Faith Worked Out: Lavinia Brennan
Today we're taking inspiration from Lavinia Brennan and Natasha Rufus Isaacs, members of Holy Trinity Brompton church in London and founders of Beulah London. Beulah is a luxury fashion label that makes classic pieces for occasion and evening wear. However, it sees itself not as a typical fashion label but primarily as a 'kingdom business', as a hub of employment where lives can be transformed and people are pointed to life with Jesus. Each of their clothes tells a story, and the theme of 'darkness to light' (beulah, Isaiah 62:4) is central to every design.
We had the fun of speaking with Lavinia to find out more about how the Beulah girls approach running a successful and influential business, while keeping God at the centre of all they do...
Book on my bedside table: 'The Locust Effect: The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence' by Gary Haugen.
Ideal dinner party guest: Scott Harrison, founder of Charity:Water.
£10 treat: Cinema with cola bottles - always.
Question I'm always asked: 'Why did you start Beulah?'
Most underrated virtue: Kindness.
So we'd love to know, what pushed you to take the plunge and found Beulah?
Well I suppose there wasn't an initial, one-off cause; Nat and I were out in Delhi, India in 2009, and we had the amazing opportunity to work at Atulya, an aftercare home for women victims of sex trafficking. We didn't necessarily think that we would go on to create something like Beulah, but we had a real desire to provide employment for these women, and we felt really called by God to create a business that would transform lives for these women.
I suppose we were starting from a place of total trust in God - neither of us had any fashion training, or any business experience for that matter - but yet we have been very fortunate and God has really blessed us.
We both have Christian families, with parents that pray for us every day, and actually we work in an office where each of the girls is Christian. This wasn't even intentional - it just happened that through applications and internships, we ended up with an office of Christian women, which makes for an amazing team.
Have you faced challenges as Christians working in the fashion industry?
Well, the fashion industry is tough, whether you are Christian or not. We wouldn't say that we are a fashion-forward business, we look beyond seasonal trends and want to create classic, timeless pieces. We're not primarily a fashion business, because we always want our clothes to point back to the initial idea behind beulah: light from darkness, the transformation of lives. In this sense, we're not really within the fashion industry, but using clothing design and creativity for a greater purpose.
...and how does being a Christian company affect your day-to-day approach to business?
Ooh.. (laughs) - I'd love to say that we pray every single morning as a company and consistently keep routine - reality is, sometimes the busy nature of business and general life gets in the way. But actually it's really great to be in a company where we're all Christians and can all keep each other accountable - so our interns or our assistants will sometimes remind us all to pray or to take some time out to keep things in perspective. We learn a lot from them, and it's really great to be reminded of what we're doing and who we're doing it for.
We try and have a Monday meeting where we pray with all the staff team, and look to the week ahead - that's really helpful. And of course, we'll always pray before meetings or presentations with clients or other businesses - that's something we always commit to.
A few members of the MP team have recently treated themselves to a few Beulah designs.. (!) We loved the recent packaging around the concept of 'kintsukuroi'. Tell us about this?
Like I said, we want every season to represent what we stand for, and our SS14 designs centred around this concept kintsukuroi - which is actually an ancient, Japanese practice of fixing broken pottery by putting it back together with gold. It's all about something being more beautiful for having been broken.
This obviously has parallels with our vision: the redemption and transformation of lives. It also has links with the idea that 'beauty' smashes, and actually our breaking can become part of true beauty.
Do references like this across your designs spark interesting conversations about your faith with people?
Definitely - it's very well-known that both Nat and I have a strong faith, and the press love to ask us about it - people are really intrigued by what we stand for and what our beliefs are. We're obviously really happy to speak to them, it's a way of being distinctive. We get a lot of comments in particular about our name Beulah, which comes from Isaiah 62:4 and is all about the marriage of us and God.
We noticed another Bible reference in the title of your SS13 collection: 'Ephesians 6'. How else do you draw inspiration from the Bible and implement it across your designs?
Yes, we always focus on themes linked to the core concept of transformation of lives, and the bringing of women from darkness to light. We always include a Bible quote at the end of each of our lookbooks, and actually our AW14 collection is called 'Enlightenment', where we have centred around the passages in John (especially John 1:5) about darkness becoming light through Jesus.
What has God taught you through Beulah so far?
The whole thing has been a massive learning curve for us - and so we are always seeking guidance, right up to the 23rd hour. This has taught us lots about trusting God, really trusting - and also lots about obedience. God has led Beulah in different routes to the ones we had imagined, but it's all about that trust and that willingness to let Him work. I've learnt to trust that God has the right plan in every situation.
What advice would you give to girls who are seeking to do God's will, but are at a bit of a cross-roads and struggling with making decisions in their life?
Well, after I graduated, as you know - Nat and I spent those two months out in India. We were working for a church there, which gave us a lot of space and a lot of time to just really speak and listen to God. I think that's key - it's so easy to be caught up in the busy-ness of life, that I really valued having space to think things through.
What I would also say is, trust God with the right plan - but be proactive! Sometimes Christians get a bit lazy and think that they should just wait around for God to speak to them clearly. I think that God actually speaks in lots of different ways - Nat is really visionary, she has great dreams and pictures, but I never get that - God speaks to me quietly, through music or times of worship, or when I'm just standing at the back of church. Be in tune with different callings, and don't think that God will always speak to you as you would expect.
So - don't be scared of trying and testing a few things. If you think you might be able to live for God in a certain place or a certain way - go and do it! If it's the wrong thing, He will guide you to where He wants to use you.
What is your vision for Beulah in years to come? How do you think God might use it?
We would absolutely love to liberate more women, so expand the company and create a hub of employment for vulnerable people. We would love to have these women involved at every level of the company, in the business, the admin, right at the core and heart of Beulah. I suppose we are looking ultimately to be a kingdom business, to operate in a godly way.
Just like our church vision - we want to play our part in the re-evangelisation of the nations and the transformation of society - and we are always learning how to do this in every aspect of the business. We would also love for other companies to see the way we operate and be inspired to work the same way - that would be amazing, for there to be a network of kingdom businesses.