You&Mei Label: Fashion that gives back
Two years ago I was lucky enough to procure a month’s leave before starting a new job; the perfect opportunity to take off and explore a new part of the world. I decided on Asia and spent a month travelling Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand. Of all the places I have visited, not only on this trip, but in my life Myanmar left a lasting impact.
Myanmar is still relatively untouched by tourism so foreigners are greeted with interest, particularly in the smaller towns and villages. Always keen to have a chat with you, I spoke to many locals whilst I was there and I was struck by the high levels of poverty and clearly still very traditional roles of men and women, particularly in the poorer areas of the country. In Myanmar many people still strongly believe that women are responsible for domestic chores and that their education is not important.
So, when I heard about you&mei label, an ethical clothing label working to upskill and alleviate young girls from poverty in Myanmar, I knew I had to find out more. Here we interview you&mei founder, 23 year old actress Tanika Mei Anderson, to get her take on the fast fashion industry, as well as discover what’s next for You & Mei.
What was the inspiration for You & Mei label?
My entire life has been dedicated to performing and entertaining people. I spent the last four years of my life as a presenter for the children's group Hi-5 filming television and touring the world doing what I love. I always knew that there was something missing from my life and it wasn't till I toured to Myanmar with a charity organisation in 2015 that I realised what it was. I needed to give back.
I met a little girl who was living in the dirt underneath someone's thatch house. In the corner of the dirt was an old school foot peddle sewing machine. She was learning to sew garments so she could sell a few at the market on weekends to earn a couple of dollars to provide for her entire family that week.
I bought a top from her and upon my return to Australia, people would comment on how much they loved it. It was then that I thought to myself, why not put a face to fashion and change the lives of these young girls in Myanmar; and so, you&mei was born. you&mei is an ethical clothing label working to alleviate young girls from poverty in Myanmar by providing a steady income, education and nutritional support and guidance. We aren't just training them up to be great employees; we’re training the girls to be leaders and change makers so that they too can make their mark one day.
What does the future look like for You & Mei Label?
There are so many problems in this world and we are a long way from solving them but I believe fashion is a very easy place to start. A simple choice between buying a garment that contributes to the mass destruction caused by the fast fashion industry or to choose slow fashion and be a part of making the world a better place.
Our goal is to train the initial you&mei girls up to be self-sufficient and capable of running the business on their own. We plan to replicate the programme within different areas of Myanmar and other developing countries around the globe. Being a part of Hi-5 afforded me the opportunity to travel the world and meet communities that we could work with one day. I believe there is no end to how far you&mei can go.
Each girl that enters the programme has the capability of leading their own workshops one day. At You & Mei we are all about empowerment and opportunity.
What is your take on the fast fashion industry?
I think it is a sad thing that in today's world, we have no idea who made our clothes. The clothes we wear say so much about who we are and what we stand for. I think it's important that we are connected to the person that created the piece of art that you are wearing. At you&mei we like to say- wouldn't you prefer to wear 1 of 1 rather than 1 in 4 million?
There is also the environmental destruction caused by the fast fashion industry. The amount of waste that comes from synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, as well as the chemicals and the pollution put out into the air we breathe from these factories churning out clothing like french fries. We should be investing in quality pieces that tell a story rather than buying clothing like it's disposable.
If you could say one thing to all the CEO's of fast fashion retail brands what would it be?
Every employee, every person that goes into creating the products that you sell on the shelves is a human being. They have feelings, they have families and they deserve to be treated with respect and compassion as every single person on this earth deserves. At you&mei, we know the name of every person involved, from our seamstresses to our weavers, to our suppliers.
Many thanks to Tanika for taking the time to answer these questions for Flor & Cesta, we look forward to seeing how this project progresses.
Find out more and shop you&mei.