Behind The Brand..Pink House
We chatted with Lotty Bunbury, the founder and designer behind both Lotty B silks and Pink House Mustique luxury resort and swimwear brands.
Firstly, why Mustique?
In 1992 the British Medical Journal put out an advertisement: “Doctor needed on small private island for one year.” We had recently arrived back in London from working in a missionary hospital in Zululand. Mustique sounded like an ideal place to spend the first year with our brand new baby. My husband, Michael, had been a doctor in the British army for 7 years before our travels in Africa, so his combined previous experience suited the job well as a solo doctor on a remote island.
And what was it like raising a family on the island?
"Idyllic" sums it up best. 30 years ago Mustique would be buzzing for Christmas and Easter but no one visited during the summer months, so from April to November we had a Robinson Crusoe island lifestyle for the children to grow up in. They could swim before they could walk; climbing coconut trees was second nature and adventuring through the bushes to find tarantula nests and scorpions was a great pastime. Neither of these are poisonous here on Mustique, by the way, so life was pretty stress-free as a parent and we could let them run free. The island school took them up until the age of 11 and classes were mornings only, which suited us all perfectly and we could spend the afternoons at the beach, riding or playing tennis.
The summer months have now become very popular for visitors and life here is pretty busy all year round so our timing was perfect as far as bringing up a family. At the age of 11, each of our four children went to boarding school in England and got to know their grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins, so life was pretty good and I don't think they missed us too much, although we, of course, missed them! They always came back home for Christmas, Easter and summer holidays.
When did you decide to start your business? – to open the shop and launch the website?
In a sense, I can say I started 30 years ago when I arrived here with a six week old baby and some silk and silk paints to keep me occupied for the year. Little did I realise that 30 years later we would still be here.
My career was going to be in stained glass. I had studied at Chelsea Art School as a stained glass artist, but thought I'd put it on hold while we spent a year in the Caribbean, hence the silk and silk paints.
I soon started painting silk sarongs, hand hemming them and selling them at local craft events we would put on as a community at Christmas. Next I started to make kaftans out of my hand painted sarongs and Pat Beard, editor of Town and Country Magazine at the time, and a regular visitor to Mustique, kindly wrote an article on us to promote my cottage industry business. As a result of that my husband made a little website for me and I sold kaftans under the label "Lotty B - Mustique" to people in Palm Beach who would email me their measurements and I would make bespoke kaftans and courier the finished pieces to them.
At this point Tommy Hilfiger took a couple of my kaftans up to his NY fashion show at Bryant Park and Colin Fenn, from Fenn Wright and Manson, introduced me to the idea of printing my silks when hand painting became too slow to keep up with demand and kindly had my first designs printed up for me. In addition, John Robinson from Jigsaw showcased a small collection of my designs in his London shops. The kindness and encouragement from them all helped to build my confidence so that, in 2008, when the little gingerbread shop came up for rent, I took the plunge. We called it "Pink House" obviously!
It is a beautiful and iconic island treasure and, along with Basil's Bar, must be the most photographed building on Mustique.
When I took the shop on I already had quite an established collection of silk and linen kaftans and resort wear for women, so I added a line of linen printed shirts and swimming trunks for men under the label "Pink House Mustique" which has grown from strength to strength and they are all now sold around the world.
The photography is wonderful - very natural and appealing - how do you organise the shoots? And who are your models?
Of course the fabulous island scenes and great natural lighting are a huge advantage and I am very lucky to have a pool of family and friends who are very used to me taking the odd hour or two of their holiday to photograph them modelling our latest creations! Everyone is welcome to join in and we have tremendous fun at our shoots, nothing is taken too seriously. Some people help with the photography, others on wardrobe and everyone who is not camera shy is encouraged to get in the picture.
Your prints are gorgeous - how do you get your ideas?
Mustique is my muse and, because I live here almost all year round, nearly everything I design is inspired by this little island. I walk most days, usually off the beaten track along the coastal pathways and I am continually fascinated and enthused by the stunning colours and combinations of colours, or the shape of a leaf or an insect. I often bring a plant home that has captured my interest and I sketch it, then paint it and sometimes I take it to the next stage, which is to simplify it and make a repeat pattern. I am constantly building up the design and then simplifying it depending on what it is for.
Because I am not hemmed in by designing for any one thing, i.e. women's fashion or fabric design or china, I can design whatever I feel like and the Pink House is the flagship store for all we create. We can trial run things in the shop here before putting them on our website for world wide distribution.
