Introducing Ethical Fashion Label: You and Mei

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Q&A with Tanika of ethical fashion brand you&mei

A couple of years ago, I took over as Editor of KidTown Melbourne and that's where I hang out most of the time now.  Having said that, there are times when my interests in the ethical / vintage / recycled fashion world collide with kid-related events in Melbourne. Vintage fashion or art exhibitions with a focus on encouraging children's attendance often mean I am wearing both by Recycled Fashion and KidTown Melbourne hats at once!

Last year I received an invitation to attend a media event featuring TV's well-known children's musical performers Hi-5.  For one reason or another, I got chatting to Tanika, one of the Hi-5 band members about fashion related things, and coincidently, she told me of a new project she'd been working on in the background; her new ethical fashion range. Tanika has since left Hi-5 to pursue her ethical fashion journey and low and behold you&mei has launched.

I'm excited to showcase you&mei to Recycled Fashion readers, because I'm sure you will enjoy learning more about this gorgeous collection of clothes crafted in Myanmar, and what a difference you can make by choosing to buy you&mei.  Read on.

Tanika - you&mei

Q. How difficult is it to set up an ethical clothing brand from scratch?

When I first started working on you&mei, I thought to myself- "why aren’t there more people starting businesses that have a positive impact on the world?" Two years later, I have realised, starting a business, particularly one like you&mei is one of the most challenging things you could ever do.

Turns out running a business that operates on the other side of the world with employees who don’t speak english isn’t as easy as you would have thought. Aside from all the challenges and the emotional toll it takes on you, starting an ethical business or a business that is working to change the world is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do.

Q. Why is ethical clothing important to you?

There are so many problems in this world that we live in and humanity as a whole can work together to change it but it will require a lot of progress before we are at the point where we can work together as one.

In my eyes, fashion is such an easy place to start when making a difference. It is important to me that we wear clothes that don’t have a drastic impact on our environment. Natural materials are a simple choice over synthetic material such as polyester and nylon.

Our girls work with old school foot peddle sewing machines using significantly less electricity as well as slowing down the fashion industry. We are fighting the destructive world of “fast fashion.” You&mei is proudly slow fashion. However, the main focus of you&mei is to alleviate young girls from poverty by providing them with an income, education and nutritional support and guidance. You&mei trains the girls up to be leaders within their own communities or even the world.

Change starts with the younger generation. The you&mei girls are extremely talented, intelligent, driven and inspiring, they just need an opportunity. You&mei makes their dreams, possibilities.

Q. How do you go about communicating with the members of your team in Myanmar?

I have a small team in Myanmar running the operations. Whenever I visit, I have a translator with me at all times. During my last visit in March, I visited the you&mei workshop without a translator for the first time due to the progress that the girls have made in their English lessons as well as my questionable Myannmar language. It’s a challenge and we are constantly working on improving our communications.

Q. How often do you travel to Myanmar?

I travel to Myanmar approximately 4 times per year and I always take someone with me who could be beneficial to the project. I am a creative so having a partner whilst I’m over there who has skills in systems and organisation is so helpful.

Q. Who designed your current / first range?

I designed the collection with the girls. I always make sure that the girls have a say in the deigns as you&mei is all about empowerment.

Q. Where are the materials sourced to make the you&mei range?

We have two ranges. One is made from 100% organic cotton dyed with natural vegetable dyes. This material is not only environmentally friendly but also people friendly! For those with sensitive skin- the clothes we wear can have a huge impact on our health as our skin is our biggest organ so choose chemical free! Our second range is made with 100% cotton sourced locally in Myanmar and handwoven by the locals to create the traditional Myanmar Longyi.

Q. Tell me about the name you&mei and what it means?

My middle name is Mei. The name you&mei is about togetherness or in other word you&mei. Together, we can make a difference.

Q. How many pieces of your 'limited edition' range are made?

Our first run was made up of 500 garments. Certain styles are more limited than others. For example, our Pink Longyi Dress had a total of 8 pieces in the first run as this material takes so long to hand weave and there aren’t many people in Myanmar who are able to make it.

Q. The colours of some of your pieces are quite vibrant, are these colours typical of traditional Myanmar wear?

The vibrant colours are a true reflection of Myanmar as a country- vibrant, bold and beautiful. The vibrant pieces are made out of the female “Longyi” which is a traditional skirt that Myanmar women wear in there daily lives.

Q. How often will you release a new 'range' or do you intend to release new pieces rather than entire collections?

At this point it will be a combination of both. We are hoping to release a range towards the end of the year and every year after that with the occasional piece added to the collection sporadically.

Q. The move from acting and presenting into fashion is quite different. Will you ever completely move away from TV? 

I love entertaining people. I will always continue to be a part of the entertainment industry because I think it’s a great way to reach more people and share your message to an audience of a much larger scale. Presenting and performing gave me a voice to start you&mei and for that, I am grateful.

Q. How does you&mei help the girls who work on the brand in Myanmar?

You&mei is an ethical clothing label working to alleviate young girls from poverty in Myanmar by providing them with an income, education and nutritional support and guidance. We aren’t training the girls up to be great employees. We are training them up to be leaders and change makers so that they too can make their mark one day.

The girls get excited knowing that when a new group of girls come in, they will have the responsibility of training them up and sharing all the valuable lessons that they have learnt from their own journeys. Change starts with the younger generation which is why you&mei is different. We are empowering young women who have the potential to be great leaders one day.

My top picks from the you&mei range

Now you know a little more about the you&mei range, here are my top picks from Tanika's beautiful ethical fashion label:
The “Longyi” Traditional Dress LIMITED EDITION

Isn't the above dress so gorgeously vibrant?  A favourite of mine for sure.  I could imagine wearing this dress to brighten the cool months of a Melbourne winter, matched with long knee length boots and a jacket.  In the summer, a simple pair of sandals and you've got a perfect beach dress.

KIDs Longyi Overall (Unisex)
Cute with a capital C!  How adorable are these unisex dungarees?  And priced at a very reasonable $39.95, too.

JUMPSUIT in Traditional Myanmar Longyi pattern

You wouldn't know straight away, that the above one-piece is actually a one-piece!  I've long been a fan of dusty pink and greys together (I am an 80s child after all!), so I'm particularly drawn to this gorgeous jumpsuit.

Now it's your turn.  Jump over to you&mei's website take a look at the collection.  I'd love to hear what jumps out as your favourite ethical fashion piece.



Side note: this is by no means a sponsored post of any kind.  I merely wanted to showcase Tanika's work on her label you&mei and the great work this label is doing to improve the lives of a community of young women in Myanmar.  

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