Conscious crochet clothing with Sue Abeyrathne
By Mahika Panditha
Despite the heavy rains, I am looking for some unique clothing to wear by the beach. I came across Bad Tan Gals when they first started their brand, and now I am in love. Bad Tan Gals is a crochet clothing brand that operates on Instagram (@badtangals); they produce 100% hand-made crochet clothing, and also retail their limited collections with stockists such as The Design Collective and Frokme.com.
Last week, we had the chance to talk to one of the talented ladies behind the brand, Sue Abeyrathne. Sue is currently pursuing a career in law, as well as growing her brand.
“It is not an easy task, given that now we are slowly making a move from the two year rampant coronavirus; albeit it is not entirely eradicated, life seems to be getting back into some form of normality and it is time we adjust accordingly. We are all staying optimistic, even if the virus has strongly impacted our ability to grow as a brand. However, having more time has given us the opportunity to connect with our community, from our customers to our craftswomen on the island. It is important for us to provide work opportunities to the craftswomen when they are capable of working. This will not only pull them away from the crisis of the pandemic, but could encourage a system of empowerment and growth within their social setups, which has been our purpose from the start.”
Discussing what goals Sue had, she mentioned that she would want to ensure that Bad Tan Gals does not “lose its edge in being true to the story of its inception. While finding constant and new ways of being more sustainable and more ethical, which can be met as we expand our work. We hope to have Bad Tan Gals clothing to be available islandwide and across the world, in turn creating more jobs for our local artisans and craftswomen”. Before I give away too much, check out our interview with Sue!
How did Bad Tan Gals get started?
Last July, during the Covid-19 lockdown, mum was crocheting away to kill boredom and I saw the beautiful intricate patterns she dished out. So I asked her if she could make me something to wear and voilà! She made some beautiful tops that were absolutely stunning and quite frankly I was dumbfounded. So I asked her if it would not be possible to turn this into a business – a brand. Then, after much discussion and deliberation, we decided that it would be a wonderful venture – so we set out to find artisans to make up our team and then set up our shop digitally.
Tell us about the designs, where does the inspiration come from?
A lot of it comes from what my mum has learnt from grandma, because crochet is an intergenerational craft that has passed down from her lineage. So some of the designs were patterns that she knew already, but making them come to life the way we wanted was quite a difficult task. Most of the crochet clothing online is made with wool; knitted for colder climates as clothing that is used to keep warm. But there was a lot of inspiration once we kept digging that helped us get an idea as to how to execute new designs. I make initial sketches of my ideas then run it by mum to see if we can make them come to life by crocheting. Then whatever tweaks or adjustments necessary will be made to the sketches, thereafter she goes on to make samples and note down the process. From there on we make our way to the North Central Province, where we have 10 ladies currently working for us and we hold workshops to teach them the new patterns and designs.
How did you pick the name for the brand?
Bad Tan Gals is a double entendre. Reading it up front would suggest the kind of girls that would wear our clothing. As we started off our label with swim and resort wear, which is still considered slightly taboo attire for a woman to adorn – somewhat suggesting that it requires a bold girl – “bad”, if you will, and “tan” being the colour of our skin due to constant exposure to our tropical sun. The second meaning conveys a message that they are bad “tangles” – crocheting is a process of making clothing out of yarn, so tangles are a part and parcel of the process, which I think is a great play on words.
Talk to us about conscious consumption, and sustainable fashion. What are your thoughts
on the current status of the fashion industry?
Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year; this is, shockingly, more emissions than those of international flights and maritime shipping. Over 60% of textiles are used in the clothing industry and a large proportion of manufacturing occurs in China and India, countries which heavily rely on coal-fuelled power plants, increasing the footprint of each garment. Then there are the terrible work conditions in which people are exploited as labour to produce cheap garments for the sake of fast fashion, with trends running their course with lightning speed and today’s latest styles swiftly trumping yesterday’s. I feel that our consumption of these Janus-faced desires contribute to the further detriment to our planet and of humans. With increased carbon emissions and labour exploitations that are harmful to our people and the planet, we need to start associating sustainability with fashion, which our young generation typically do not associate together – although they are very open to environmentalism. So I strongly believe that it is up to us as the consumer to take an active role in our conscious consumption in order to help reduce any further contribution to an impending ecological disaster. This will drive big companies and other brands to start prioritising these issues and help cater to our needs in a way that is beneficial for all; our planet and people. Do keep in mind that small changes in our lifestyle can make a big difference!
What is the favourite piece that you have made thus far?
This is rather a difficult question to answer, since all our clothes are carefully designed and handmade to be unique pieces. However I will say that the Stone Set – a cute bandeau top and skirt – is by far the most adorable set we have made to date. We also have a beautiful sundress which takes around a month and a half of hand crocheting entirely from start to finish. These two would be my current favourites.
Where do you hope to take Bad Tan Gals in the future?
Our goal is to make our clothing more accessible by bridging the gap between those who want to help and those in need of help. We hope to create more work opportunities for women in impoverished areas all over the island, and not just limited to the North Central Province. We also take it to be our mission to educate people on ethical consumerism. Although it is difficult to find the perfect equilibrium in being sustainable and eco-friendly, we are constantly educating ourselves and trying to improve every aspect of our process as a sustainable brand. We are also in the process of finding ways to dye our materials using natural processes using plant extracts to create colours that are environmentally friendly.
PHOTOS © TAMARRA JAYASUNDERA, VERKA MAY