Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan set up Beulah London in Lavinia’s Fulham family home. With a fan in the form of the Duchess of Cambridge, it’s no wonder this ethical fashion label has grown from strength-to-strength, finds Lorraine Crighton-Smith
In 2009 childhood friends Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan went to India. For two months they travelled, spending time in care homes in Delhi where they encountered women who had been victims of human trafficking – and felt an overwhelming urge to do something to help them. Fast forward three years, and Rufus Isaacs and Brennan head up Beulah London, an ethical yet luxury fashion house with clients such as the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Natalia Vodianova and Sarah Jessica Parker. The connection? Beulah London is style with a conscience: it helps to provide a sustainable livelihood to the victims of trafficking in India.
The India trip was an eye-opening experience for the girls who hadn’t heard about sex trafficking before. As they spent time with the victims, teaching them English and skills such as sewing, the concept of Beulah London was born. “We thought ‘what could the women do?’ [before hitting] on the idea of launching an ethical fashion label with a transparent supply chain, focused on timeless and effortless elegance.”
It was a bold move given that neither had any fashion industry experience but they shared a passion for positive social change – and style – and so they set up shop in Brennan’s mother’s Fulham basement when they returned to the UK.
Taking a hands-on approach, they design the lines themselves and, at the time of the interview (in November 2012), were busy designing the autumn/ winter 2013 collection. That said, Beulah London is not a trend-led business. “We’re about timeless pieces,” says Rufus Isaacs. “We want to have pieces that are on trend but not necessarily trendy, so that they can stay in your wardrobe and you can pass it down to you daughter.” Visiting fabric fairs in Paris keep the Beulah ladies on top of what’s in vogue, but they also consider it as timeless occasion-ware.
When one buys something from Beulah London, it arrives in a special canvas bag with a personal touch. “We work with a project in Calcutta that employs around 70 women who have been trafficked, and they make up canvas bags for us and they – all the women that are involved in the production – sign their names on the side of each bag.” There’s a long-term plan in place to have the woman make up every single piece in the collection – “that’s what we’re working towards”, and 2013 will be a very special year for Rufus Isaacs indeed. She is set to marry her beau Rupert Finch in her home town, Cirencester, and Brennan will be her bridesmaid. One of her duties as bridesmaid, which some may say goes above and beyond the call, includes helping her friend design her own wedding dress. The New Year will also turn their attention closer to home. “We’re setting up the Beulah Trust,” says Rufus Isaacs. “We recognise that this is going on here, there’s something like 300 brothels in Kensington and Chelsea alone and a lot of women who are trafficked so we’ve been discussing [ways to help].”
Beulah London has recently moved to its third premises in Bloomsbury (having outgrown Brennan’s mum’s basement, they moved to the Old Gasworks in Fulham before growing bigger still), but the two friends remain firm about their fondness of Fulham. “I’ve grown up in Fulham,” states Brennan, “but I’ve recently moved to South Kensington. So not very far away. I used to live right next to The Hurlingham Club so was a member there and tried to go there as much as I could. And The White Horse…” Meanwhile, Rufus Isaacs remains a Fulham resident. “I have lived in Fulham for a year. I love the area,” she says. “I actually moved there because Lavinia was living around the corner. We were working out of her mum’s basement so it was quite convenient but, as soon as I moved, we then moved offices. I love it around that area, because of The Hurlingham Club, it’s really beautiful, and Putney Bridge.”
Brennan’s favourite Beulah design is the jumpsuit and the Painted Lady dress, meanwhile Rufus Isaac favours the Issoria and the green one she wore to our photo shoot. “It’s called the Camberwell Beauty,” she tells me. No, it’s not named after the district of south London but, as is the case for all Beulah London designs, it’s named after a butterfly. “The names are all butterfly names, the whole collection is called The Butterfly Effect,” she explains. The term ‘Beulah’, meaning ‘the land of peace’, is symbolic of the company’s philosophy, it represents the “journey of each woman out of darkness and despair into a new life of hope and restoration.” }
Beulah London stockists include Katie & Jo on new King’s Road, Katharine Bird on Battersea Rise, and Harvey Nichols. Or see beulahlondon.com for details