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Buba London started out between two people who kept bumping into each other in acts of serendipity. They produce bags that are works of art and luckily for us have also expanded into sandals, jewellery and homewares with more to come.

I interviewed Lesley Silwood, one half of Buba London recently. Please read the interview below and find out more about the Buba story. Allow your eyes to be dazzled with their beautiful creations at http://www.bubalondon.com

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BACKGROUND & BEGINNINGS

You both met wearing near identical outfits at London fashion week then bumped into each other at the India embassy and then arranged to meet on a beach in Goa.

Yes, we found each other as agreed, neither thinking that the other would show up.

Do you have a photo of yourselves in these matching outfits?!

No I wish we did. We didn’t know each other very well; we had met at a party once and my friend Elliot was taking photos of me for the independent newspaper. Euan tapped me on the shoulder laughing. As I turned around, we looked at each other; shocked that we were in matching clothes. My friend Elliot could not stop laughing saying “did you plan to be matching?’”. I didn’t even know Euan was in the country as he was living in India at the time.

Which year was that?

2000

Were either of you travelling to India with the intention of starting a fashion label?

Euan was already living in India and designing with Jade Jagger on a label called Jade inc. Jade had just been signed to Garrard and the label was about to close, this is when we met. We had lots of friends in common from work and the travelling we had both been doing, we just hadn’t met each other yet.

Do either of you have a background in fashion?

Yes, at the time I was a fashion photographer working with Alice McCall when she was styling so I had been in fashion for a long time. I had just started my own brand of bikinis called Club Tropicana.

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CREATIVE PROCESS

What is the process for creating a new piece? Do you simply draw it and then have it produced in India or do you start playing with the leathers and stones to get ideas?

Euan and our creative team start playing with materials, stones and leather and also looking at past embroidery swatches and colour pallets. We also create mood boards for inspiration. Euan draws everything by hand on special tracing paper for the embroiderers. The designs are then pinned to be transferred to the embroidery looms. He then will work hands on with the embroiders applying the various materials piece by piece. 

How do you stay inspired?

Travelling to different countries helps us stay inspired. Looking at different cultures, traditional arts and handicrafts. Regular visits to London to see galleries, exhibitions and bookshops and perhaps above all constantly observing nature in all its wonder on and around our island home.

Do you create pieces around a theme for a collection?

Some parts of a collection have a strong theme and some just move on organically from the last collection. 

You launch 2 seasonal collections each year. How many pieces do you create for each collection?

Over 100 pieces in each collection if you count the bags and jewellery together.

You’ve also launched into sandals and jewellery, as well as homewares. How did the expansion into these areas come about?

We have always wanted to expand into home furnishings. When you experiment with scale you realise that a lot of the detail of the embellishment for the bags and jewellery translates beautifully when enlarged onto a bigger canvas, just as some of the ideas for the jewellery and bags begin life as large designs. The same with the sandals, essentially the starting point was having a simple shaped sandal to embellish with a similar motif to that used on the jewellery; something elegant and beautiful.

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PRODUCTION

Did you choose India as your production base solely because that’s how the two of you met or because it is home to artisans with particular skills?

The latter, it seemed natural to stay working in India as Euan had already set up a production unit in India which had carried on from Jade inc closing and we wanted to carry on working with the artisans. 

Is it difficult to find people in India who will work with cowhide given their religious belief that the cow is sacred?

Most of our bags are made with sheep nappa so we do not have the issues above. 

How do you go about sourcing an overseas production house?

It’s hard. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not going to live in the country you’re working in.

How do you oversee quality when production occurs overseas?

The staff in india have been working on our brand for 12 years so they know what to look for.

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Do your production team in India work only on your label or do they work for many labels?

Only ours, although we sometimes do some production for Swarovski. We produced all of the Christopher Kane collection for ATELIER SWAROVSKI.

How do you prevent overseas production houses from producing your designs and selling them off to other customers themselves?

