In 2018, Erica Gadbsy and Deborah de Graaf won the Ceres Organic Good People Awards 2018 People's Choice category. This was for their work with their fashion label ReCreate, which produces boutique streetwear using premium certified organic fibres. Their label helps to transform the lives of those producing it, who are marginalised people in Cambodia. They receive full sewing training and fair employment. We spoke with Erica, who will be speaking at the 2019 Fairfield Conference over 8-9 March at AUT in Auckland.
Good: Can you tell us how ReCreate began and where the concept came from?
Erica Gadsby: ReCreate started after working alongside an NGO in the community of Dey Tmey, Cambodia over a number of years. The people of Dey Tmey were originally slum dwellers who lived in the capital city of Phnom Penh, but in 2007 they were evicted by the authorities into a new rural community. As it was far from former jobs and schools, the people quickly found themselves in desperate situations with little opportunity for employment or education. Limited income was found through prostitution, drugs, washing clothes and selling food. Children were kept home from school to collect rubbish, watch siblings, or in the worst cases sold for slave labour or to brothels. So the concept for ReCreate came from our desire to provide an opportunity for women to train and receive fair employment, which would give them skills and opportunities and empower them to protect and provide for their children.
What have you noticed about New Zealanders thoughts on sustainable and ethical fashion? Are we, as a country, starting to understand its importance?
We have found that, over the past five years, there has been such a huge shift in terms of understanding towards ethical fashion. In 2013, when we first set up our sewing centre in Cambodia, ethical production was not a hugely common concept for many people – ourselves included! We were able to look to fair trade trailblazers such as Trade Aid, but there were relatively few people in our industry who we could ask for advice. 2013 was also the year of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, and while this was an absolute tragedy with over 1000 lives lost, it has greatly humanised and increased awareness of the issues that garment workers face. Now, in 2019, New Zealanders are not only hugely aware, but also embrace ethical and sustainable products across many different industries. The number of fashion labels producing ethically has gone way up, and many mainstream boutiques are now stocking ethical and sustainable garments. New Zealand has always been a country that values people and the environment, so it’s great to see these values now extending so widely to include global production standards.
Has winning the People’s Choice section of the Good People Awards 2018 opened some doors for you? What new/different things have you been able to do since winning?
Winning the People’s Choice award was such a big encouragement, and the support of everyone who voted meant so much to our team. The $5000 prize also beautifully supported our decision to grow ReCreate which, as many small businesses will know, usually comes with a financial challenge! We were able to purchase a bulk amount of gorgeous organic fabric, knitted and dyed to our exact specifications, so we are now able to produce much larger quantities of clothing without the big challenge of sourcing consistent fabric each time. Following the award, we also took on three new students who are receiving full sewing training and are paid a salary as they learn. Three more lives in the process of being transformed! One of these students has learned and grown in confidence so quickly that she has been promoted into our production team beginning this month, and an existing team member has also been promoted into a new training role to support this growth. We are excited!
What will you be discussing at the Fairfield Conference? What are you most excited for from the event?
We’ll be talking about our journey with ReCreate from day one through to where we are today, and the issues and challenges that we’ve encountered along the way! Through storytelling, we’ll also share the amazing impact that buying ethically-made products has on the people who have made them – the beautiful men and women who work in our ReCreate sewing centre in Cambodia. We are so looking forward to spending time with a group of like-minded people and also hearing and learning from other amazing businesses that are making a difference.