A COUPLE'S organic clothing business aids poor Indian farmers, writes COLIN TAYLOR
Two profound experiences changed the lives of Woodend couple Marty and Natalie Dillon.
One was slow-dawning and built over time; the other unexpected and intensely personal. Both played a part in leading the Dillons (above) to head a small clothing company operating on ethical and fair trade principles, which has won state-wide, even national, acclaim.
What makes the couple's business, 3Fish, special is that while the garments are designed and marketed here, all the production is in India, benefitting poor cotton farmers, ginners, spinners and dye-house and factory workers.
3Fish garments are carbon-neutral, use soy-based inks, while the couple employ no child labour and recycle scraps and waste water.
Since its inception in 2008, the company has produced more than 100,000 fair trade and organic cotton products using organic dyes and inks and recycled packaging, saving an estimated 11 tonnes of toxic chemicals from being used.
3Fish makes women's wear, but also men's T-shirts, and works with other labels and corporates.
They sell their clothes online and through about 75 stockists around Australia. Marty and Natalie live in an old farmhouse on 32ha with their children, Zoe, 8, Jasper, 7, and Ethan, 5.
The pair were awakened to Third World poverty during backpacking travels before and after their marriage in 1997.
"Marty and I travelled extensively in the developing world through about 25 countries," Natalie says. "Much of this travel galvanised us into wanting to do more."
The second spur to action came with Ethan's premature birth - at 25 weeks and 739g.
"An extraordinary team of doctors, nurses and specialists stood with us over four and a half months in the neo-natal intensive care unit," Natalie says.
"After that experience, we know every life is a life worth fighting for."
The Dillons left behind 10-year corporate careers in Melbourne to research their dream of creating an ethical clothing company.
Marty travelled to India and Bangladesh and saw what a difference a fair trade approach could make to the lives of people, right along the supply chain.
"Meeting farmers in a remote village in the state of Maharashtra, in India - well known as the 'suicide belt' - was a very moving experience for me," he says.
"It's estimated that 200,000 conventional cotton farmers commit suicide every year in India due to spiralling debt associated with GM non-reseeding cotton seed and pesticides. There are a lot of single mothers. I learned fair trade organic cotton farming allows them to afford to send their children to school. Education is the only way those kids can escape the poverty cycle."
The Dillons won the small business categories last year in both the Victorian Premier's Sustainability Awards and the United Nations Association of Australia's Sustainability Leadership Award.
And why "3Fish"? It comes from a line in the Dr Seuss book, Hop on Pop - "3fish in a tree, how can that be?"
- 3Fish details: www.3fish.com.au or ph: (03) 5427 1175.