Ethical Fashion on Elizabeth Street

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New Beulah London CEO Nicki Lynch tells how the brand is scaling its social impact to work with more vulnerable women
as told to: Cally Squires.

“Our online business has grown more than 100 per cent year on year for the last couple of years, so it’s great that the business is scaling, but what we’re trying to figure out now is scaling the social impact of what we do. 

There are two ways that Beulah supports vulnerable female communities, and actually now the communities that we support are a bit broader than when the business first started. 

Originally the focus was on the issue of modern day slavery and the fact that there are three times as many people in slavery today as there ever were during the transatlantic slave trade. The question I guess is how can business provide these people with the choice and freedom to work in meaningful employment? 

In the beginning we very much focused on trafficked women, and now we work with victims of domestic abuse and women who were widowed during civil war in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. 

Essentially we’re working towards scaling most of our production to involve these women at some point during the supply chain. They all have a specific local skill or craft. For example in Bangladesh the ladies are very much hand weavers and embroiderers, whereas in India it’s more about block printing and working with silk. At the moment they are involved in raw material production and the garments are put together in a more commercial factory, but our aim is for every single garment to be touched by those women. So over the next five years it’s about scaling the production with those partners.

At the same time we have our freedom model, so our designer will actually create pieces that she knows those women can make, and then we donate 10 per cent of profits back to those impact partners. So in training more women, of course [that] means we can do more production with them.

 We’ve just funded a great project in Bangladesh in a rural community where sadly during the war of independence all of the adult males were lined up and massacred, leaving a community of women and children. The women said that all they wanted was work, in order to provide for their kids themselves in the way their husbands had. So we’ve just sponsored putting in place a silk-printing facility, and we’ve trained 30 women to be able to do that. 

We’re really making great progress in terms of making more of our product following that model. [Beulah co-founder] Lavinia goes out there several times a year, and we’ve also hired a team on the ground to make sure there is no forced labour or exploitative practices in the more traditional factories that we work with. 

I feel as a consumer that people are really beginning to question the ethical supply chain of products. 

This year we’ve just introduced a new scheme where every garment we make has to reach a certain level of sustainable criteria. So anything from having a low carbon footprint, meaning it can’t have travelled to more than two countries, to working with only top certified organic cotton or bio-viscous which is sustainably forested. I do think that even in the next couple of years consumers will actively not buy from brands who don’t have transparency in the supply chain. 

Prior to joining Beulah I was a management consultant for five years, working with consumer-facing brands from retail banking through to department store brands, and I then went on to work for two consumer start-ups, where I figured out how to help them grow. 

I thought that if I was going to do that [process] again I’d like to do it with a brand where you love what you sell, otherwise I feel like you go to work every day and don’t really believe in the end goal. I also wanted to do something that had a bit of purpose other than profit and growth. 

Beulah is a great fit because it has this social goal, and we want to be a big business and sell women beautiful products that make them look and feel amazing. We’ve just sponsored a silk-printing facility in Bangladesh and trained 30 women.

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