Inside Tonle: San Francisco's only zero waste clothing boutique

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- One look at the rich fabrics, colors and textures on display at Tonle boutique in San Francisco's Inner Richmond district and you would never guess all of the made out of trash.

CEO Rachel Faller began the Tonle journey after a trip to Cambodia in 2007 after college and noticed a disturbing trend in fashion manufacturing.

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"I was going to secondhand markets and I would find piles of scraps and I could tell that they were cut waste from factories. We could already take this material that's being produced to make some really beautiful stuff out of it."

Showing us images on her phone she explains "we take the scraps that are being discarded by larger factories and we create our own collections out of it.

The images are remarkable, showing warehouses filled to the brim with rolls of fabrics in different patterns and materials.

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In one image when the rolls are stacked more than 10 feet high, Rachel explains it's the cut waste from just one factory.

In just the past five years Rachel estimates her company has diverted 35,000 pounds of fabrics that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill, or worse.

"A lot of dumped fabric and winds up in the ocean and there's a lot of off-gassing of these chemicals."

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America's hunger for fast-fashion, means many brands crank out 52 collections a year, adding strain on workers and added waste.

"The pressure really trickles down...They produce more quickly, they cut incorrectly and the factories are forced to order a lot of extra fabric."

Tonle believes that their business model of using cut waste fabrics they've also saved nearly 1 million pounds of carbon emissions and saves 24,000 pounds of pesticides from going into the ground.

At the shop, Anne Therese known as the "eco-warrior" for her sustainable fashion podcast is sifting through the racks of tops, vests and holds up a scarf. She calls Tonle "groundbreaking."

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"I think we used to think of sustainable fashion like a rucksack or something that a hippie would wear in the 70's. But everything has changed so much. You would never pick up a shirt and say this is scrap materials."

While Tonle is still small with just 50 employees, there are 500-thousand garment workers in Cambodia alone. Imagine if manufacturers there or throughout the rest of the world embraced Tonle's ideas and business practices? Rachel hopes to make an impact garment by garment, even if it's on a much smaller scale.

"I hope what we're doing with this zero-waste mission can inspire other people to think about their waste as not something that should be thrown away but can be made into something beautiful."

Tonle's flagship boutique is located at 55 Clement Street. They have a popup location in Union Square. You can learn more visit

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