Continuing our Little London Fashion Week campaign, we speak to the founders of Manchester based womenswear brand, Careux. Both luxury and ethical, Careux was born from the pairing of two sister’s innovative minds, Rachel and Laura Beattie.
Combining mathematics with fashion – yes, you heard it right – Rachel and Laura have developed a timeless collection that reinvents the dress to perfectly fit many different body shapes. Dubbed ‘The Careaux Concept’, Rachel reveals how their handcrafted dresses come with a little added extra; a hidden zip which allows the wearer to split the dress into two separate halves. This gives the wearer the ability to combine textures, patterns and most importantly, different sizes to perfectly fit the upper and lower sections of the body.
1. Hi Rachel, can you start by telling us a bit about Careaux, did you always want to set up a fashion business?
Rachel: Careaux is a luxury ethical womenswear brand based in Manchester. I founded Careaux with my sister Laura from an idea that I had ten years ago when I was 14 that combined my love for fashion and maths.
The Careaux dress has a hidden zip around the waist which allows the dress to separate into a top and a skirt and reattach. The dress can then have a different or same size top to bottom. You can also mix and match the tops and skirts to create different style, fabric and colour combinations.
The dresses are made in Manchester from fabric saved from landfill which we have sourced from a supplier who share our values on sustainability.
We create timeless and classic dresses that change to fit each and every woman - their own unique shape, size, style, personality and lifestyle.
It is so hard to think back to a time before Careaux, but I had always loved clothes and I knew when I grew up I wanted to create something which meant I could make the change I wanted to and help others as much as I could. But it was ever since I had the idea of the Careaux dress I knew that it was exactly all I ever wanted to do.
2. Have you always worked in the fashion sector and if so, how has this experience helped with building Careaux?
Rachel: I haven’t always worked in fashion, prior to Careaux, I was at University studying Maths. I think this has played a huge part in Careaux. As since the dress had never been done before, during the development process we were told so many times that it couldn’t be done. But every reason people gave to us I was like no surely it can be done we can figure this out. I think this is partially from not coming from a fashion background and coming at it from a different perspective.
But another part of it, is definitely from my studying Maths, as it has taught me that whenever you have a problem, even though it may seem difficult at first, to keep going and if you stay determined and try different methods you will get there. This has been critical to starting a business, where you face a lot of ups and downs. This is one of the reasons I love volunteering in schools talking about how Maths and fashion are linked and how they can be used to invent and innovate. .
3. I love the story behind how and why you trademarked Careaux, can you tell us more about how your Nana inspired you to pursue your fashion business?
Rachel: Our Nana was a dressmaker when she was 14 and she worked in a time where garments were fitted to each and every woman. She also used to speak so passionately about dressmaking and the care and attention that she put into each garment was incredible. For my Art GCSE I decided I wanted to create a dress to incorporate my love of fashion. Without hesitation my Nana offered to help, she was extremely determined and one of the kindest people you would ever meet and this is why we wanted to create Careaux so we could help and support people just as much as my Nana helped us throughout our lives.
It was amazing to work alongside my Nana, it was a time that I remember so fondly and I am so grateful I got to spend that time making the dress with her. It was during this time that I fell in love with the process of how a dress was made and really inspired the first spark of Careaux. This also cemented the idea that we wanted every Careaux piece to stand the test of time, to be a piece that encapsulates your memories and you treasure and pass down for years to come.
4. Your co-founder is your sister Laura, how do you find it working with family?
Rachel: Laura is my best friend and we still live together so we see each other a lot and are constantly speaking when we are not together. It’s really good working with her as we do get on really well and have the same vision. As most siblings do, we do sometimes bicker but it’s because we know each other so well and we move on really quickly.
I told Laura as soon as I had the idea for the dress and I am so grateful she believed in it too and we get to work together. It is amazing to have and work with someone who knows you inside out and someone who you can talk to. We support each other no matter what and we wouldn’t be able to do Careaux without each other.
5. What would you describe as your greatest challenges when you were first starting out?
Rachel: As with any start up there have been many challenges along the way. However, the greatest challenge has been the process of taking the dress from an idea to a product.