It’s ours [production house] so it is usually ok.

What is involved in producing a BUBA London bag?

Too much to go into but there are 10 people who work on one piece at different stages.

Why was it so important to you to keep the traditional techniques of crochet and whipstitch as opposed to the use of a sewing machine?

Embroidery by hand is a dying trade which is usually only used for saris and for traditional Indian dress. We love our pieces looking unique; we do not mass produce so that they all have a little bit of love from all who make the pieces. Our staff are really proud of what they do.

Why does it take 3 weeks for a bag to be made – is that the actual hours involved in producing a bag or does it also factor in postage from India back to London?

No it does take 3 weeks to make. There are so many stages from the embroidery to pasting to finishing. There are 10 people overall that will do a stage on the bag. Then it takes a few days to come to London.

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Does that mean that all bags are made to order rather than you keeping stock in London?

Yes, everything is made to order and we often do bespoke pieces for important clients.

Do you oversee the working conditions of the artisans in India?

Euan is there to oversee the sampling and some of the production. I don’t go so often these days as we have two children together but when I do it is great. I miss them. We are all a team.

How did BUBA LONDON enter the competitive fashion market?

With a bang! We had designed a few pieces that were being sold by the Cross shop. They suggested we enter our pieces for New Gen sponsorship at London fashion week. I didn’t think we would get it as it is so competitive but we did.

I was 9 months pregnant at the time with our first baby and when I arrived on the stand Neiman Marcus and Saks were arguing about who could have the brand. I shouted at them “I’m 9 months pregnant – who was really first?” Saks said they were so I started to write the order. We did not have the funds to produce all the orders so we had let some clients go. It was sad but we could not take on too much otherwise we would break the brand before we had started.

You showcase your jewellery lines at London Fashion Week and Premiere Classe in Paris each season. How much have these showings contributed to your brand being successful?

We get all our clients from the shows; all the most important department stores and boutiques come to Paris.

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FUTURE

As I mentioned before, you’ve moved into sandals, jewellery and homewares as well as your original handbag line. Are there other avenues you’re going to expand into on the horizon?

Euan would like to do some scarf developments and a line in printed and embellished t-shirts. I would like to work on some more interior pieces. 


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Sandals are obviously a Spring/Summer collection item. Will you be expanding into Winter boots and the like too?

No. At the moment, it would be difficult for us to sell shoes alongside the bags and jewellery as it’s a totally different market with a whole new set of buyers; new shows, manufacturers, etc…. With the interiors it is easier to gradually introduce a few products at a time and utilize our current production base.

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What else do you see in BUBA LONDON’s future? 

We are building a new home so I see our interior collection growing. We are also looking to open a flagship store.

REFLECTIONS

Do you have a favourite piece of all time?

Euan –  Vb fairy and mine had to be the Travel bag as originally I designed it to be our baby bag.

How about from this collection?

Euan – freesia day bag and me the same

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What are your best-selling pieces?

All our clutches, purses and large travel bags. Our cuffs and bracelets are the best-selling jewellery pieces.

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CUFFS

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How does it feel when you see people wearing your pieces?

It’s funny as we do not produce on mass so Euan often thinks he knows the people wearing our bags. There have been some funny episodes in Ibiza where we have met people at restaurants or boarding the plane wearing Buba.

Have you had any particularly notable moments when someone has worn one of your pieces? 

Apart from the obvious reference to celebrity, I have about 5 different photos of babies being put and carried around in the Travel bags, which makes me smile. I also have some wonderful pictures from weddings with the bags.

How do you feel that your designs have evolved since you started out?

Naturally they have evolved: the stitching and pattern details have become more elaborate; the range and quality of the materials has broadened and increased but essentially the handmade, artisanal quality remains. 

Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to fellow designers hoping start their own label?

Design from the heart, do your own thing and don’t follow trends.

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That was the interview. Check out the beautiful artisinal pieces at http://www.bubalondon.com

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