interview with hanna guy: co-founder of dorsu
Dorsu is an ethical clothing company that is co-founded by Hanna Guy – an entrepreneur hailing originally from Tasmania. The crowd-funding campaign for Dorsu is seeking to raise $20,000 so that the company can continue its ethical business that benefits both the buyer and the maker.I had a chat with Hanna about the mission of Dorsu and the great work that they are doing in Cambodia.
Could you first tell us about your life so far?
I am the Co-Founder and Director of Dorsu, a conscious clothing label based in Kampot, Cambodia.
Prior to Dorsu I spent most of my time travelling, or working to pay to go travelling. I starting working in Cambodia in 2007 and moved there in 2008, the same year we started Dorsu.
I’m a fellow of The School for Social Entrepreneurs and am currently completing a Master of Business. I’ve worked with communities in rural Australia, the USA and Cambodia to use business and enterprise as a tool for community development.
I originally come from Tasmania, and now live between Cambodia and Melbourne, where I am building a base for Dorsu to expand into an international brand.
What first inspired you to get into fashion and in particular to work in Cambodia?
Fashion wasn’t initially in our plan. I was working with Chumkriel Language School (CLS), a locally-operated organisation providing education and support services to the local Kampot community. I worked with them to setup a community learning centre and Dorsu was started as a fundraising business to support their programs.
I was excited and inspired by the idea that business could create a sustainable form of income both for the people directly involved through employment and also for the school. At the time there were very few opportunities to buy clothes or products made in Kampot and so clothing seemed a great place to start.
I worked with my Co-Founder, Kunthear Mov, we started with a $200 loan from CLS and a sewing machine and initially planned to start a small stall at the school. We’ve now grown into an ethical fashion label employing ten people.
As we grew, our focus organically moved more into creating a clothing company. Garment manufacturing is one of the main industries here in Cambodia and once you see the factories, the trucks filled with workers packed body to body and hear the horror stories of people working in deplorable conditions it is impossible not to be influenced. It has become quite simple now, make great clothes and create a safe work environment – everyone has the right to be safe and happy at work.
Tell us about the mission of Dorsu.
We have changed shape over the years but our fundamental aims and principles remain the same. We want to create fair and positive employment opportunities and continue to financially support community education. We believe that providing safe jobs to adults and allowing children to access education is the best way to grow a strong community.
We make ethical basic wear and create an opportunity for people to buy our clothes and feel great not only about their quality, design and affordability but also about the story behind them.
The social and environmental impact of clothing production is finally becoming an issue that people are aware of and discussing. The unsafe and unfair conditions are not solely limited to companies operating in what are considered developing countries, at times it’s also right on our back door step. Location aside, we believe that people should be able to buy clothing and know the conditions it has been produced under.
What challenges did you face in getting the project up and running?
We started with very little, so without a large injection of funds to get up and running we have certainly had difficult periods. Our challenges have not been limited to getting up and running, each time we’ve taken a big step we’ve faced challenges that seem to be natural to all businesses.
We’ve had to face some big hurdles in regards to fabric sourcing, and finding a perfect balance between employing enough people for production capacity while providing our staff with training and support.
We’re also operating a business in Cambodia where access to resources is developing alongside us, it can be incredibly difficult, but we always find a way – we’re fighters.
What has the experience been like so far? Are you seeing positive change in the lives of the women working for Dorsu?
Our experience so far has been a wide spectrum of achievements and challenges, it’s certainly been exciting.
Employment conditions and work options for women in Cambodia can be horrendous. We provide a safe, positive work environment with fair wages. Training onsite is a part of employment at Dorsu that alleviates the issues normally associated with training- leaving home, lack of income combined with expense of training and lack of jobs once training is complete. Our team understand and appreciate this but most days we’re all kind of just busy with business as normal at work and many of our staff are then also busy being parents at home. It is when unexpected problems arise, that people begin to talk about their ability to deal with challenges due to having a safe and fair job, that make us all reflect on the importance of our company. Sometimes, when there is a quiet moment, our team start reflecting on being proud of being a part of Dorsu and that’s when we sit back and take a breath. They are definitely beautiful moments.
It’s also been incredible to watch the school grow, see their programs expand and attendance increase. It’s really wonderful to know that we have played a part in that development.
What are some memorable moments you’ve had in this journey so far?
There are too many to count. The best ones are often way more important to us than they seem from the outside such as getting certain processes straight, sourcing a large amount of beautiful fabric, launching our new range or giving our store a facelift. I think the most memorable for me have been our team building days where we stop, reflect and do activities that push our personal boundaries. There have been some incredible conversations and moments where we get caught up in an activity and end up falling all over each other laughing. It makes it more real, we’re just a bunch of people trying to do something a different way.
What do you hope for the future of Dorsu?
We’ve got enormous dreams. We want to build Dorsu into a strong, adaptable and sustainable company that grows with strength. We’re currently working on scaling our company which involves selling a lot more clothing to conscious customers and providing more jobs to our community.
We want to grow with our networks, and are excited by the potential to partner with other companies who have the same principles. We want to have a broader presence in both Cambodia and overseas and to collaborate on projects that allow us to create more high-quality products with authentic stories behind them.
Can you provide any details about upcoming projects or campaigns for Dorsu that readers should know about?
We’re currently running a crowd funding campaign to expand our premises and bring more clothing out into the world! It’s exciting, scary and really hard work, but we’re determined to make it fly. It would be incredible if people could contribute and share our campaign with friends. We believe that many small amounts add up to do great things.
How can we buy Dorsu products?
Visit our online store at www.dorsu.org and follow our social media for updates on upcoming markets and events in Australia. Or even better, plan a trip to Cambodia and meet our team at our workshop.
Image credit: Rita McNeill