When Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan founded their fashion label, Beulah, in 2010, it seemed primed for success.
It had an appealing - if pricey - product line-up of timeless printed midi dresses, demand for which never seems to fade. It also had an uncompromisingly ethical business model, with all designs sustainably made in India by women who have been victims of sex trafficking, plus 10 percent of profits would be donated to anti-slavery causes. And it had a ready-made army of high-profile supporters thanks to its well-connected founders - Rufus Isaacs is the daughter of the Marquess of Reading and a longtime friend of Prince William.
But a decade is a long time in fashion, and despite the regular support of high-profile fans including the Duchess of Cambridge and Holly Willoughby, a Belgravia boutique, plus Matches Fashion as a stockist, the business has been making a loss. And so at the end of last month, it emerged that the label had quietly gone into voluntary liquidation, with its 11 employees made redundant.
Beulah joins a growing number of fashion brands to have fallen victim to the coronavirus crisis, including Aldo and TM Lewin. According to the British Fashion Council, the industry is set to be hit twice as hard as other sectors. And brands that skew more formal in their aesthetic were always going to feel the most damage, as so many weddings and summer season events have been cancelled. This was the case for Beulah, according to a statement from Quantuma, which handled the label’s liquidation. “The enforced closure of the business, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, saw demand for luxury eveningwear collapse with the cancellation of all social gatherings,” it read.
Whether the Duchess of Cambridge was aware of her friends’ label’s woes is unclear, but she has added two new Beulah dresses to her wardrobe in recent months; in May, she chose the Calla floral dress for a Zoom appearance marking Mental Health Awareness Week and then she donned the Shalini tea dress for a party celebrating the NHS in July. Zara Tindall also showed her support, wearing a Beulah dress as she took part in Royal Ascot from home - though both women will have been in the minority sporting occassionwear this summer.
Quantuma says Beulah had tripled its revenue over the past year, but having suffered a loss of £1.7 million in 2018, it’s clear that Beulah was in a less than healthy financial position long before Covid came along. It may be that its target audience simply found its £500-plus dresses just a little too expensive and the competition a little too enticing. After all, in the years since it launched, brands including Self-Portrait, Rixo and Needle & Thread have emerged, creating a new niche for accessible designer formalwear, with prices in the £250-400 bracket. They may not offer the same compelling ethical angle, but that’s not always going to swing it for customers in search of their next party frock.
Beulah’s website has been out of action for a few months now, with fans often asking when it will be back on the brand’s Instagram page. However Rufus Isaacs has still been promoting the label. She recently appeared in a glossy family shoot in Hello! Magazine announcing the arrival of her third daughter, India, saying that the name had been inspired by her charitable and business links to the country.
The brand had investors of course - Rufus Isaacs and Brennan raised over £500,000 in a seed funding round in 2016, which enabled them to hire the staff required to grow the business. But reports in the Mail on Sunday state that the label owed around £1 million to creditors, and according to The Times, one backer is furious that they were never presented with a chance to rescue the brand before liquidation proceedings began.
According to Quantuma, the liquidation process was completed on 7th August, and the brand’s assets have been sold. All this is pretty definitive proof that a business is closing for good, but in a statement of her own, shared with The Telegraph, Brennan remained vague about the future of Beulah. “We have dedicated the last ten years of our lives to improving the livelihoods of vulnerable and trafficked women through the business of fashion, and remain fully committed to our original mission,” she said. “As the business comes out the other side of this crisis, we are focused on securing the long term future of the brand and its social impact.”
Either way, the fashion landscape has changed, and it may be that Beulah is simply a victim of the changing times. There’s no question that it is more unforgiving than it’s ever been, especially post-Covid. There’s a lot of competition around: as well as being undercut on price points, it is also now the norm for a label to boast strong ethical and sustainable credentials, doing away with Beulah’s USP. And in the age of Instagram, when anyone can build a following with a savvy strategy, are those royal and celebrity ambassadors as key as they once were?
One thing is certainly clear: in 2020, good intentions and good connections are simply not enough to help a fashion brand thrive.
A timeline of the Duchess of Cambridge wearing Beulah London
The Duchess of Cambridge wearing the Sarai dress at a fundraising Gala organised by 100 Women in Hedge Funds in aid of the Child Bereavement Charity at St James's Palace.
Kate wore the brand's Sabitri dress to the Assyakirin Mosque while on the Diamond Jubilee Tour of the Far East in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Kate wearing the Juliet dress in Bhutan, paying homage to the country's national flower, the poppy.
The Duchess wearing Beulah's Chiara coat to the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey.
Kate wearing a bespoke version of the Yahvi dress on a visit to the Family Action charity in Lewisham.
The Duchess of Cambridge wearing the Calla Rose dress as she took part in the Heads Together Mental Health broadcast.
Kate wearing the Shalini midi dress to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn as part of the NHS birthday celebrations.