Two young English women, earnestly involved with the upliftment of downtrodden Indian sex workers, together creating a clothing brand that caters to a global audience – talk about the world being a small place! Nisha Jhangiani speaks to the founders of Beulah London, a brand whose debut collection is already flying the flag of ethical glamour high....
Natasha Rufus Isaac’s connection to India started before she was born; her great-great grandfather was the country’s viceroy in 1921. Lavinia Brennan’s attachment started on a career defining trip to New Delhi in 2009. Art degrees, PR and auctioneering experiences fused seamlessly with a drive to better society. Beulah London is a merger of all these threads – a brand whose philosophy lauds fashion with a heart and whose sensibility veers towards graceful pieces in flattering cuts and electric hues – sweeping lengths, plunging necklines with billowing sleeves – a sophisticated, yet moral take on contemporary style.
Natasha, have you visited India before as a child?
I had been once before on my gap year, and loved it. We travelled around Rajasthan and stayed in the palace in Jodhpur. In May, the temperatures rose so high, I ended up coming home early!
Why did you both decide to spend a couple of months in the slum areas of New Delhi? Not really a popular choice for two young women from another continent!
Lavinia: I think the idea first came about when we were on a skiing trip together and Natasha mentioned to me that she was going to India and asked if I wanted to join her. One of Natasha’s good friends from Church had been out to Delhi and worked at the same aftercare home (Atulya) that we decided to visit. Whilst we were out there we saw that there was great power in empowering these women and providing them with an alternative, sustainable livelihood, and so Beulah London was born.
How did the first collection come about - thought process, inspiration, choice of colours and fabrics? What kind of woman are you designing for?
With our first collection we wanted to create elegant, timeless pieces that go beyond seasonal trends. Silk was the natural choice as we wanted luxurious items that were high quality. There are twelve looks in total; ten dresses and then a shirt and a pair of shorts.
The vibrant colours are inspired by the energy of India. It was incredible; the women in India dress so beautifully, even in the slums the women would wear bright pinks, blues, greens...
The type of woman we have designed for is the glamorous lady with a conscience. Someone who wants to feel elegant in what she wears, but also wants to make a difference in the world. We have designed our pieces so that they are easy to throw on yet instantly make you feel beautiful inside and out.
Could you explain the significance of the butterfly motif in your collection?
The butterfly print is symbolic of the philosophy behind the brand, which is to provide an alternative, sustainable livelihood to these women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. It is the idea of moving into a new life of freedom and restoration. This is also what ‘Beulah’ means - coming out of a place of darkness into freedom and light. Our vision for the brand is to involve the girls more in the whole production process but sadly currently they are not at that skill level so they are making up canvas bags that are given freely alongside every purchase, or sold separately for £10 (£1 per sale goes to Stop the Traffik – www.stopthetraffik.org). Our production is all done in India in an ethical factory in Delhi.
What are your price points like and where all do you retail from at the moment? Do you custom make pieces as well or just collection pieces?
Our retail prices ranges from £160-£680. Currently we are stocked in two boutiques in London; Katie&Jo (New King’s Road) and Question Air (Wimbledon Village). We also sell privately through our showroom which is based in Fulham.
We mainly sell our ready-to-wear collection but we can make bespoke pieces too. These would however usually be based on one of the designs from our collection with a variation in colour or slight alterations.
Both Sarah Jessica Parker and Demi Moore have praised your collection. Who else could we expect to see in a Beulah original?
Sarah Jessica Parker saw our dresses at Paris Fashion Week and said she would love to support the brand and the cause. We have sent her a Beulah dress as she was particularly interested in one (Tigris dress - red dress with triangle cut out back).
We met Demi More at the United Nations event in Luxor where we were given a special commendation by the UN for our efforts, as a business, to combat human trafficking. She took our look book and said she’d love to support us. We have only just sent her a letter to get in touch again so fingers crossed she will be wearing a Beulah dress soon.
Cat Deeley and Princess Eugenie have worn a Beulah dress and Sienna Miller has requested for one.
Tell me more about your set-up in Kolkata.
We are working alongside a project called ‘Freeset’ (www.freesetglobal.com), which is based in Kolkata just outside the city’s biggest red light district, Sonagachi. They employ 170 sex workers and it is here that they can start new lives, regain dignity in their communities and begin a journey towards healing and wholeness.
All profits from Freeset benefit the women (salary, health insurance and retirement plan) and are used to grow the business. This means that more women can be employed and experience freedom.
So far we have ordered around 600 bags from Freeset, based on a prototype of our sample. We sell these bags at £10 with £1 per sale going to a UK charity called Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org).
The bags have been very popular. We would love to branch out into other accessories such as T-shirts to involve the girls more. The vision is to one day have the girls involved in the entire range of production. Once we start generating profits we want to put some of this back into training schemes for the girls.
Any Indian designers you have heard of and like? Who are your favorite designers in general and which are your most recommended stores to visit in London?
We have seen some pieces by Manish Arora; his vibrant hues and prints are fantastic.
We both love Chloe with her simple yet stunning silhouettes.
Diane Von Furstenberg is fun with her colourful prints. Ozzie Clark is an all time love of ours. We adore the billowing sleeves and flattering cuts. Halston is another brand that we love – their pieces are so easy to wear and look so elegant. Our most recommended stores would be Liberty, Harvey Nichols, Fenwicks and Katie&Jo.
Do you see this kind of ‘ethical fashion’ movement growing more popular in today’s times because of an evolved sense of conscience and more awareness? What’s your message to young, budding Indian designers.
There is definitely a movement growing in today’s times however I think currently it is more toward environmental concern rather than humanitarian, although it is definitely starting to become a topic of debate.
Our message to any young Indian designer is to encourage them to take a similar step as ours. It is so important to be the change and to make a difference in the world. If more designers started to take note of how their garments were being produced and by whom, it would be the start of a new wave of ethical fashion. We believe it is so important to work together in this and to support one another - it is a difficult process and we can only get there one step at a time but we need to make that first commitment and say yes to ‘fashion with a conscience’.
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