Meet Erica Gadsby and Deborah de Graaf, the co-founders behind the epic clothing brand, ReCreate.
Erica and Deborah are two young mothers who “wanted to do something that would provide opportunity and employment for women, so the clothing brand was simply the best way to sustainably do this on an ongoing basis.” They originally started ReCreate with an emphasis on empowering the women in the Dey Tmey community of Cambodia, but have moved on to fitting men into this equation as well.
What made you start ReCreate?
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. So ReCreate came from wanting 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 has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since beginning?
Our biggest challenge is definitely producing our clothing in a foreign, developing country. We long ago realised that when we’ve got a certain production schedule or plan in mind it will almost never go according to plan – and most of the time we can’t really explain why! So this has really taught us to relax and embrace the cultural differences.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of ReCreate, who made your clothes? Can you tell us a bit about them?
We absolutely love our sewing team in Cambodia! Although we originally started with a focus to empower women, we now employ a small team of both men and women who are from the Dey Tmey community. We still have our very first student from day one, who is now our sewing trainer. Her husband also came to work with us in sewing and machine repair, so it really is a very close, family oriented team! New students join the team every year and it’s so lovely to see existing team members support and encourage one another in learning a new skill.
Why did you pick the fabrics or materials that you have chosen to work with?
From day one it was an easy decision for us to use only organic fibres. Our focus at ReCreate is to respect people and the environment so we believe that using ethical and organic fabric is an essential way to achieve this. We’ve also recently developed our own line of signature organic fabrics, which was an easy choice as it’s so soft and luxurious—you just want to wear it all the time!
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Just do it”. Probably the best brand slogan of all time, but also the best piece of advice. It summarises living life to the fullest, chasing your dreams and working hard to meet your goals in three beautiful, concise little words.
Why was it important to you to make your brand ethical?
As young mothers, we know that being able to provide and care for your children is the desire of all parents, so we were compelled to help other women achieve their potential by providing them with a way in which to do so. So you could say the ethics came before the brand! We firstly wanted to do something that would provide opportunity and employment for women, so the clothing brand was simply the best way to sustainably do this on an ongoing basis.
What is something others wouldn’t know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
That with every decision there will be a faster, cheaper, easier way to do it, so you’d better be pretty sure on why being an ethical business matters to you.
One tip you’d give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Get the right people around you to support and encourage you, and who will help you do things better than you can on your own.
Where do you envision ReCreate in the future?
As New Zealand’s leading ethical boutique streetwear label! Along the way we want to raise the profile and awareness of ethical fashion, and why it’s important too. We want to provide consumers with ethical and sustainable choices in every city and town throughout Aotearoa. On the Cambodia side, we want to keep developing our sewing centre in Dey Tmey and our development projects within the community. The more we grow, the more lives we can impact in a positive way.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
A mindset of gratitude is one of the most important factors – not just for ReCreate but also for life! Remaining thankful for all that we have (even the tough stuff) is such a good way to remain focused on what is good in a society that is pretty open to comparison and complaining. We are blessed with so much opportunity, it just seems right to share it around.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
The morning routine is slightly dictated by tiny people currently! However there are definitely some essential elements for a great day ahead. A nicely ordered to-do list really cuts down on the middle-of-the-night mind jolts and starts the day off with a clear picture of what needs to be done. Start with the most important jobs first and the rest falls beautifully into place (in theory!).
One book everyone should read? Why?
So many great books to choose from but Made To Stick by the Heath brothers is such a goodie. It’s about how to make ideas ‘stick’, or basically, how to be memorable! Plus, you’ve got to love a book packed full of interesting tales.
One documentary everyone should watch? Why?
The True Cost is the definitive documentary for anyone interested in ethical fashion, whether you know a little or a lot. From our experience in travelling and working in the industry it really tells a very true story of what the fashion industry currently looks like.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
We just love people who are living outside of the norm and doing things a little differently! Mel Chan, our partner NGO director in Cambodia who works every day with marginalised people in slum communities; Ethically Kate, making it work in the world of sustainable living; and Elisha Watson of Nisa, packing in lawyer life to make ethical knickers with former refugees in Wellington.
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