Rhiannon D’Averc sat down with sisters Rachel and Laura Beattie, the driving forces behind Careaux – a brand that gives women a more customised approach to dress sizing. They talked about what inspired them to create a label with a difference, and what they aspire to change in the future.
Tell us about the concept behind your brand.
Rachel: I had the idea when I was fourteen, so ten years ago this year. My favourite subjects at school were art and maths, so for my art project, I decided to combine my love of fashion to make a dress for my art project. My Nana used to be a dressmaker so she could help me out with it. She spoke about how it was so important to get the quality and to tailor to each individual woman. It kind of got me thinking about how we’ve lost that a bit. So, going on that background, I fell in love with the whole dress-making process from start to finish. Growing up, you used to love…
Laura: … Investment pieces.
Rachel: Laura’s seven years older, so I always used to steal her clothes. I used to try them on, and then because I’m a bit bigger on top it never used to fit me, and it kind of made me realise how we’re all different shapes and sizes. You know that feeling when you’re in the changing room and you’re like, “Oh, if I was just a bit bigger here or smaller here it would fit me”? I kind of wanted to get rid of that feeling, so the dress would fit for you. Then, one night, you know when you go to sleep and your mind’s just thinking, I had the idea… They call it a lightbulb moment, don’t they? I told Laura, and from that moment we just wanted to do it. We didn’t know anybody that had ever run a business before, so it’s been a long process with a lot of learning along the way.
The idea of the dress is that it’s got a zip around the waist, so you can separate it into a top and a skirt. You can mix and match the different styles and also have a different size top to bottom as well. [Rachel shows me her notebook with sketches of
their dress styles] This is the one I did when I was like fourteen, it was the first one I drew. It had zips everywhere, but we wanted to start off just with the basic ones, with the zip around the waist. At the moment we’ve got a sleeved and a sleeveless, and then we’ve got a midi skirt and an A-line skirt. We’re doing a Kickstarter in March to launch the core collection as we work on bespoke at the moment. We’ll grow different styles, different colours, stuff like that. I’ve probably rambled on a bit…
The more you say, the better!
Rachel: Oh god, don’t tell me that, I’ll be here all week! [laughs]
Family is obviously really important for you guys.
Rachel: Definitely, yeah – it’s all kind of stemmed from that, hasn’t it? From working with our Nana to now working together. We do bicker and that – we’re sisters – and we live together as well so it’s a bit all-encompassing! But it’s really amazing to work with your sister as well.
And your concept really embraces the ‘every woman’ idea.
Rachel: Definitely so. It didn’t really make sense because when you’re a teenager your body changes so much – my friends were changing and our styles were changing. The fashion industry’s kind of more embracing diversity – we have the plus size, petite, and tall, and stuff like that – but it didn’t really make sense how it was still separating people into plus size, petite, and I kind of wanted to make a dress that was just your size and your style. It’s not separating people, it’s just your dress. I do think it’s amazing how the fashion industry, with the models and everything like that, it’s a lot more diverse showing it. But I think the actual problem was with the clothes, like the clothing wasn’t fitting to people. I wanted to go back to the root of the problem and solve it with the clothes first, and then bring it from there really.
We’ve all had that moment in the changing room when ‘your size’ just doesn’t fit.
Rachel: When we did our research, it was something like over 90% of women are a different size top to bottom. It may only be a 10 and a 12, just slightly different, but it’s most women really. It was a contradiction in my head. We wanted to stay focused on it because it hadn’t been done before, so we wanted to focus on finding a solution that way because we knew it was what we wanted to do.
Sustainability and ethics are important to you as well.
Laura: It’s always been at the heart of what we wanted to do, and it took a long time to go and find fabric. We tested fabrics but they weren’t wearing well, they were pilling, and everything. But from the start we did want ethical and sustainable fabric, because it was just completely unfair. So we spent two or three years just on finding fabric. Contacting places… some of the companies that we’d spoken to weren’t very happy about answering the questions. We asked about what laws and regulations they adhered to, do you know where the origin is, and they just were very shady about it.
Rachel: Not shady! I think when you’re a small company, to stick to your values you have to do that from the start, because I think when you’re asking these questions it can be quite difficult when nobody’s heard of who you are. When we came up with the idea, the words weren’t used as much, which is amazing that it’s being used a lot more now. But we didn’t really have a word for it, because we knew we really wanted to treat people more than fairly, pay people more than fairly, and we wanted everything we do to have a positive impact. Now we’ve found the words to match it.
But in terms of what we’re doing, we’re going to continue to grow and grow and grow. The fabric we use at the moment is from Portugal but they’re like a socially responsible and ethical company. It’s also using excess fabric from runs so it’s saving it from going to landfill, but it’s obviously really good quality with that ethical side. Also the concept in itself, it’s the number of tops times the number of skirts times the number of dresses, so that means you need less stuff in your wardrobe as you can make so many different dress combinations. It’s made locally in Manchester which is something that we’re really passionate about, because it’s providing local employment. And then it’s low carbon emissions – we’re not shipping it all over. With the packaging and everything like that, that’s all recyclable and made from recycled materials. I think we wanted to lay the foundations from the start, so it has taken a lot longer to do it that way. But it means that hopefully, now that we’ve found it, we can grow with it really.
