Erica Gadsby & Deborah de Graaf

The founders of clothing label ReCreate transform the lives of people in Cambodia.

Words Bianca Zander

ReCreate is a boutique streetwear fashion line designed in New Zealand and ethically made in Cambodia, empowering marginalised people to receive full sewing training, fair employment and hope for a better future. 

ReCreate was formed after Erica Gadsby spent several years volunteering alongside an NGO in the community of Dey Tmey, Cambodia. The people there had originally lived in the slums of the capital city of Phnom Penh but to make the city more appealing for tourists, they had been shunted out of sight to rural areas. Far from their former jobs and schools, and desperate for employment, the only sources of income were through prostitution, washing clothes, and selling drugs or food. 

Gadsby saw life in the community improve over time, however opportunities for women remained slim. Together with photographer Deborah de Graaf, also a young mother, the pair felt compelled to intervene. And so, in 2013, the ReCreate sewing centre was launched, with the purpose of providing a new skill and fair employment to marginalised women in Dey Tmey.

“We began with three students and a Cambodian sewing trainer, starting with the most basic skill of tracing and cutting out a pattern,” says Gadsby. “It was quickly apparent that all three women lacked in confidence, having only had a primary or limited secondary school education and rudimentary employment experience. In fact, for one student it was the first time she had held a pair of scissors.” At this point the pair realised the extent of the journey they were undertaking together, but persevered. “With a patient and caring sewing trainer and the support of our Cambodian NGO partner, the sewing centre slowly flourished and the first intake of students began learning a new skill in order to transform their lives.”

Since then the ReCreate sewing centre has trained new students each year, while maintaining a core of fully-trained garment makers. In addition, each student receives training in money management, Khmer reading and writing, English speaking and basic healthcare. Garment workers are fairly employed under excellent and empowering conditions, which include living wages; a 32-hour work week to ensure plenty of time for family and life outside of work; paid holiday leave including sick leave, maternity care and overtime pay; and the opportunity to care for younger children on site or support to send older children to school. As ReCreate continues to grow, preparations are underway to open a second sewing centre in the rural province of Svay Rieng, Cambodia. 

Not only is the clothing line ethical, versatile and highly wearable, all fabrics are sustainably sourced. Their 100 per cent cotton knits are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard and organic denims are produced using 100 per cent Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) fibres in a mill that recycles all water used in the water-intensive denim creation process. Says de Graaf, “We are passionate about proving that transformation in the fashion industry is not only possible but essential moving forward.”

To vote for Erica Gadsby and Deborah de Graaf, winners of the Fashion category, to be the People’s Choice winner, click here.

To learn more about Gadsby and de Graaf’s ReCreate journey, follow them at recreatestore.co.nz

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