Inspired by her volunteer placement in North India, where she taught sewing to Tibetan refugees, Australian designer Frances Carrington founded her label ‘Eternal Creation’ to support Himalayan communities.
We spoke with Carrington about her fair trade certified label and what she does differently to other designer labels out there.
A little about Frances Carrington:
My parents are English, but I was born in Australia and raised on a sheep farm in NSW. After school, I travelled and then studied fashion design at East Sydney. Originally I funded the business with a $5000 loan from my father and a lot of hard work.
What makes your label different?
I started with very little and the business grew very slowly, employing more people as we got more orders. From the beginning, my purpose was to improve people’s lives, not to find a quick way to make money, so it has really evolved around the people that I work with. We try to take everybody’s needs into consideration, including my own, so although we make clothes, the business is really all about people.
To you, success was not based on profits. What was it based on?
By how many people I was able to train and give employment to, and seeing how it has benefited them. It is as simple as seeing them afford a new scooter, or sending their children to a better school. One of my employees was a battered wife.
By working for us, it gave her the financial independence to leave her husband and start a new life. Another had polio as a boy, and had a terrible life, being unable to find a proper job with his disfigurement. With our help he now has a prosthetic leg, and is able to work a normal job. He is now married to one of my tailors and has two sons.
Making a positive difference to people’s lives is how I determine success.
What strategies did you put in place to reach those criteria?
I have trained all the people that work for us at our tailoring centre in Dharamsala, and have been working with most of them for many years. Over this time, I have worked hard to instill in them the values we want in our workplace.
We promote equal treatment for everyone; no sexual or racial discrimination; and we encourage friendships between different groups/religions through sports days, trekking, annual picnics and many other events. They have built the workshop as much as I have, so its success has been as important to them as to me.
Keeping staff informed and empowered at every level, is I think, terribly important, not only for the short term, but for the long term viability of a business. Without good people you have nothing.
How did you ensure those criteria evolve with the business but remain core values?
We have regular meetings, including a ‘tailor of the month’ and ‘staff person of the month’ each month. We also have staff and tailor of the year and most improved staff and tailor. This encourages people not only to work hard, but to work well, as they are selected on their attitude to work and their interaction with their fellow employees. For example if they are extremely helpful and thoughtful towards others.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced starting?
Lack of money and the extreme weather in the Himalayas! For me personally, one of the biggest challenges has been my aversion to technology. I’m a very ‘hands-on’ person, and love to work with people in the same room!
During the time I have had my business, everything has gone digital, and there is so much to do online, especially in the field of online marketing. It seems to be almost impossible to keep up with, and there’s never ever enough hours in the day.
What does your growth strategy look like? Where do you hope the business will be in 3-5 years time?
The last 12 months has been difficult, with many childrenswear stores closing their doors due to the grim economy. There’s also been a huge shift to online sales, so we have had to re-focus a lot of our energy into selling online (previously most of our business was from wholesale customers).
We have just launched our new website, so the next few years we hope to increase our web sales, as well as expand sales in the US and Europe. We sell to a number of stores in both, and would like to increase the online sales there as well. In regards to our tailoring centre in Dharamsala, we want it to keep growing, so we can continue to train and employ more local people.
What is the one piece of advice you would offer?
Definitely do a short (or long!) course in book keeping! Something I never did, and I learned the hard way. Even if you have a good book keeper, you still need to be able to understand the reports, plan and make budgets. A crash course in marketing would be good too! Other than that, if you have a dream, go for it. It’s so important to do what you love. Life’s too short to do otherwise.
What’s next for Eternal Creation?
We’re planning to expand our womenswear collection, including a collection for larger, curvy ladies!