As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Alice Begg from Humphries & Begg about the trip to India that inspired it all.
Humphries & Begg is run by a husband and wife duo. What inspired you two to team up and create this brand together?
Well we actually began very early on in our relationship just two months after we had met. I (Alice Begg) was planning a trip to India and Robbie (Humphries) decided to come along, we found our first tailor in Jaipur and I sampled jackets and dresses in tweeds and wax cottons. Robbie got involved and we made some floral shirts and velvet jackets. It all came together very spontaneously. When we arrived home people liked what we had created so we began as Humphries and Begg. It fits together nicely as a name.
We love all of your colourful prints and patterns. Where do you get your design inspiration?
It has taken a few years to get the style of the brand to where it is now. The end of 2016 was a real turning point. I had been developing my style of print- painterly colourful stroke effects- for a while and slowly it started to click in to place.
I get inspired by colours. They could be anywhere, but I’m always looking for colour combinations, whether they are in a sign, or painting or piece of fabric or something on the street. I then limit myself to a palette for the collection and then the prints just kind of come. Really just from my head, I always think it’s a bit like when you’re dressing a room, or hanging pictures on a wall, you just seem to get a feeling when a line is in the right place according to some other object or shape.
How would you describe the style of Humphries & Begg? Who do you envision wearing your clothes?
Humphries and Begg is light and colourful, fun and comfortable to wear. We always use natural fabrics and they are generally pretty loose fit. We also do quite a lot of unisex pieces. Our customers are looking for something a bit different. Something that is really easy to wear but still makes a bit of a statement. That is how Robbie and I dress, so we design clothes we would want to wear.
Why did you decide to produce Humphries & Begg in Jaipur, India? Who are your production partners, and how did you find them?
A large part of us producing items in Jaipur is because it’s the historical home of fabric printing. They have so much knowledge and skills. They have been block printing here for over 4000 years, which is staggering. It is amazing to watch them print in Jaipur. The heat means the colours dry so quickly making it such a fast process, especially compared to the UK. We have been using the same family run business for 5 years now. We now work with the grandson Abhay. His grandfather who started the company 40 years ago is still involved. He is developing a new natural dyes selection at the moment, which is really exciting.
It feels very right to print our fabrics here. They also make the garments up in house. We found them through one of our rickshaw drivers on one of our early trips, the rickshaw drivers have all the knowledge!
Last year I started also creating pieces in London, hand painting jackets and other items, I really enjoy this process so am looking forward to developing this further.
Do you get to visit Jaipur often? And if so, what is your favourite part of visiting?
Yes we visit once or twice a year. It’s great to visit, so you can see and understand the process better and look at the possibilities. Indians generally have such a can do attitude, which I love. There are endless possibilities and someone always there to show you how things can be done.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret ‘ethical fashion’?
I see ethical fashion as knowing the source and the process and being transparent about it. Making sure the garments have been made in a fair and safe environment and that the people involved have been paid fairly. To be conscious on what effects the products you’re producing have on the environment. As more brands start to use organic fair trade fabrics the easier and more common they will be to source. My supplier says only really a few brands from the west are asking for these at the moment. We hope this will start changing soon, this will mean it is just as easy to source organic cotton as standard cotton.
How do you think Humphries & Begg embodies your understanding of ethical fashion?
We demonstrate through our website and social media our production process through pictures and film. We try to test every thing we bring out to make sure our customers actually want the product and to prevent over production. There are huge amounts of waste in the fashion industry, suppliers are always pushing for higher quantities but you should only produce what you can sell. The fast turn around of seasons and trends ideally needs to slow down, this is how it has always been. However now that it is easier to sell direct through the web to your customers it means you can be a bit more flexible in when you release things and how many pieces you produce. We are starting to explore more sustainable fabrics. As we grow and gain more knowledge I hope this will become easier.
Do you think fashion brands, such as yours, can play a role in economic development?
Yes definitely, by supporting small industries in the developing world we are providing jobs and money. This trickles out into other local services and boosts the local economies.
What advice do you have for people who want to shop more ethically?
Look at what you’re buying, where you’re buying it from. Read up on brands. Support small brands that are trying to do good things. We feel there is a real movement towards ethical fashion and it will slowly move into the main stream. We hope the high street will start to see that consumers want to know more about what they are buying. The trend in buying something cheap that you wear a couple of times is changing, we feel people would rather pay more for something that is well made and will last.
How would you like to see Humphries & Begg grow in the future?
We want Humphries and Begg to continue to grow in a sustainable way, we plan to launch a homeware line this winter and to develop our ‘By Hand’ line that is all made in the UK. We would love to grow our reach globally, but maintain our current production line. The more we grow the more we will be able to explore different organic and natural lines of materials and dyes. Our producer Abhay is just starting to develop these lines further we want to help and encourage this and to provide the orders to enable him to do this.