As the dress had not been done before and not having a background in fashion, not having run a business or knowing anyone who had run a business it was a challenge to know where to start. To finding a pattern cutter to finding the perfect fabric was a long process. There were a lot of ‘no’s’ along the way and people saying that the dress couldn’t be done but we kept going and stayed determined. And we finally got our first prototype which was an absolutely incredible feeling, it was the most amazing feeling being able to try on the first Careaux dress prototype after so many years of working and dreaming about it.
We know that funding tends to be an issue for most business owners! Did you struggle to obtain finance?
Rachel: For us, we would not have been able to progress Careaux without us having the funding to develop the dress, we haven’t personally looked into obtaining finance it has been a case of us working and saving, working and saving to invest back into Careaux from working on weekends and holidays during University to working part time jobs etc. whilst we were developing the dress. More recently, earlier this year we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign so that people could pre-order the Careaux core collection dresses. Our target was £10,000 and with amazing support we were incredibly lucky to surpass our target and raise £11,500 within three weeks. This was a massive help with funding as it meant we knew exactly how much material etc. we needed so we only bought what we needed instead of having a higher upfront costs.
6. The Careaux dress is unique in that it is separated around the waist to create a top and a skirt that reattaches. This is a fab idea! Bodies are all shapes and sizes and I know how difficult I find it searching for dresses that properly fit! How difficult is it designing and creating these pieces?
Rachel: Thank you so much! I absolutely love designing and creating the pieces and I love even more seeing incredible women wearing the dresses. At the beginning when we were developing the dress the design process was quite difficult as I had to make sure that the styles worked for the concept and there was a lot of tweaks that I had to do to the designs for the dress to work.
We have been doing bespoke pieces for nearly 12 months and each one has been amazing to design and use different fabrics, create different designs and make them unique to each person. With our core collection we decided to start with two tops (sleeveless and sleeved) and two skirts (A Line and Midi). I loved designing these classic styles and I can’t wait to design more styles for the core collection.
7. London Fashion Week is just one week away, would you say you enjoy it, or use the event for inspiration for your designs?
Rachel: What I love about London Fashion Week is the celebration of the UK as a leading fashion destination and the innovation of designers, it is amazing to see the beautiful pieces from the designers. What I am really excited about for London Fashion Week, in particular with BFC’s introduction of ‘Institute of Positive Fashion’ is for the show to be a celebration of sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and that is what truly inspires me.
8. How difficult is it competing with larger high street retailers, do you think there is enough support in place for smaller businesses within the fashion sector?
Rachel: It is fairly difficult to compete with larger high street retailers as they already have the reputation, funding, brand awareness and customer base. However, there is a real opportunity for smaller/newer brands to really focus on customer interaction and build a community that larger high street retailers may not be able to achieve given their scale.
In general, there is a massive amount of support for smaller businesses and there are amazing people who are always willing to help and do whatever they can to do so. We have been absolutely blown away by the support we have received and are incredibly lucky. To be honest we have struggled to find support specifically focussed on fashion, we have received brilliant support from Future Fashion Factory, Business Growth Hub, Enterprise Nation and Fashion Business Education but if anyone would recommend any other support that would be fantastic!
9. What has been your greatest success to date, and what do you enjoy the most about running your own business?
Rachel: My greatest success has been actually creating the Careaux dress, taking it from an idea to a physical dress. Although there have been challenges, I knew that it was always what I wanted to do and I wanted to make the Careaux dress a reality. At times it seemed that the dress could not be done, but seeing it for the first time made was incredible and seeing how it has developed since is even more special.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of running a business is meeting people. We have met the most incredible people who have been nothing but supportive and helpful and we have been lucky enough to design and make dresses for amazing women. They have all helped us on our journey and we can’t wait to meet more amazing people along the way.
10. 2019 is flying! What does 2020 hold for Careaux?
Rachel: This year is going so fast! We will officially launch our core collection through our website. We will also be doing more pop-ups and creating more designs for our core collection. We’re really excited for the year ahead!