An interview with designer Nicola Woods of Beautiful Soul.
What is your fashion background?
I have had an unusual route into the fashion industry.
As a young girl, I wanted to be a fashion designer, but life has twists and turns and I found myself caught up in the rat race for 11 years (I worked as an insurance broker). The lifestyle it provided seemed to outweigh my lack of passion for my work. Something was missing, but I didn’t know how I would cope without my luxuries and the next pay rise.
I had the opportunity to backpack around the world for 6 months (16 countries) with my best friend and breaking away from the rat race for the first time in my adult life, gave me an insight in to living on a budget. I started to see life in a different light, with endless opportunities.
Whilst in Tokyo, something happened to me. I was surrounded by the most amazing boutiques. I was like a child in a sweet shop. Mesmerized. Excited. Totally inspired. I realised that I needed to make radical changes to my lifestyle, in order to make my dreams a reality.
I returned to school and I haven’t looked back since. I graduated from the London College of Fashion with a BA(Hons) in Fashion, Design and Technology (Creative Pattern Cutter) in 2008.
Days after I graduated I won a scholarship through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion to design for a South African charity, Tabeisa. I worked with a small cooperative to create a sustainable design for which the cooperative could take full ownership. With no equipment, masses of ingenuity and all hands on deck, I created a collection of jewellery using colourful, knotted strings. This was the best work experience I could have hoped for and it sparked my determination to set up my own sustainable fashion label. Beautiful Soul was born upon my return in November 2008.
What is the ethos behind Beautiful Soul?
During my final year at University, I was involved in a project based around ‘saving the earth’. I was hooked. Fashion with a TRUE meaning, for me, is the only way forward and my ethos helps me to focus and push forward.
I approach design with a very open mind and set out to create timeless designs that can be cherished for a lifetime. I delve below the surface of fashion, discovering new ways to incorporate responsibility through use of distinctive materials, adding exclusivity and a spirit of conversation. The label does not conform to ‘throwaway fashion.’ Silhouettes are considered throughout the design process and a strong emphasis is placed on product longevity, multi-function and garment adjustability, offering a versatility determined by our change in body contours.
Beautiful Soul is evolving with a strong commitment to transparency and a belief in a business that treats people, planet and profit with equal importance.
My objective is to build a responsible brand that consumers can trust.
What was it about the Japanese Kimono that inspired you?
My journey started in Japan, sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the heart of Tokyo. Something inside me quite literally *came to life* and I have captured that ‘moment’ in my designs.
I dedicated my graduation collection, small print to that life changing experience. Beautiful Soul has grown organically from this premise and has made a name for itself through its unique use of upcycled vintage Japanese kimonos. When you dismantle a kimono, you are left with very limited panels of fabric, only 38cm wide. You have to work with these restrictions and nurture an understanding of the fabric availability. Any leftover fabric will be placed aside and then revisited the following season, where I set myself the challenge of designing a new piece based on the leftovers.
Do you make your own prints?
The bespoke nature of the upcycled pieces is favoured by clients and stockist who seek individuality.
I have learnt however, that many buyers are not able to commit to ‘one of a kind’ pieces, despite their creative appeal. I have therefore developed a ready to wear collection for SS:11 featuring an exclusive retro print collaboration with Polly Hope, an eco textiles designer. The print sits comfortably alongside the rest of the brands ‘one of a kind’ pieces and can accommodate wholesale orders.
I am extremely excited about developing prints each season and will use the blank canvas to nurture and explore future collaborations with emerging artists. I will also introduce my own artwork.
How many pieces are in your collection? You’re also doing menswear, and you’re known for your bespoke pieces, can you tell us more about that? Are you able to produce large quantities of items?
Believe – SS:11 Womenswear Ready to wear 15 Styles, One of a kind (up-cycled kimono) 11 Styles
Menswear Ready to wear 3 Styles, One of a kind (up-cycled kimono) 3 Styles
Each style will come in an upcycled vintage kimono fabric way option and also a repeat fabric way option (such as print and sustainable organic fabrics). The ready to wear collection can accommodate large wholesale orders. The upcycled kimono pieces can also accommodate small wholesale orders. Styles can be repeated, but the fabrics will vary across the order. Each vintage kimono will make one full garment; therefore each piece is exclusive to the wearer. We can mix and match the order between repeat and exclusive fabric ways. The brand’s strict zero-waste policy means a range of unique corsets will also be available constructed from leftover fabrics.
The all-new menswear collection will include a capsule range of casual blazers upcycled from both vintage kimonos, also available in the retro bird print featured in the womenswear collection.
Where are you stocked?
The V&A and via Beautiful Soul’s own e-commerce offering: www.beautiful-soul.co.uk.