Erica Bates started sewing at 6, opened her first clothing shop on the Gold Coast at 19, built an award-winning sportswear label and has come full circle back to her passion for sustainable fashion.
Her grandmother was a seamstress, so Erica was basically born with thread running through her veins, and it helped that her parents were supportive and instilled self-belief in her from a young age.
That self-belief and heartfelt sense of conviction has been clear throughout Erica’s life from fashion to farming, environmental activism to the arts.
“This is a life of action, not just good intentions”
That is the slogan on a clothing tag from Erica’s award-winning 1980s sportwear label, EB Sportz Australia.
When triathlon came to Australia in the 1980s Erica basically pioneered triathlon wear.
All the top triathletes wore EB Sportz, and the label won runner-up for active sportswear in the iconic RAQ (Retail Association of Queensland) Fashion Design Awards in 1983 and 1985.
Erica and husband Julian – who both grew up surfing – were involved in triathlon themselves for about a decade or so.
She recalls grassroots triathlons at Lake Moogerah through to when the Australian triathlon team made its Commonwealth Games ‘demonstration sport’ debut at Auckland in 1990.
Erica and Julian took over the family dairy farm in Numinbah Valley in about 2000
She had been visiting on weekends since her dad bought it when she was 5 but had no experience in running a dairy farm.
Erica quickly became an advocate through Women in Dairy, taking the social and economic impacts of deregulation to then Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk, and she was also voted in as President of South Coast Cooperative Dairy.
When it was deemed too risky financially to continue dairying, the family shifted to thoroughbreds in the Numinbah Valley and near Beaudesert.
“We were gutted to leave dairying – I loved my cows,” she said.
“Really, we went straight from fashion to farming, from having a really good business to a farm worker’s wage, but nothing we’ve ever done has been just about the money – we’re all heart.”
Beaudesert just feels like home to Erica.
Erica especially reconnected with Beaudesert in 2012 when she joined the push against coal seam gas and discovered Arts in the Olives and BADCAP (Beaudesert and District Community Art Project).
She and Julian moved into a beautiful home south of Beaudesert in March this year and she is now President of BADCAP. Her local connections date back to when her grandfather James Shepherd brought the first printing press to Beaudesert in 1904 and owned Shepherd’s Beaudesert Hotel, and her dad was born here in 1916.
Now, Erica and Julian are continuing their family’s story in the broader area through sons Shannon and Dylan, Dylan’s partner Jayde and grandchildren Ben, 17, Eveleigh, 3, and Maverick, 6 months.