In Gaelle’s words:
What inspires me: The love and support of my family. The sacrifices they have made to allow me to pursue this project.
Motto: Treat each person the way you would like to be treated. Be truthful, be kind, be respectful, work hard and laugh harder.
Gaelle Beech was on holiday in Bali when she met the women who would change her life. The two Balinese mothers were domestic workers, whom Gaelle’s father-in-law had sponsored to help them put their children through school.
Chatting to the women by a poolside resort, Gaelle couldn’t help but compare the lives of these women’s children with that of her own. Their kids were the same age, but the children born on this supposedly dream island faced much tougher futures than her kids in Australia.
Despite the differences, the three women bonded over a shared love of fashion. With the sun on their skin, the air heady with the scent of tropical flowers, and the sounds of holiday makers splashing in the pool, they let their imaginations soar as they dreamed of careers in fashion.
Such was their enthusiasm that the stuff of pipedreams suddenly became a possibility. Why not work together in fashion, Gaelle thought? She worked with Ralph Lauren home in Australia, and had worked with the luxury fashion brand Hermes in France and Germany – she had the fashion sales experience behind her. These women had the contacts here in Bali to create resort wear that would appeal to a western market. And selling clothes to a western market could seriously improve the Balinese women’s lives while bringing in extra money to Gaelle as well.
Beginnings of a fashion network
It wasn’t long before one of the women, Luh Ariadi, was aboard her scooter tearing across the island from village to village, forming the beginnings of a grassroots fashion network. She recruited a tailor from Dempasar, crochet makers from a remote village, a leather-maker from Ubud, sewers from Sukawati. Under Gaelle’s guidance the network crafted a small sample of resort wear that Gaelle would sell at markets in Fremantle, her Western Australian home.
Back on the streets of Fremantle, surrounded by colourful maxi dresses, kaftans, silk dresses and handwoven fabrics, Gaelle began to sell the wares. She was approached by a member of the Fair Trade Association who introduced Gaelle to the idea of Fair Trade products. “I started going to their meetings and met this small community of amazingly inspirational people,” Gaelle recalls. “I thought this is the kind of thing I want to do. And I realised it could become a whole lot more – we could take a business opportunity and turn it into something much stronger – with gender equality, fair wages and sustainably produced product.”
Sweat shop tragedy
Meanwhile, halfway across the world in Bangladesh, an eight-story concrete and glass building that housed at least five garment factories collapsed atop thousands of its workers. These workers, mostly young women, worked 14 hour days for between 12 and 24 cents an hour.
On the day of the collapse these women had rallied against their bosses, refusing to enter a building they deemed dangerously close to ruin. But after beatings and threats, they entered. Just 45 minutes after starting work, they heard an explosion and the building collapsed atop them. More than 1100 people died.
Watching the disaster from her TV screen back in Australia, a horrified Gaelle was reaffirmed in her resolve for change. Fashion did not need to be created in sweat shops. It didn’t need to be superficial and unethical. Fashion had the potential to empower, to create opportunity, to improve lives.
Fashion had the potential to empower, to create opportunity, to improve lives.
Resolve for change
Inspired by her newfound resolve, Gaelle took the leap and resigned from her job with Ralph Lauren to fully dedicate herself to ethically produced fashion. While fired up with dreams of making a difference, Gaelle realised the importance of overcoming the perception that Fair Trade means “recycled paper and bottletops”. She recognised the need for top quality standards for Fair Trade products to be taken seriously.
She opened a store in the Fremantle markets and filled it with top quality resort wear ethically crafted in Bali. After three months she opened the first Anjel Ms store in Fremantle. As demand grew she opened another store at the Fremantle Project, before eventually opening Anjel Ms boutique on Fremantle’s High Street, and then Goodies pop up gift store in Perth city.
With business flourishing in Western Australia, more people in Bali were recruited into the network and receiving well paid work. Lives were changing. Gaelle couldn’t have been happier.
As Anjel Ms grew, Gaelle realised the potential to help craftspeople in other poverty-stricken countries. She travelled to Nepal with a Nepalese friend and began recruiting a network of grassroots handcrafters. They enlisted tailors and sewers, whose names appear on the clothes they create. They bought accessories from the Prjoul Fair Trade project in Nepal. And they travelled to a remote community of Sherpas nestled in the mountains, to source shawls, vests and shoes crafted from fully sustainable nettle harvests.
While travelling, Gaelle heard of a Fair Trade fashion project in India and tacked on a side trip to witness the work of The Stitching Project.
“It was so inspiring to see all these veiled women from different castes all coming together to work,” Gaelle says. “I got so excited about it and was so in awe of that project that I left a week later with bags and bags of their stuff to sell.”
The project employs women who create fabric on traditional hand looms in one village. Then, in another area, women use traditional hand dying techniques to adorn the cloth. Back at The Stitching Project workshop a team of 80 women block print, hand stitch and machine sew to create quilts, clothing and more.
Gaelle’s daughter Maddy Beech, a visual arts student and Curtin University fashion graduate, and Anjel Ms intern Cordelia Gibbs, create the designs that are block printed onto fabric in India.
Today Gaelle is a partner in the project with 60 percent of Anjel Ms clothing made from The Stitching Project workers in India.
Caring fashion community
In the meantime, Gaelle had launched Fairly Fashionable – a design competition in which both professional and aspiring designers create fashion pieces with Fair Trade materials. For the first competition, Gaelle expected maybe two or three designers to compete. But 46 creatives took up the challenge. The next year 56 people entered. And the standard of entries left Gaelle reeling with excitement. “I really started seeing the potential of creating a network of people in fashion who cared, who wanted to change things,” she says.
“I really started seeing the potential of creating a network of people in fashion who cared, who wanted to change things.”
A community who cares
The strength of the network Gaelle had formed hit home after the Nepalese earthquake in 2015. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Anjel Ms team went for two weeks without word from their Nepalese partners. When they did hear, they discovered their workshop had been ruined. And everyone there knew someone who’d died.
Overcome with a desire to help their partners, Angel Ms staff in Bali and India volunteered to donate their wages to help their counterparts in Nepal. “To me that was really a symbol of how far we had come in creating a community who cares,” Gaelle says. “We’d created a community who wants to make a difference, not only for themselves but for others. When done right, fashion has the power to do that. Fashion can change lives.”
You can support Anjel Ms work by buying their ethically produced fashions. Shop online at www.anjelms.com visit their store on High Street, Fremantle, or the Goodies Shop in Perth City.