You seem really determined that you weren’t going to compromise – it had to be really good quality AND sustainable, and it had to work from the beginning.
Rachel: Yeah, definitely, and I think the more people – small companies and big companies – that ask the suppliers to do that, it’s going to make a bigger impact. We just kept that in mind, towards the bigger picture.
Laura: And we have met some really great companies.
Rachel: People have been really good.
And you also do charitable donations when people buy from you.
Rachel: So that’s something we wanted to do from the start as well. With the bespoke ones, if they’ve got a charity close to heart we always donate a percentage. Also, with the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, we’re really lucky because last year it was 100 years since women gained the right to vote. They put a flyer out for ambassadors for the exhibition, so I joined for that and was helping get the exhibition together. Then last minute, I was kind of like, why don’t I make a dress for it? I was so absorbed with the organising! We were really lucky to make two dresses for a royal investiture. Simone Roche got an MBE, she’s amazing and does this initiative called Northern Power Women. She got it for services to gender equality, and then we also did one for Marnie Millard, who got an OBE. She runs Nichols, which runs Vimto. Two incredible women! What we did was we combined those two bespoke pieces to create it, in the Vimto colours for Simone’s style dress. We did that for the Pankhurst Centre, and it’s also suffragette colours as well, so it was really amazing. I just though it was really nice to do that.
Laura: I have cystic fibrosis, and we saw the CF Trust was talking about recycling medicine boxes. We use so many, so we thought, why not make a dress? We did it out of recycled polyester made from plastic bottles, and then we made one from an ethical supplier. We also used sequins, so we had recycled plastic sequins, and we used my old medicine bottles to make sequins as well – we had them laser cut.
Rachel: It was from the Sustainable Sequin company, she’s called Rachel as well – she was so helpful! Just want to give her a shout out because she was so nice. We want to make sure that we are always creating dresses that are highlighting the amazing work that charities are doing. I actually did maths at uni, which people think is so far away from fashion but it’s actually using a lot of the same sort of skills. I’m really passionate about using the dresses to promote – I’m a STEM ambassador, so doing school workshops with the children and with adults as well to show how you can use maths in fashion. I think it’s really important that you don’t have to just be creative or just do maths – it’s actually got loads of real-life applications. The skills that you learn from maths are stuff like problem solving, resilience, and everything which is really important when running a business. That’s what I’m passionate about.
How do you have any spare time?
[both laughing] Rachel: I think everyone’s like that! We just find the time, don’t we? But I think everyone’s just super busy, art is super busy. So how does a client go about ordering a bespoke dress from you? Laura: We meet with the client, talk about what they like and what fabrics they like, what colours they want, and then we get a good idea of what they would like. We mix in a bit of our ideas as well. Rachel does some sketches of different ideas and different designs.
Rachel: I always get a bit carried away – remember one time I brought about 30 sketches? I showed it to them and they were a bit overwhelmed!
Laura: So Rachel goes and does that, and then we show them to the client and ask, would you like to change anything, would you like to add anything? And then we go off that. We do the measurements and bring our pattern cutter with us. We talk through the designs again. We make the pattern, do a mock-up, do the fitting. If they want anything changing, like different fabric, then we can source that for them. Then it just takes a couple more fittings and then at the final fitting they’ve got the dress.
Rachel: Our pattern cutter and dressmaker have been doing it for like 30, 40 years, so they’ve got so much experience. It’s amazing because where we’ve been learning, they’ve come along with that expertise which is really valuable. Laura: Barbara’s like our adopted Nana, isn’t she! I don’t want to offend her [both laugh]. But that’s been really lovely to work really closely with them.
Rachel: Hopefully we can expand that network. Manchester and Britain in general has an amazing history of innovation in textiles and manufacturing, so it’s really nice to bring that back and play our part in it. We didn’t really see much about manufacturing in Manchester – we’ve been to the Make it British fair in London and we were finding not many Manchester-based companies. London’s a lot bigger place, but Manchester is not as common, so hopefully we’re playing our little part in developing skills and employment that way. Tell me about the Kickstarter you’re launching. Rachel: Because the idea hadn’t been done before, for the last six months we’ve been working on bespoke. Testing the idea further, and it’s been really amazing to get the feedback from women on what they want. But we always wanted to do the online e-commerce side, create a core collection. So we’re launching that in March – we’ve got International Women’s Day, World Maths Day, it’s a really exciting time in March and April.
So, you can pre-order the dresses – the sleeve or the sleeveless roundneck style and then a midi skirt or an A-line skirt, in black, navy, or ivory. We wanted to start off with the timeless, classic styles and then hopefully build from there. We’re also hoping to, over the course of the Kickstarter, do a series of interviews with women and men who have created change. We’re hoping to tie that in and also pull in some of the charity work as well. We’ve got a lot to do before then!
What do you enjoy most about creating your line?
Rachel: When you work so hard, and put so much into it – Just to be able see it in real life and look at it, everything you’ve done to get there, you just can’t beat that feeling.
Find Rachel and Laura online at careaux.com, and look out for their Kickstarter!