Closing our factory
During the COVID journey, we have tried to be open and visible with you, our customers and supporters, about the struggles and challenges that we have been working through as a small business trying to maintain our fair-trade ethos.
Having only just re-opened as part of some easing of lockdown restrictions, it is with an extremely heavy heart that we announce the closing of our fair trade factory in Dharamsala, India.
This has been the most difficult decision to make and we are asking for your help to minimise the negative impact on our Indian staff who we are so keen to treat as fairly as possible. Our e-commerce store www.eternalcreation.com will close on Sunday 5th July, and our factory will close once all orders are fulfilled.
Thank you for your support over the years, and particularly in recent months. Your partnership has made a huge difference to our team in India who have had stable incomes in jobs where they are valued and respected. We have had to make this difficult decision and we want to be visible about the process. We will try to summarise the main areas below.
What has happened to our orders over the last 3 months?
There has been a catastrophic decline in income and critically our largest orders for the remainder of the year have been cancelled. As outlined in our last update, our income is generated from three sources, all of which have dramatically reduced.
- Firstly, large orders from charities, corporations, and conferences (e.g. t-shirts, uniforms etc) has been a rapidly growing area of our business and has grown to be our primary revenue stream. However, COVID has had a massive detrimental impact; conferences have been cancelled and other customers are currently not in a position to proceed with planned orders due to uncertainties with their own financial situations.
- Secondly, retail and wholesale orders on our e-commerce stores, the largest of which is Eternal Creation, have been 75% less year to date than last year. Our wholesale customers are telling us the outlook is bleak and several have already cancelled their orders for the second half of 2020. Our just-in-time approach has facilitated our zero waste accomplishments and the ability to offer a huge range of styles and sizes, but requires constant regular orders to sustain the model.
- Thirdly, our work with small start-up sustainable fashion brands has been put on indefinite hold due to international travel restrictions. We have been keen to help as many brands as possible source in a fair trade and sustainable way, however this area of the business is labour intensive and requires in-person interaction in India, which is not possible with current travel restrictions.
How have the team been affected by the COVID situation?
India has experienced intensive lockdowns especially in our team's local region due to spikes in infection rate. Our employees were allowed to leave their homes for medical purposes only, and we were not able to ship anything for three months. Thankfully, all our staff have remained safe and healthy.
A range of staffing situations has arisen during the COVID crises which exponentially compound the different set of challenges of operating in India:
- Travel restrictions and family obligations due to the COVID crisis have meant we no longer have a local manager with the necessary skills, and unfortunately we see this situation continuing for the foreseeable future. The remoteness of the location has made it impossible to find a manager - interim or otherwise - and due to COVID suitable candidates from other areas of India are not able or willing to move within the next 12 months. We have spoken extensively with other factory owners around the country to see if a solution can be found, however it is a seemingly impossible situation.
- One third of our tailors are currently staying with extended family in other parts of India, and a another third are scheduled to return to their family homes in mid-July. At this time of global uncertainty desire to be in their home villages has grown, which we obviously fully support. These are some of our most experienced staff and there is an extremely limited local labour market for us to hire highly trained tailors.
- We have invested heavily in making sure the factory is nimble and responsive to produce for multiple brands. We require a westerner at the factory to ensure that quality control is maintained, as well as good communication for our brand partners. The incredible restrictions on international travel currently prevents this from happening.
A priority of ours is to minimise the impact on our Indian colleagues as much as possible and we are advocating on their behalf with potential new employers who share the values of fair trade.
We want to take this opportunity to recognise our small team based remotely in the UK and US who have not taken a salary for many months, and have continually shown an incredible commitment to both the Indian staff and to the vision of a world free from exploitation.
What can you do?
Please shop now on Eternal Creation.
We are offering discounts on Eternal Creation until the website closes on Sunday 5th July. Numbers are limited, so if there is something you like, please buy before we run out of that fabric.
The following discount codes are available right now - choose what you pay.
All proceeds go to our Indian team.
TWENTY = 20% off everything
THIRTYFIVE = 35% off everything
FIFTY = 50% off everything
Donations can also be made here
What next for the vision of a clothing sector free from exploitation?
No-one can guarantee what the world will look like in six months, but we do know that the problems of the clothing sector are not going to disappear. Pressure on garment supply chains will grow and existing inequalities will expand as businesses cut costs and governments grapple with tough economic situations. During the lockdown we have spoken with various non-profits - many of whom are better positioned to weather this current storm - and social enterprises who are committed to increasing impact and building the ethical clothing movement. Our belief in fair trade is greater than ever, and although the experience and skills we have gained in recent years puts us in a strong position to take future partnership opportunities towards this vision, our immediate concern is for our Indian colleagues and providing for them as best we can.
Thank you for your support,
Andy & Andy