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Hannah Neumann & TELAstory

Since our Women’s History Month series began with the garment industry roots of IWD, our first fashion icon is Hannah Neumann and her Philippines-based “worker-led community of designers, artisans, and seamstresses,” TELAstory Collective

TELAstory Collective’s genesis reaches back to 2011, when Hannah Neumann first launched her sustainability-focused lifestyle blog. In it, she shared with readers tips for making empowered and responsible choices when it came to embodying the role of consumer. As her following grew, so did the scope of who was paying her attention – pretty soon, she became a founding member of what is now a full-fledged career for individuals, and marketing strategy for brands – the role of sustainability influencer.

 

TELAstory founder stitching at a table(photo from https://www.telastorycollective.com)

 

Without getting too far down the rabbit hole (for now), the “growth model” of capitalism is an insidious beast, and is directly at odds with preserving our planet, minimizing waste, and protecting workers – all efforts claims of “sustainability” promise to fulfill. And yet, misinformation is rampant in the world of “green fashion,” with brands relying on influencers to relay their supposed ethical practices and sustainable models, despite a widespread lack of transparency and actual figures regarding said values (1).

There is so much already written about greenwashing and the connections between fashion and climate (check out basically all of Grist as a starting point) – and seeing as With Love Lenny is a brand that uses exclusively upcycled materials, we will be diving into these issues in blog posts to come. We mention this briefly here to say that when Neummann stepped away from her role as influencer – and the discord therein – she took her vision to a whole new level. 

Neumann moved to the Philippines, and in 2019, TELAstory was born. On episode one of her podcast Tela Talk – which she hosts with another fashion icon, Rio Estuar, founder of RIOtaso (who we will be highlighting soon, come back!) – Neumann shares how she “gathered a bunch of really awesome women around me, who have a lot of experience in the garment industry here in the Philippines, and we created a full-service design and manufacturing studio where we can make garments start to finish, from the design to final production.” While Neumann feels that she stumbled into this role somewhat accidentally, she expresses a deep gratitude to the women around her, from whom she continues to learn (2).

 

TELAtalk youtube channel photo

(image from Tela Talk youtube channel)

 

The garment space is an area that “has so many issues… specifically towards women,” says Neumannn. “Women are so mistreated in the fashion industry,” and through its various iterations, TELAstory is working to right some of those wrongs. Beginning as a brand, and now having blossomed into an ever-evolving collective, TELAstory has put inclusive and equitable values into practice. It is headed by the workers themselves, ensuring that jobs are well-paid and safe, and is expanding its reach as a collective, working with “more makers and artisans all over the Philippines.” The goal is to “help them gain access to a better market for their products,” ensuring fair prices for both labor and commodities. 


“We’re also a collective because we wanted to create a brand where there is equality across the board,” says Neumann. All “core team members” share ownership of the company, and decisions about everything from pricing and salaries to what projects they will or won’t take on are made through collective bargaining. “Everybody has a voice, everybody gets a say. No one voice is more powerful than any other.”

 

(photo from https://www.telastorycollective.com)

 

There is so. much. more to say about TELAstory, but hopefully we’ve piqued your interest enough that you’ll continue to investigate on your own. When it comes to empowering workers, ensuring responsible production practices, and creating a holistic, equitable workplace environment, we think TELAstory Collective is showing us what true sustainability in fashion looks like.

 

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1.  Whitney Bauck, Grist. https://grist.org/guides/how-to-dress-for-the-planet-sustainable-fashion/the-great-conundrum-of-the-sustainability-influencer/

2. Tela Talk Episode One: Meet Your Hosts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WScGbL3jUAY 

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