Over the next few months I am going to be talking to other designers and brand owners who have sustainability at their core. Starting with Charlie Davies from SAHEL. SAHEL is a luxury craft label, working with traditional horse reins makers in Burkina Faso. It is a social enterprise that exists to help alleviate poverty and preserve endangered skills in West Africa, founded by former fashion editor Charlie Davies. They sell bags, belts and tassels that incorporate the reins makers’ hand woven leather straps and invest profits back into their community.
Where did the idea for SAHEL come from?
I was living in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso when I met a family of horse reins weavers. Their craft was stunning but had little use because horses are now a rare luxury in West Africa. I saw the potential for using them as fashion accessories and that’s when I was inspired to start SAHEL.
What’s your vision?
For SAHEL to exist for generations to come, providing an income for the reins makers that will enable them to continue to live the way they want to live, staying in their rural villages but with better access to health care, education and water.
What does your typical working day look like?
My youngest child is at nursery every morning so that is my prime working time – for Skyping my team in Burkina, corresponding with my UK producers, marketing, website, sales and everything else in between! I also work some evenings when the girls are in bed. Thankfully my husband is really supportive and I can work from home most of the time.
How do you bring ideas to life?
With a lot of trial and error usually! I sketch designs, make toiles from scratch or play around with existing styles before commissioning a prototype.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Sustainability! I understand the buzz that a new trend or fashion can give, but I’m wary of buying or making products that are bang on trend. Once something is everywhere it’s nowhere. Good design outlasts fads and can be styled to work different looks.
Who inspires you now and who has influenced your thinking?
Annegret Affolderbach my business coach. Just by understanding my vision and being on the same wavelength she has helped me see the way forward for SAHEL.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge for a brand with sustainability at its core?
SAHEL sells hand crafted products that are not mass produced, so they are inherently more expensive to make. But sustainable luxury is a tricky concept to convey. Sustainability demands responsibility. Luxury invites us to indulge.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would get my profit margins, minimum orders and terms right from the beginning. I started out so eager to please that I nearly ran myself into the ground. Sustainability begins at home.
What’s next for you and your brand?
I’m excited about Blenheim Horse Trials coming up (8-11 September) where we will be launching SAHEL for the first time to a horsey crowd. I love horses and am looking forward to sharing the equestrian heritage story behind SAHEL.
Is there anything you haven’t yet tackled, but will want to do soon?
I’d really like to find a good shoemaker to work with on some ideas using the handwoven straps.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I once danced with Leonardo De Caprio.
What is the one book that you recommend people read?
MagnifEco by Kate Black. It’s an easy to read guide to ethical fashion and beauty.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting a sustainable brand?
Do one thing well.
Why should people buy from you?
Firstly because our products are unique and beautiful. Secondly because they are life giving and meaningful to the people who made them.
If you would like to tell us your brand’s story, please get in touch.