Charlie Grabham is founder of sustainable fashion label, Hues&Co, based in Jesmond. Her stunning maxi dresses and colourful headscarves are made from recycled plastic. As she tells Claudia Robinson, she’s doing her best to help build a more planet-friendly fashion future…
Hues&Co was born after what started out as a sideline for Charlie became, in her words, the main event. Her work led to her travelling a lot and she developed a love for European scarves, building up quite a collection as they were light to pack in her hand luggage. She started selling the scarves on a website and had always wanted to develop her own British brand.
A range of really big, colourful scarves, made from natural and recycled materials. Charlie didn’t start out working in the world of fashion, she explains: “Apart from working in a fashion importer for a year, I am a marketer by trade, which is really the main vehicle for any business these days. It’s a blessing and a curse because when you start out in any industry you don’t know what you don’t know, so firstly, you’re not scared to take the plunge, and secondly, you ask for directions a lot more and therefore grow your network.
“But, at the same time, you make lots of mistakes, often costly ones! My strength (I hope) lies in building relationships, so I have found an amazing network of talented people to realise my brand for me. They are all freelancers or small business owners, so we understand each other. I really get a kick out of working with talented people who can do what I can’t.”
One thing that is very clear is how important sustainability is to Charlie. She tells me how she wanted to create something that didn’t cost the earth, literally: “It’s crucial that my garments don’t harm animals or the planet. Finding sustainable fabrics as a small business is incredibly hard and you also have to consider where your garments are made, by who, and how many miles they have travelled to get here. That is why all my products are made in the UK.”
The fabric Charlie uses is made from plastic bottles that are produced into chips, then transformed into fibre, then yarn.
“This means that at least some plastic bottles are not ending up in landfill or on beaches,” says Charlie.
“You wouldn’t believe how silky it is. It’s breathable, stays cool and is so versatile.
“My fabric is printed in the UK, while the garments are produced by someone who lives just down the road. My dresses are made from one piece of fabric and any offcuts are made into headscarves, so we try to be as close to zero waste as possible. While our packaging, hangtags and even the fabric labels inside the dresses are eco-friendly.”
Charlie started her business creating scarves because, as she explains, they are essentially one piece of square fabric which allows much less room for error!
“I always really wanted to make dresses, but it was important to try and build a customer base first and see what they wanted from the market. I was selling to the UK, Austria, Germany and the US and then Brexit was quickly followed by COVID, so my retail business disappeared overnight. I can’t lie, it was a tough old time! I was living in Amsterdam up until the pandemic.”
I moved there ahead of Brexit to keep my European business going, and because I was, and still am, in love with the city. Then I lost my Dad to cancer, so I moved back to the UK and had six months where there was absolutely no retail trading.
Although these were some of the most challenging months of my life, the world was turning less quickly, so it actually gave me time and space to think about next steps and where I wanted to take the brand.
“I decided to move myself, the business and production back to the UK and focus on sustainability, which felt like the right thing to do. So that was that, decision made – and then it was just a case of finding the people to realise it for me, which, in the middle of the pandemic, was a challenge in itself!”
Charlie tells me how she chose to develop a maxi dress because she’s a big fan and it saved her summer wardrobe.
“I love that you can just slip on a dress and be out all day and night if needs be. I really wanted to create statement pieces that someone could wear from the beach to the bar. These dresses are designed to roll into a weekend case for any eventuality.
They can be worn barefoot on the beach, they can be dressed down with trainers and a denim jacket or dressed up with heels for a night out, or with a hat for a wedding! Oh and they have pockets, which is the one thing that all my customers love!”
Charlie’s business is blooming, just like the beautiful floral and rainbow inspired prints she uses in her designs. As it continues to grow, she explains how she has many exciting plans for the future.
“I have a new maxi dress line and print coming out soon. I would also love to do a line of tailored coats someday but am working to build the consumer side of the business for now. Most excitingly, I have just been approved to link with Wolf and Badger, a huge platform that only sells sustainably and ethically produced fashion, jewellery, accessories and beauty products, so I’m currently busy developing that relationship, planning shoots and gearing up for launch in early summer!”