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Conscious Clothing & Sustainable Textiles in Vietnam

Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion Vietnam

Conscious Clothing – Sustainable Textiles – Grow Local – Wear Global

Thao Vu, winner of the British Fashion Councils Young Creative Entrepeneur Award is the aspirational visionary designer behind the contemporary conscious clothing brand Kilomet 109.

Established in 2012, Kilomet 109 specialises in seamlessly merging simple yet sophisticated european silhouettes, traditional ethnic details and endangered natural dyeing techniques to create her own sustainable textiles range. The range is practically grown from seed to seam as Thao also owns organic cotton, indigo and hemp plantations employing Nung minority women to weave the natural fibers into her latest collections.

An Inconvenient Truth About Fashion

Unfortunately the fashion and textiles industry is reportedly the 2nd largest industrial contributor to global pollution. In some of the worlds most exploited and disadvantaged countries, locals living in proximity to factories producing fabrics for both mainstream and luxury fashion brands, have had their domestic waterways flooded with toxic chemicals from dyeing.

The industry has a long, complicated and purposely ignorant manufacturing process. Most corporate companies prioritise cutting costs to maximise profits resulting in a fiercely competitive and disfranchised production line. The ‘official’ auditing process often only scratches the surface of the supply chain, providing a scape goat for PR representatives to claim they never knew about the grossly exploited natural and human resources it took to make the $1.99 t-shirt. 

Campaign’s like Greenpeace’s The Detox Catwalk have managed to publicly coerce some of fashions biggest brands to initiate production policies that are transparent, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable. Progress being made, but it is slow. That’s where smaller brands and independent designers like Kilomet 109 can make a difference.

kilmomet 109 natural eco indigo plant dyeing in fashion

Sample of home-grown indigo leaves sourced from Thaos plantations in Cao Bang Province, North Vietnam.

kilmomet 109 natural eco dyeing in fashion design studio

Thao Vu works away in the thick of her eclectic assemblage at her attic studio in Tay Ho

Sustainable Studio

Stationed in an inviting attic space over looking a plaid of corrugated rooftops in Tay Ho, Thao’s design studio could easily be mistaken for a research room at the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, and justifiably so. An avid collector and self-confessed culture lover, Thao’s design inspiration obviously comes from her personal cornucopia of cultural costumes, indigenous artifacts, traditional textiles and a extensive library of books on ethnographic dress. (I am jealous).

Amongst the confluence of her multifarious collection, I saw a basket of natural articles strewn across the floor. Some of the items (like cotton pods) I recognised, but others were indeed alien to me. My curiosity paid off dividends when Thao divulged some of long-lost local knowledge each of the natural treasures had to offer.  

Working in collaboration with ethnic minority Nung women, Thao grows and produces her own natural dyes, fibers and detergents then weaves her own fabrics entirely for the production of Kilomet 109‘s fashion collections. (I am beyond impressed).

Watch the video below to see Thao explain the special qualities of the raw natural resources used in her sustainable fashion brand. 

Farming Fibres and Processing Pigments

Planning a sustainable slow fashion line takes months of preparation to co-ordinate. Natural dyes, fibers and resources are slaves to seasons and can only be harvested are certain times of the year.

  • La Cam – Pink and red flower – Grows all year round.
  • Cu Nau – Bush Root that makes orange, brown and skin tones –  Harvested April – October every 1 1/2 years.
  • Cham – Indigo ranges from deep navy to shades of sky blue – Leaves are harvested every June- July before the flowers bloom.
  • Lanh – Hemp – Stems are harvested from July – Oct
  • Bông – Organic cotton – Pods are harvested from June- July
  • Bồ Kết – Silk detergent – Pods are cropped from Oct to Dec
  • Bồ Hòn – Cotton detergent – Nuts are Cropped from Oct to Dec

kilmomet 109 natural eco dyeing in fashioncu nau root

Red La Cam flowers are boiled and squeezed for up to 2hrs to extract the dye.

La Cam Tim La Com Do

Purple La Cam flowers make lilac tones.

kilmomet 109 natural eco dyeing in fashion nung women cao bang

Nung women in Cao Bang Dyeing fabric using La Cam flower extract. The depth of the colours depends of the amount of time fabrics are submerged in the solution.

Conscious Clothing Collection Kilomet 109, 2015

Kilomet 109 presents collections twice per year, exhibiting timeless garments designed to transcend both seasons and conventional fashion trends. Using a combination of traditional Vietnamese natural dyeing, beeswax printing, hand quilting and embroidery, Thao successfully strives to “reimagine the boundaries between cultural preservation and reinvention.”

Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion vietnam haute culture jacket Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion vietnam haute culture detail Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion vietnam haute culture trousers Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion vietnam haute culture Kilomet 109 natural dyeing eco fashion vietnam haute culture coat
Kilomet 109 SEEDS Collection is available to order.

In my opinion Thao Vu is a exemplary forerunner not only in the Vietnamese fashion scene but to all designers considering launching a new fashion brand. Her undying commitment to social, environmental and sustainable practice for the production of guilt free fashion is worth every single penny. Her diligent passion for preserving and promoting her heritage combine with contemporary cuts is the future of fashion I want to see more of.

Kilomet 109’s forthcoming collection and website is due to launch in February 2016.

What are your favorite natural dyeing techniques? Can you recommend any other inspirational eco fashion brands that Haute Culture readers should know about? Comment in the box below to share your knowledge and promote eco and sustainable fashion.

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  • JC Smith
    September 16, 2016 at 3:38 am

    Great article!

    • Donna
      February 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you

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