You’d think it might be difficult finding new ethical fashion brands to feature on Lawfully Chic. The reality is that there’s no shortage of people doing amazing things both for the world and our wardrobes. Yet another brand that we want to to wax lyrical about is Eternal Creation, which works with Tibetan refugees and local Indians to produce fresh, vibrant fair trade fashion. The brand recently won the 2013 Source Award for Sustainable Childrenswear.
Let’s go back to 1994 when Australian designer and Eternal Creation founder Frances Carrington graduated from East Sydney Fashion Design Institute. She registered with Australian Volunteers Abroad, hoping to use her skills in a community in Africa. Instead she was sent to India and put in charge of the fledgling tailoring department of the Norbulingka Institute in Dharamsala, which just happened to be home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. Her job was to teach newly arrived Tibetan refugees the finer points of tailoring and design.
While Carrington was there, she fell in love with Indian and Tibetan culture, not to mention the fantastic landscape of the Himalayas. She became determined that at the end of her tenure she’d find a way to use her skills to continue to benefit the local community in some way. In 1999 she took out a $5,000 loan and started her company, aiming to produce quality women’s sleepwear and accessories.
In practice this wasn’t easy. The early days were difficult, and Frances started with only three tailors, in association with the Gu-Chu-Sum movement of Tibet, an ex-political prisoners’ organisation. But the small tailoring unit grew slowly, employing ex-prisoners and battling with fierce monsoons, water shortages and frequent blackouts, often simultaneously.
With the birth of her own two children, Frances found herself naturally gravitating towards designing clothes for kids. Sales of her initial collection quickly proved that others also wanted the classical, colourful look and immaculate tailoring for their children. As sales continued to grow, Frances was faced with a difficult decision – to outsource or to expand? Outsourcing would bring with it the ethical dilemma faced by many designers: how do you know your designs are being made under fair labour conditions and not subcontracted to other factories with poor conditions. So she decided to increase the capacity of her tailoring centre, providing more jobs for the local Tibetan and Indian communities, and guaranteeing Eternal Creation’s high quality standards were maintained.
In 2005, Eternal Creation opened the Fair Trade Himalaya Tailoring Centre in lower Dharamsala. It is now one of the area’s largest private employers, employing more than 70 staff – spanning Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian cultures and Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim faiths – and selling online and to over 100 stores worldwide. Impressive, inspiring and impactful, we hope you’ll agree.
Eternal Creation is a registered member of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand, while the Himalaya Tailoring Centre is a certified member of the Fair Trade Forum India (affiliated with the World Fair Trade Organisation). Click here for more information. A tour of Eternal Creation’s fair trade workshop can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cyd-R_H9f9A