Who designs the garments?
Originally all the designs were mine. My first memory of designing a piece of clothing was for my teddy bear when I was about 6 years old, sitting on our veranda steps in Africa where our nanny helped me cut out a felt jacket. I think it was the first time I was aware of three dimensions in a practical sense - in that the jacket couldn’t be flat, it had to fit around the fullness of the bear’s tummy. I always loved stitching and I was very good and neat from an early age and my love of sewing and making clothes grew as I got older and I became more proficient.
Since I have been designing for my collections, family and friends have given me tips, eg. try a longer style or a different sleeve, or they’ve shown me a piece that they particularly like and of course I take inspiration from these suggestions. I have also really enjoyed working with students who have an idea they might like to go into fashion and it is so rewarding to be able to give an opportunity to someone to design their first piece. My favourite of these was the Eleanor Playsuit, one of our first Limited Edition pieces, designed entirely by Eleanor who was an intern with me at the time.
What is your favourite garment?
The “Lotty” Kaftan of course! Actually, that’s not strictly true, although I do wear it most evenings that we are out for dinner as it is so easy to dress up with a pair of high heels and a necklace. Equally, it is easy to wear more casually with a pair of flip-flops - and it is extremely comfortable.
However, the sarong remains my best friend. I really never go anywhere without one. The sarong is simply the most versatile and useful piece of clothing ever and can be made to fit almost every occasion from acting as a sling for a sprained wrist to becoming a stunning evening dress.
What is next for the brands?
For Lotty B: a series of Limited Edition silk pieces all made in the UK. We are very excited about this new project and hope to be launching the first pieces in the next couple of months.
For Pink House: I’d like to continue to add more to our interior collections. I started designing china a couple of years ago and it is all made by hand in England in the famous historic china factories of Stoke-on-Trent.
My latest venture is into furnishing fabrics. I worked with the Interior Designer, Tristan Auer, who re-decorated the Cotton House Hotel and he invited me to design all the curtain fabrics to match the name of each room, for instance: Papaya; Mango; Jasmine and Guava etc. I have also designed fabrics for several private houses and my current project is creating a collection of indoor-outdoor performance fabrics made by 'Sunbrella'. These are all island inspired designs, which I hope to have available on my website in the new year… (‘which new year?’ I hear my husband say. This has been a dream of mine for quite some time!)
What are the key sustainability goals for the brands?
Very close to our hearts at the moment is mindfulness in ecological, ethical and sustainable practice in all we do. It is a huge subject and takes up the vast majority of our time. We are conducting an ecological audit of the business and trying to improve each area with the aim of caring better for our environment; and sustaining and building it for a better future. You can read more about this in our blogs as we are documenting our journey.
All our new outer packaging is recycled and recyclable and made in England to reduce our carbon footprint. We are now working with UK companies to produce our gift packaging; our bespoke tissue paper is printed in London and our new gift boxes will be manufactured in Cornwall.
An important development is that our next collection of swimming trunks will be made from recycled polyester. Inch by inch we are making headway, while keeping the aesthetic.
Mustique is a nature reserve and we all take great care and interest in its wellbeing, so knowing my brand starts here on-island and this island inspires all I do, I would like to know that the same care is taken into the world beyond Mustique's shores.
There is a great deal spoken about "sustainability" in the fashion sector. It is generally agreed that so called "high street fast fashion" should be relegated to the past and there are lots of people working very hard to make the change happen. We are very pleased to have joined Make It British: the brainchild of Kate Hills, a former buyer for Marks and Spencer, Burberry and other well-known and regarded brands. During her career in retail she witnessed the closure of many garment factories and now the reinvigoration of British manufacturing is at the core of her mission. We love this and are working with MiB to do what we can to help and are keen for Kate to help us navigate a move for more of our production to the UK.
In the meantime, as our customers know, all of my designs are made to keep and that is at the heart of the business. We know that when they buy my prints it is because they have fallen in love with them and we want to make sure that they can fall in love over and over again! That is one of the reasons why we recommend a cool machine wash or hand washing and natural drying.
Keeping hold of clothes for a long time is something our grandparents/great grandparents thought was natural and it seems only right that beautiful clothes should stay in your wardrobe for you to enjoy time after time. I mean by this that you might lend your favourite Lotty kaftan to your sister when she is off to a big party, but you will be sure to have it returned!
See their collection here.
Follow their adventure @pinkhousemustique