Introducing Nicola Woods, the founder and designer behind ethical fashion brand Beautiful Soul
Words Joy Montgomery
How was Beautiful Soul first conceived?
I had an unconventional route into the fashion industry. After working in a fast-paced career in corporate insurance for 11 years, I took a sabbatical to travel the world with my best friend. During this adventure I found my calling sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the heart of Tokyo and I began to envision my career path from a different point of view. In that moment I realised I needed to make radical changes to my lifestyle and revisit my childhood ambition of design. I haven’t looked back since. Returning to London I underwent training at the London College of Fashion, earning a BA(Hons) in Fashion, Design and Technology (Creative Pattern Cutter) and launched Beautiful Soul London in 2011.
During my degree, I was set the challenge of designing a collection made out of old junk. While many students didn’t seem enthusiastic, for me, my creativity came to life. I loved everything about this project as it taught me to delve beneath the surface and think outside the box. Most of all I loved meeting Orsola de Castro, a guest speaker who shared her passion about upcycling to a packed lecture hall of students – one of whom was me.
From that moment a seed was planted and my final collection was inspired by Wabi-Sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in the imperfect, modest and humble. Each piece in the collection was one-of-a-kind and tailored from upcycled vintage Japanese kimonos which dated back to the 1940s. The love and craftsmanship that went into making every single garment gave me a true understanding of the production line.
After graduating, Orsola and friends from the Ethical Fashion Forum and Centre for Sustainable Fashion encouraged me to apply to Estethica – a platform founded by the British Fashion Council to promote sustainable fashion at London Fashion Week. The V&A fell in love with my debut Kimono collection and stocked it for several seasons. I grew the business from scratch and launched a ready-to-wear collection: Beautiful Soul London.
What role does sustainability play in your brand?
As a designer and founder of a fashion label, I am constantly developing new ways to incorporate responsibility into the brand’s processes, ensuring sustainability is at the core of the brand’s DNA. We exercise a common sense policy, using our voices to ensure the industry values people, the environment, creativity and profits in equal measure.
Fast fashion might be cheap but somebody in the supply chain is suffering as a result – consumers should not under estimate their power. Try to have a rule with yourself only to buy pieces that you love and will cherish. I would recommend watching The True Cost (of Fashion) documentary, which explains my vision to create pieces that are beautiful, inside and out.
What inspired your Patti Wilson collection?
I named the collection Patti Wilson after my mum, and I set myself the challenge of re-working my favourite prints from Beautiful Soul London’s archive. The Signature Blossom print was inspired by that life-changing moment in Tokyo and the English charm of Notting Hill in spring. The Signature Hydrangea print looked to childhood memories of collecting pet ladybirds with my sister, keeping them safe on our grandmother’s blooming hydrangeas. Look closely and you will find cute bumblebees and ladybirds nestled within the flower petals.
For SS17 I have also launched my first design collaboration with luxury English brand Aspinal of London, who support young British designers. Together we have designed a range of bags and umbrellas with a covering of Beautiful Soul’s timeless Signature Hydrangea and Blossom prints.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have been incredibly lucky and built a following of loyal supporters, including Pippa Middleton and Livia Firth to name a few. It’s also amazing seeing our friends wearing and enjoying the brand. I had the pleasure of meeting the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which was a surreal experience and such a memorable day.
How would you define British style?
I love that there are no rules to British fashion. As a British designer I am passionate about honouring the hallmarks of British craftsmanship and supporting the regeneration of UK manufacturing and textile production. I love to add a sprinkle of English charm to my designs, which are unapologetically feminine.
What is your favourite piece from your latest collection?
The Takara dress, Emi dress Miki dress and Hanna dress are my favourite styles and I own them in a variety of signature prints.