Becky Caulford is the CEO and front-person of Honeybea Designhive, a Toronto-based company that sells a collection of wildly bohemian and free-spirited fashion. Caulford’s inspiration has come while travelling Canada’s festival circuit and doing things straight from the heart.
One year ago, Caulford and her husband, Dave, welcomed their first child into the world – Rosie. We had the opportunity to chat with Caulford via telephone to learn about her new adventures as a mom, her brand, her passion and all that she does when she’s not making and selling eco-friendly fashion to people around the world.
Here’s our full interview:
1. You are a celebrated Canadian designer and Eco-Fashion pioneer. What does it mean to you to have accomplished so much in Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, and throughout the country?
I am so happy to be able to make the things that I love to make. The notion that I’ve been able to be successful and make this a career, anywhere – to me, I am so grateful to do what I love. No matter if it’s a big city or a teeny spec on a map.
2. How did you come up with the name Honeybea Designhive?
My name is Becky, but my family calls me Bea. When I was younger, I was Little Bea. Then, the business became a real thing and I wasn’t just pretending. I had to think about what I wanted my name to be. I love nature and meadows. There is something about honeybees. They are so sweet, tough and busy. There is something also very vintage of the image of a honeybee, too. It goes to farm-house kind of stuff, antiquey.
3. On your website, you say you were born to create! As I can totally relate to this, it would be great to hear from your own perspective when you realized that creating was something you wanted to do.
We can’t remember the beginning of our lives, but I feel completely confident and certain that I was born to do this. I do remember some little things from when I was very young. My grandparents had a cottage and we would always go up there. There were these retro, loveable, tacky, ’70s things. One of those things was a set of plastic drink coasters. They had coloured butterflies inside. There were six or seven, and they were in every colour. I vividly remember wanting to sit on that living room floor and arrange them in spectrums – start with blue and see what pattern I can make. I always wanted draw rainbows. I always wanted to do things where you would put one colour next to another.
You learn as an artist what your strong point is. The longer I do this, the more I realize that my strong suit is colour. Each scarf and sweater I make is like a painting to me.
Having a baby, I watch Rosie, and I see that she is drawn to certain things. She won’t remember these things herself, but seeing what her natural strengths are is totally amazing.
4. Did you always want to get into fashion and design?
I knew I wanted to be in art, but didn’t know how to get into fashion. I started learning how to sew at 15-years-old, when my mom showed me the machine. I taught myself.
I was not interested, and still am not interested, in the fashion industry. I relate more to an artisanal community. Anything from painting to textile art to illustration, even pottery, really speaks to me. More than something like fashion week, even though I am a fashion designer.
5. What about Eco-Fashion drew you in?
I didn’t even realize what I was doing. This was not an intentional mission. I just loved all kinds of old, vintage prints. If I went to Value Village, I saw that I could pick all these amazing patterns. I loved going to Fabricland and going to quilting section and putting things together. I loved second hand stores. Then, I started looking at curtain rings, coasters and napkin rings and I started asking myself what could I make with these? Then, I realized that all these products were recycled. This was back in 2003, this was before the green movement. I really had to educate people – everyone. I never said, “This is recycled,” when trying to sell something. I had to explain what that is at that time. This is what propelled me to be successful.
6. Why should more people be into Eco-Fashion? Why is it so important?
It’s obviously a good thing to try and take away from the accumulation of waste. A lot of the stuff I recycle is old but some of the stuff is last season’s H&M and Joe Fresh. Small, honest, business is what is most important, wherever materials are from. I love using old sweaters because who has time to knit that much stuff? Places like H&M and Joe Fresh are disgustingly over-producing garments and then people are throwing them out. You go out for a bag of potatoes and you come back with three sweaters that you never needed in the first place.
7. You and Honeybea Designhive are heavily involved in various Canadian festivals. Which festivals and events will you be involved in during the coming months?
We are constantly evolving. Honeybea is me, my heart, my soul, my life. As I grow, my business changes.
I love the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The Ball’s Falls Thanksgiving Festival. I will continue with a few of my favourites in 2016. I feel very comfortable with how Honeybea is moving forward. We may do less festivals and more wholesale. I want to sell all over the world. Products can get there faster than I can get there.
8. What has been the most challenging part about owning your own business?
The business side. The strategies that I was not born with. I do what I do. I run my businesss the same way I make my art – I do what I feel and follow my instinct. I go with my own flow of how I want things to unfold. I am a big believer in spirit guides and that things all happen for a reason.
The most challenging part, though, is trying to handle all of this success, in a non-arrogant way. My products have been in such high demand. I can’t make them fast enough. I don’t know how to market them fast enough. My main goal is to try to have more confidence and more faith, that everything will be okay. But also, what I will need to accomplish business success so I can get things done and get this where it deserves to go.
9. When you’re not Honeybea-ing, what’s a day in the life for you?
Rosie is one, so that has been this past year, which is has been a beautiful experience – more beautiful than I could ever imagine. It’s unrecognizable at the same time.
