As I am soaking up the last few days of sun and sand here in the Costa Rican forest, spending a lazy and long postponed afternoon on the internet – a distant and vague concept for the last few weeks – there is no better time to tune into some winter sun inspiration and share the beautiful ethical beachwear produced by my favourite sun-and-sand label, Beach Candy.
Based in India and set up by the beautiful Sophie Paget Steavenson, below, who moved to Mumbai with her fiancé in 2008, Beach Candy is the first and last word in beautiful feminine dresses, kaftans and accessories that have a conscience to match their fashion credentials. All the clothes are dyed and block printed by hand in workshops in Mumbai and Sophie’s intimate and genuine relationship with her artisans is something very unique and inspiring.
“Initially after moving to Mumbai I wanted to make clothes with a local tailor, and try out different designs, but I soon met some people from Fair Trade and NGOs who were doing work to help and protect small artisan businesses and it immediately made sense to me to use that as the basis for my own business. Our paths crossed organically and it just started to happen”.
After visiting a rich array of workshops and artisan exhibits, it took Sophie only two years to get Beach Candy off the ground. The NGOs work with 24 people, all from the slum areas of the city, and through work like hers they make their own living – no small feat for someone with no previous design or business experience.
“For our prints we use a seventh generation family run business, and it is really important to me to keep their craft alive. Although it is popular in Jaipur, on the whole it is in real decline in the face of other industries and one printer I know just quit his workshop to run a grocery store. It is really sad to see and we must keep the craft going,” says Sophie.
She works with two NGOs to make this happen: one, the World Fair Trade Organisation, monitors the workshop where her clothes are stitched, while the other in Mumbai oversees the dying, which is done with organic vegetable ingredients. The colours are beautiful and, true to their names, the Vienetta and Mint Choc Chip dresses are literally good enough to eat.
Refreshingly in today’s trend led world, Sophie says she was always led by the artisans and their skills, rather than the designs themselves taking the lead. “I have always focused on the craft and artisans and adapted my product to what they can do. They were originally making scarves with their beautiful fabrics but not selling many and I knew I had to work with them so I thought well, let’s make kaftans and see what happens. There is no big boss in charge, everything is a cooperative, with the NGOs overseeing, so any profit goes back into the business. I have watched one worker go from an entry level role there, living in the slum, to owning his own house and putting two kids through university. If we can help dreams like this come true it is worth everything.”
But the challenge to keep everyone well supported is always present for Sophie. “As their source of income, it is both amazing and terrifying. They depend on me to make their living and I feel a huge responsibility. Since I arrived in Mumbai I always wanted to help these highly skilled artisans to get their products as good as they can be and push them to sell as many as they can. So I push them and they push me. That’s how it works.”
And luckily with things going asnrhey are, selling stock and keeping everybody happy is not a problem. The clothes are absolutely beautiful, what every holiday babe dreams of, and she not only has a busy little beach shop in Goa, but also sells online as well. Grazia, Vogue and CN Traveller are just a few of the magazines who have recognised their beauty, and her dream of setting up shop in Ibiza is surely not far off.
For the moment she has been busy planning her wedding in Goa this month. Surely there will be Beach Candy dresses galore. If I was the blushing bride I couldn’t ask for more.