The founders of ethical womenswear brand Beulah, Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan, talk to Drapers about building their brand and launching their new, Chelsea store.
Beulah began life in 2010, when friends Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan travelled to India together to volunteer at charity helping to transform the lives of vulnerable women who had been trafficked into the sex trade against their will. Inspired by what they saw, Beulah was born, a luxury womenswear brand which donates 10% of all profits towards helping women in vulnerable situations across the world. The fabrics used by the brand are created by women helped by the Beulah Trust.
With a feminine, elegant signature, dresses from the brand are priced from £295 to £695, focusing on high-quality designs and ethical manufacturing principles. As the brand opens its first store in Belgravia, Drapers speaks to the co-founders to find out more.
What’s your background? What were you doing before Beulah?
Natasha: I worked at Sotheby’s art auction house, and then for a church and charity in South West London. It was there where I heard about human trafficking and issue of modern day slavery.
Lavinia: Beulah was my first job after university. I was at Durham, where I studied history of art and theology. The past eight years have been a crash course for me in all things business and fashion.
How did you come to set up the brand? What inspired you to get started?
Both: We heard a talk about human trafficking through our church in London and were both incredibly moved – we couldn’t believe that modern slavery existed in the 21st century, let alone the magnitude of it.
A few months later we had an opportunity to go and work in India, in an aftercare home women who had been rescued from the sex trade, teaching them sewing skills that they could use to create products and generate an income for themselves. It was here that we witnessed the devastating reality of modern-day slavery, and cycle of re-exploitation if women are left without positive opportunities.
Charity alone seldom yields economic independence, and we felt compelled to strive for real, positive change. So Beulah was founded to empower vulnerable women through the provision of employment and strengthening of ancient craft techniques to help break the cycle of poverty, without compromising on quality or design.
What does the name mean?
LB: Beulah literally means “married” but it also symbolises freedom and restoration. We wanted a name that represented the mission of the brand.
How would you describe the ethos of the brand?
LB: We exist to empower independence and beauty in the women who make and wear our clothes.
You help support vulnerable women with your business – how do you do this?
LB: Each collection is inspired by the women who create the fabrics, their heritage and the traditional skills of their ethnicities and regions. They feature traditional techniques hand crafted by the women, such as screen printing and embroidery. The raw materials are then shipped to the UK where they are manufactured in ethical factories locally here in London.
NRI: In addition to this, we donate 10% of profits from our sales to the Beulah Trust, which in turn invests in the lives of the most marginalised women in the communities where we work.
What have been some of the highlights since you launched?
LB: Our trips out to India to visit the projects, growing the team, launching our flagship on Elizabeth Street, ambassadors wearing our pieces, being awarded a commendation by the UN as a business in dedication to combatting trafficking, seeing sustainability and modern slavery come to the forefront of conversations.
Tell us about the new store – how does it reflect the brand?
LB: We’re so happy with the opening of our new store – the soft interiors reflect the brand’s romantic aesthetic, and the pop of colour injected through our prints has been translated into homewares.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
LB: My granny always used to quote Winston Churchill to me: “Never, never, never give up”. It’s always stuck with me – setting up a business is hard and you constantly seem to be firefighting but if you have conviction in what you are doing and you persevere, you will succeed.
NRI: My husband always reminds me, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. Along the way we have been incredibly blessed, but also faced many challenges and setbacks. Be true to your original vision and keep persevering. And expect challenges along the way, but deal with them and move on.
Favourite clothing brand
Natasha: Beulah, then Chloé
Lavinia: If not Beulah then Chloé, Valentino or anything vintage
Favourite places to shop
NRI: Westfield and Matchesfashion
LB: Matchesfashion or The Outnet
Last fashion purchase
NRI: See by Chloé espadrilles
LB: Paige jeans
NRI: Turkey, such a beautiful place
LB: America. A road trip through the Nevada desert
Last book you read
NRI: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
LB: Slave to Fashion by Safia Minney
Last film you watched
NRI: Finding Dory (my two-year-old is obsessed)
LB: Emma – feeling nostalgic
NRI: Sotheby’s art auction house
NRI: An interior designer
LB: Same as Nat – an interior designer