the major environmental problems caused by fashion. We wanted to prove that fashion could be socially and environmentally sustainable, but had no control over our materials.
taking it full time.
In the meantime, our contracts were finishing up in Dhaka, and we made the difficult decision to take TAMGA full time. Eric and I began a journey to start the new TAMGA Designs from scratch, with full accountability for our impact on people and the environment. This journey took us to Indonesia, where we knew that some suppliers were willing to work with the sustainable wood-cellulose fabrics and eco-friendly dyes that we had been seeking out. Our friend and super-talented designer Anna had been living in Dhaka at the same time, and joined us on this exciting and crazy journey.
Our team of three spent eight months in Indonesia looking for factories that saw the value of treating people and the environment with respect. We were a nearly non-existent brand asking tough questions, so we got rejected across the board. After four months, we had found a total of zero factories that were willing to work within our social and environmental standards.
WE KEPT CALLING, EMAILING, FLYING AROUDN THE COUNTRY AND SHOWING UP.
Eventually, we found a mix of suppliers that were perfect for TAMGA. We finally had a “supply chain” and somehow managed to channel our million design ideas into a dream collection. Our prints are inspired by the weavers and textile artists of Indonesia, so we called it Dreamweaver.
We launched the brand through a Kickstarter campaign in November 2016 (you can see an in-depth series about our crowdfunding experience on the TAMGA Blog). Since then, we’ve found amazing new customers, partnered with renowned start-up incubators and universities in our home city of Toronto, and continue to learn more every day about running a business.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming – the accounting, marketing, shipping, online analytics and product development – but I always remind myself that it’s not about knowing exactly where you’re going, it’s about following your passions.
I managed to combine my interests in fashion, and humanitarian work into my current job, so I’m lucky enough to be doing something I’m passionate about every single day.
Yana Barankin, co-founder, brought TAMGA Designs to life while working in the NGO sector in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2014. Having previously worked in fashion, she received her MA in International Development from Kent University in Brussels and was inspired to make a difference in the industry by merging both of her passions to create the TAMGA label. Forever inspired by art and travel, you are likely to find the road less traveled, with a camera in her hand, looking for the next white-sand beach.