Beulah London: a brand with a social conscience
Images: Laura Cammarata, Marcus Dawes. Courtesy of Beulah London
This Saturday marks the UN International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, held annually on 2 December to raise awareness of the estimated 40.3 million people worldwide currently suffering as a result of practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking.
Fortunately, a growing number of socially conscious brands are taking steps to address this kind of cruelty: take Beulah London, a luxury women’s fashion brand founded in 2009 by the friends Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan, which is working in partnership with the charity You Can Free Us to tackle the tragedy of human trafficking in India. Here, Rufus Isaacs and Brennan talk to T&C about their journey to date and their hopes for what Beulah can achieve in the future for some of the world’s most vulnerable women.
Where did the idea of using fashion to help trafficking victims originate?
In 2009 we spent two months working in an aftercare home in the slums of Delhi with women who had been rescued from the sex trade. During the afternoons, we taught the women basic sewing skills that they could use to create products and generate an income for themselves. Through this, we saw the power of employment to transform lives; however, we we were confronted with the stark reality that, generally, no one would employ the girls. As a result, they would often either be re-trafficked into the sex trade or voluntarily go back into it.
We saw a real need for businesses to help these women create alternative, sustainable livelihoods for themselves. Being in the heart of the manufacturing industry, it seemed natural to use fashion as this vehicle for change.
What have been the most challenging moments for you in working with women who have been the victims of trafficking and slavery?
It is a constant challenge balancing our commercial objectives (timely deliveries, quality control and so on) with our charitable objectives, reminding ourselves of the delicate nature of these women and the trauma they have gone through.
And what have been some of the most positive?
Over the past year we have helped more than 50 women into employment. The story of each individual’s journey to freedom is incredibly moving and inspiring for us. People say that the eyes are a window into the soul; these girls go from having eyes so dark and void of any emotion to having the brightest eyes with the biggest smiles.
Have people been receptive to the story behind the brand?
There is a real trend now for consumers demanding more from brands – people want to see an authentic message and story. This has definitely given us an edge and has allowed our customers, press and investors to connect with Beulah on a very personal level. This wasn’t always the case; in fact, when we first started Beulah, the word “sustainability” wasn’t uttered in the same sentence as fashion, and using business as a force for good was a difficult concept to grasp.
Has the work of Beulah raised the profile of trafficking back in India?
We hope so. Part of our mission is not only to empower trafficked women through employment but also to give our customer the tools and knowledge she needs to be able to bring about change. We love Wilberforce’s powerful saying: “You can choose to look the other way but you can never say you did not know.”
Is there still more to be done?
More can always be done and we won’t be doing enough until slavery is abolished. That being said, there are so many people doing incredible things – the Evening Standard, for example, did a fantastic job at raising awareness. We are constantly inspired by the brands we find fighting modern-day slavery or empowering communities through employment: Birdsong, Purpose jewellery and Outland Denim are just a few we have come across recently. Ultimately, all businesses should exist to better the lives of people they come into contact with, whether those are customers, employees or the people in the supply chain.
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