Bishopston Trading Company to close 'in ethical way'

June 04 2013

A renowned ethical clothing shop will be voluntarily closing down this month after 28 years in business.

A renowned ethical clothing shop will be voluntarily closing down this month after 28 years in business. Handloom weaver in KV Kuppam
Since its inception, the Bishopston Trading Company on Gloucester Road has created a profound link between the local community in Bristol and the village of K V Kuppam in South India.
The reason behind the shop’s closure is mainly due to “huge changes” which have taken place in the village. Carolyn Whitwell, the founder of the company, explains that “an entire generation has grown up” since the project started.
“All of our workers’ children have been educated and very few are now seeking jobs as tailors or embroiderers.”
She also explains how the fair trade company helped fund a scheme which enabled the weavers’ children to remain in school until they were 17 years old.
“Many of these children have now gone onto higher education. There are now not enough weavers in the area to keep up with the supplies we need.”
Carolyn’s interest in development education, combined with her involvement in Voluntary Service Overseas when she was young, inspired her to set up the link between Bishopston and Kuppam in 1978 with her friend Sally Whittingham. Carolyn explains how they chose Kuppam after approaching development charities for help finding a community to link with.
“Six years later, while discussing projects to fund in the village, one of the leaders wrote to us saying that it was not our money that they needed, but work. This inspired me to set up a trading link.”
Bishopston Trading Company began with a tailoring unit in Kuppam where seven tailors created the clothes out of locally woven fabric.
When the company became profitable in 1989, Carolyn turned the business into a workers’ co-operative, so it was owned by the people who worked for the business.
Twelve years ago the company invested around £130,000 to build an architect-designed factory for the workers. At its peak, there were around 200 people employed to work, creating a turnover for Bishopston Trading of more than £1 million.
Shops have also been based in Bradford-on-Avon, Glastonbury, Stroud, Malmesbury and Totnes, with products sold worldwide.
However, Carolyn says that it is not just the developments in Kuppam that have prompted her to close the Bishopston Trading Company.
“Britain’s economy has been slow for five years and this has changed the buying habits of our customers.
“Our customers worry about the environment and over-consumption. They’ve not deserted us, but are buying less.”
Carolyn added: “It was important for us that the business did not collapse, but that we closed down in an ethical and honourable way.
“We have all been very much cheered by the wonderful things people have said about us.”