International Women’s Day
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we thought we’d share a little of Sahara’s story, which couldn’t be more of a testament to female entrepreneurship and independence.
Sahara was founded in the 1970s by Suzy Coppersmith-Heaven, who has been creating collections for independent, free-spirited women for over 40 years. Sahara is a brand run predominantly by women. Suzy now works alongside her daughter Tiffany and husband Vic (there’s the exception), a true family run business, Suzy still leads the Design Team as Creative Director and is as hands on today as she was in the early years.
Suzy started her business after studying at the Royal College of Art where she specialised in print and surface pattern. Travelling throughout South East Asia in the early 70s to reinvigorate her imagination, Suzy became deeply inspired to work with the rich art and culture of Bali, Indonesia, an island destination little known back then. Having only just met her future husband at a party in London, she convinced Vic, who worked as a record producer at the time, to travel with her. They both fell in love with Bali and in 1973 they built a humble thatched wooden house with the help of craftsmen from the villages surrounding Ubud – the spiritual and creative centre of the island.
In Bali, Suzy met a network of other creative entrepreneurs and designers, many of them maverick women themselves who were all seeking to develop their inspirational ideas with the abundant talents of local artists. The process of working with local creatives was very much a sharing and exchanging of ideas, it was from the outset that her ethical principles of fair trade were ingrained within the business.
Suzy’s early collections sold out immediately to many well-known fashion stores across London. Plunged in at the deep end, she quickly learnt how to build up strong community workshops to fulfil the quantity of orders she was receiving. Her first retail store opened in Covent Garden in the mid 70s, followed soon by Marylebone and then Chelsea – plus several beautiful historic towns were added, which were all en route to Suzy’s family home in the Cotswolds.
Having grown her business from Bali, in the early 90s Suzy was introduced to Morocco and she soon based her production within the colourful walls of palm-fringed Marrakech. Finding her creative place inside the souks she sought out weavers, dyers and tailors on the back of a bicycle. Flanked by the Sahara desert upon which Suzy established her new label, she spent the next 20 years developing her garment dyed collections with a family run factory. Meanwhile, her clothes became iconically popular amongst her expanding group of faithful customers back in the UK. Working in Morocco as a woman at that time didn’t come without its challenges despite its progressive reputation, it took many years before Suzy felt truly accepted and respected by the patriarchal system at play during those years. It was a steep cultural learning curve for everyone.
Fast forward to today and attitudes towards women have come a long way in most of the countries Suzy works in. Sahara collections have also grown – and with 14 boutiques and over 150 employees, most of whom are women, Sahara still continues to champion female entrepreneurship.
Sahara’s focus is now back in the UK, where over 60 percent of its autumn collections are made on home soil. As proud supporters of British manufacturing, “Made in England” is important to Suzy and her family, in an effort to ensure the survival and growth of British Made in our ever globalised society.
For Suzy, it has been a working lifetime adventure around the globe, and we pay homage to all the female leaders and mavericks of the world who are forging the path for future generations. Suzy and the team would like to extend a Happy International Women’s Day to all the women who have been part of the Sahara story. And of course, to you, the inspirational women who are so committed to our brand. We thank you now and always – Happy International Women’s Day.