I like to explore creative outlets, get my hands on things, try new mediums, try new types of design. I love looking for junk and materials and unusual things in unusual places. I love finding old things. I can’t do that with Rosie because she hates the car. She is literally a handful.
My life is with her and with my husband Dave. I love being cozy. I love doing more research online these days because I can’t go out and do things with a baby. I like looking at visiual things.
I love my family.
10. Are you a one-person show, or do you have others helping you with Honeybea and its mission?
I am a sole proprietor! But, I have an assistant. I have a few interns who have been hired part-time, as they are still doing school.
11. What’s your favourite product currently for sale at Honeybea (either online or in store/third party sellers)?
The bumwarmers are very special. This is something that did not exist in Canadian fashion. Obviously, mini skirts existed and knit skirts existed. But the concept of a bum warmer that was to be worn over pants and leggings is something that Honebyea created and invented. That, for so many reasons, is my favourite.
I have made so many of them, that I am more excited about some other things: This intensely bohemian, floor length cardigans – they are called the meadow dancer maxi cardigan. They are like a painting. Each one is like 15 to 18 different sweaters. I bundle them a bit like a bouquet and put the finishing and trimming all together. I have to find all these patterns.
Thrifting around is my favourite thing to do. I am really interested in festival wear.
12. You also have an Etsy store! Has Etsy helped you grow your customer-base? How?
Etsy inspires me to reach more and more and more people. For that reason, I think Etsy is a very positive thing for me. I realize that the world is at my fingertips, literally.
We sell all over. We sell to the United States more and more. It’s so exciting to look at who is buying our stuff and then learn about how they heard about us.
I’d like that to get stronger.
13. Did you ever have doubts about selling your stuff online? Or was it a no brainer for you?
I find selling stuff online overwhelming. I have to make enough to have it for shows I go to, and enough for Etsy, then I have to write about it and take photos and check my emails and then package it up and send it off. There are a lot of pros and cons, the pros outway the cons for sure. If we are that busy with Etsy and our buisness, I may need to add to our team. I also have fears about selling online because of plagiarism. But, I know that no one is going to make this stuff like me. It comes from my heart and making things from your heart is your biggest asset. That is your protection. That is your reason to say that nothing else matters.
14. What is it like working with third party stores throughout Canada to sell your products?
It’s exciting. I’m getting more and more into the idea. I’m really excited to do more of it. It’s a bit challenging. Cost is all of a sudden an issue. Before that, you’re just thinking, I am going to make this out of recycled sweaters because you know your margins and don’t need to break them down. But, with wholesaling, you have to look at your accounting and numbers in depth. You also have to be careful that you create contracts that are safe and well thought out for yourself. Otherwise, you will run into problems with people taking the product and taking things you aren’t comfortable with. It’s a learning experience. I like to learn as I go. I don’t like to try to figure it all out from the beginning. You have to learn from mistakes.
15. What has been the best part about working with other Canadians who share similar passions as yours?
The music festivals are the best. All the other designers, craftspeople and artisans set up in these places – coming together and getting to meet these people from all across the country is wonderful. It’s always in a landscape in a beautiful place in Canada. I also love hanging out with the bands. Musicians shop at your booths! Life is long. I can go back to doing festivals later on. Right now with Rosie, I am inspired to do more wholesaling.
16. If you could do this all over, starting from the beginning, what would you do differently?
I try to have no regrets. I try to be very present in what’s happening. I did not have a business plan. I just started making stuff. When I started making the bum warmers, I didn’t think anyone would care or understand. But, I haven’t stopped running since that day. I would maybe have gotten more of an office-side to my business. A desk. A printer. A place for my paper. I have a lot of papers and I don’t like them but I need a space for them. The clutter disrupts your limited sleep – you think about where those papers are all night long!!
17. On your website, your about page starts with “…the only way to really succeed is to remain unwaveringly true to one’s self…” How do you practice this advice in your daily life, as entrepreneur, business-owner, fashionista, Canadian and human being?
I just follow my heart. I just create things that make my heart sing. When they’re right, my heart literally feels like it vibrates. I just follow that. I don’t follow trends or follow other designers. I’ve been knocked off left, right and centre, having original work. It’s another way to remind myself where my work comes from – that is what matters. My protection is my heart and originality. I don’t care for $10,000 in copyright and patents that don’t protect a thing.
18. For other young professionals hoping to jumpstart a career in entrepreneurship, what advice do you have for them?
Follow your heart. Work with love as your main intention. Do what you love, be true to yourself, don’t follow trends, don’t make decisions out of fear, just try to work with love at the forefront of what you are doing. AND, not because you think you will get great karma (I don’t believe in that stuff), but be friendly, kind and approachable. If you need to call a certain place to get labels made, be nice and friendly. Be a real person. Small businesses are the way the world is moving. It’s crucial that we all start to be more human.