Laura Cartledge discovers how an artistic eye, an exotic holiday and a love of fashion inspired a business.
Former art student Alison Taylor admits she’s always had ‘an eye for colour’.
However a silk village in Vietnam caught more than just her attention.
“I was transfixed,” she admits. “It was just beautiful.”
The holiday, coupled with a car accident, gave Alison the nudge ‘to stop dreaming and start doing it’.
Her creative journey had taken the Sompting resident from studying painting to working in the theatre, where Alison believes she caught the fashion bug.
“I became more interested in the costume department and it started there really,” she explains.
“But I went into waitressing and kept dreaming about it.”
Turning this into a reality happened in 2004 with the launch of Alison’s brand Sula.
“I lived off soup for a while, I started with nothing,” she confesses. “I never borrowed I just grew it.”
Now the clothing, which she describes as ‘quite plain’ as she likes ‘the material to be itself’, has attracted clients from across the world.
Despite its growth the business is still strongly rooted in the village which started it all.
“I have been working with the same silk village for more than ten years,” reveals Alison. “It has been amazing to see the changes, it is like a whole other place.
“They are such a positive group of people, really committed,” she adds, “in a way it is that which made me want to work with them.”
Buying directly from this source is just one of the ways Sula tries to do ‘everything in the best way we can’.
As such, ‘integrity’ is a word which comes up often when talking to Alison, and she admits it is so key she ‘couldn’t do it without it’.
This focus gives the pieces a real history, heritage and identity, especially when compared to companies that might deal with fabric from the roll rather than the craftsmen.
“The silk we buy is woven in people’s homes on looms,” she enthuses. “I imagine it is a family thing where they all work on it.
“A lot of them have agricultural backgrounds, they grow lotus.”
Meanwhile all of the woven cotton garments are made from Khadi.
“The cotton is from India and was a type used by Gandi as a symbol against anti-colonialism,” Alison reveals.
“It is hand sown as well as hand woven which is really important with cotton as it just changes it and it is really beautiful.
“It has character, some of it is really fine.”
While the clothes are undeniably special, Alison is keen to show they are for ‘real life’ which resulted in a photo campaign.
“We had people saying ‘it won’t look like it does on that amazing Vietnamese model on me’,” she recalls, adding the project which starred local customers got a ‘great response’.
“People were saying ‘I get it now’ it looks amazing on normal sized people.”
The best advocate is Alison herself as she admits she doesn’t go shopping, preferring to live in her own creations.
“I’m lucky, I always wear mine. Either that or I do swaps with a friend in New York who is in the same business,” she smiles. “I’m waiting on a delivery now actually.”
Aside from having a wardrobe to envy, Alison’s favourite part of her work is the creativity.
“I like picking the colours the best. Every season I come up with a palette that inspires me, often based on a fleeting moment like the light in the morning,” she says.
“I suppose it is because of the painting thing.”
In comparison the ‘business side’ hasn’t been so easy.
“It doesn’t come naturally to me,” Alison agrees. “I have had to teach myself.”
So far, so good, it seems, but what are the hopes for the future of the Shoreham business?
“I’m not exactly wanting to grow it, I have one employee and maybe I would like another one,” she replies.
“I just want it to continue with integrity and earning a living.”
For more information on Sula, based at The Old Customs House, 1 Brighton Road, Shoreham-by-Sea, visit here or call 01273 594647.
This article was taken from the June edition of etc, your free, monthly lifestyle magazine. For more stories like this, visit here