For a fashion loving designer, you’d think landing a job creating clothes for a high-street label would be the dream role.

Not so for our latest Eloquently career casestudy. This inspirational woman proves conscience and integrity can often be the most critical ingredients of a successful working life.

Is it possible that, for some of us, our professional ‘calling’ chooses us?

For a fashion loving designer, you’d think landing a job creating clothes for a high-street label would be the dream role.

Not so for our latest Eloquently career casestudy. This inspirational woman proves conscience and integrity can often be the most critical ingredients of a successful working life.

Is it possible that, for some of us, our professional ‘calling’ chooses us?
While some women spend decades – and many unhappy employment experiences – wrestling with which career might be their perfect ‘fit’, others seem almost to have their path embedded in their DNA from the day they’re born.

Shilpa Bilimoria is an absolute prime example of this.

Of Indian descent, she has her parents, grandparents and even great grandparents to thank for the professional journey which appears to have chosen her, and granted her not only some exceptionally creative skills with which to develop her craft, but implant in her an integrity which makes her so in demand today.

At 35, and as an enormously talented tailor and label owner, she is one of a new ‘breed’ of driven business owners bringing their craft to an audience of consumers with conscience.

“I consider myself so incredibly lucky to have been born into a family of men and women who were so incredible at the craft of tailoring,” she says fondly.

“My maternal grandfather migrated to Africa from India in the 40s, and had been in a line of tailors who made clothes for some of the most respected dignitaries.

“He had a shop of his own, and then migrated to Britain in the 60s, from where my family continued to work in tailoring studios for the likes of the Bond Street stores – and, I’m told, even for royalty.”

To Shilpa, who grew up listening to the drumming sounds of a sewing machine for as long as she can remember, the expectation was that surely every home would also have such a machine.

No wonder she took to it without any formal education, from the age of just eight.

“I can remember spending hours on the sewing machine, taking offcuts from my mother’s fabrics, or repurposing old clothes until they had become an entirely new garment,” she recalls.

“I loved the sense of creating something new from old, and being able to be entirely creative with nothing by my own imagination to restrict me.

“It made for a hugely enjoyable way to spend my childhood – and absolutely set the scene for my career.”
Call it coincidence or universal ‘forces’ at play, but the business which Shilpa today leads from a studio in the heart of London could scarcely be more closely aligned with those childhood activities and the joyful reusing of fabric offcuts.

Shilpa’s own clothing label is now rapidly becoming world-renowned.

Yes, it’s built upon quality craftmanship and bespoke creations, but moreover, its ethos is in ‘never contributing to the world’s waste’.

Just as she did at the age of eight, Shilpa is finding ways of repurposing materials which are destined for being discarded.

Be it for her adult clients, or children (as part of her newly launched Mini*Bili by House of Bilimoria range), she is adopting an entirely conscientious business approach, in order to create a fairer and less wasteful ecosystem when it comes to fashion.

“I learned the hard way that while my skill was in tailoring and the production of clothing, you just can’t detach yourself from how your heart and mind feel about the work you’re doing and how you’re going about it,” she says thoughtfully.

“I’d headed off to university to study fashion and textiles, full of enthusiasm and excited by the prospect of working on some of the best known labels.

“Roll the clock forward a few years and I went straight into a job for high street names like New Look, Topshop and others which are now easiest described as ‘fast fashion’ brands.

“What seemed like the dream opportunity for a recent and skilled graduate, just wasn’t doing my happiness or health any good.

“Within six months, everything in my soul was saying that this was not what fashion should be about, and that I ought to be making clothes ‘beautifully’, rather than being thrown a ream of items and told, change that, or tweak that.”
By the age of 23, and being offered medication for blood pressure, and suffering daily heart palpitations, Shilpa decided that she would have to end what felt like a real ‘disconnect’ in her ‘fashion dream’.

Collaborating with a friend from college, she began rediscovering a love of fashion and creation, by making one-offs and selling them at the hugely popular Portobello Market.

Despite being pregnant in the same period, and subsequently taking on the reins on a solo basis when her friend opted for new ventures, she quickly knew that this was by far her more ‘rightful’ professional path.

The steps to formation of her own fashion label had begun in earnest.

“House of Bilimoria officially started in 2008, and has seen me travelling a very windy, varied, complicated journey ever since,” Shilpa admits.

“Things have been really tough in certain aspects of my life – like my marriage breaking down in 2012 – and encountering some difficult periods for the business around growth of resource and sometimes making decisions which haven’t felt entirely ‘true to my heart’.

“What everything has pointed to, however, is that I am at my happiest and most empowered when I’m sticking to my core belief around ‘slow fashion’ and about creating garments with love and care.”

Having wrestled with periods of mass production – for some of the highest end fashion houses – and taken on more and more staff, Shilpa came close to giving it all up in 2016, when her heart once more told her that she was leading the wrong life for her.

She took time to reflect, to renew, and has now emerged again in a new guise, operating out of a recently created business hub environment in Wembley Park.

From there, she is keeping her venture smaller, more focused, and so utterly devoted to an ethos of re-using materials and producing beautiful adult and child clothing which has contributed no further waste to the planet.

“Much of the joy in my work today now comes from sourcing the materials and excitedly turning something new out of that former dress or curtain or leftover piece of fabric which would have been binned by a producer,” she says passionately.

“I go to a lot of charity shops to collate things, and I work with a family-run shop in Wembley where they have all sorts of offcuts of fabrics and they know exactly the kind of prints I will go for.

“My ethos is that House of Bilimoria is about using what is leftover. Fairtrade has been discussed for many years, but this feels like my conscious commitment to providing a purpose for things which are otherwise going to be wasted.

“The fact that my customers really value that approach and want to be part of that goal is so incredibly rewarding and makes every part of my heart sing when I’ve produced another piece which bears my label.”

As a mother of three (two daughters of her own and a stepson), and in a happily committed relationship, Shilpa admits that life at the helm of such a bespoke fashion label can feel extremely frenetic, but she only has to think back to her heritage to know that this is actually where the world wanted her to be.

“I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my business journey, and which I’d openly share with any aspirational businesswoman, is that you have to – at any cost – stay true to you,” she insists.

“It’s all about finding the way which resonates with you.

“I can now find myself designing and creating clothes for a label bearing my own name, and I’m sitting there reflecting on that eight-year-old girl who was making something new from her mother’s old sari.

“This is obviously the path which was meant for me, and it’s one which makes me happier, more fulfilled, and which means that every single day I wake up and cannot wait to get to work.”
As Shilpa’s brand name gathers traction throughout the world, there’s no doubt this is an entrepreneur who is stitching heart, soul and the remnants of life’s many and varied lessons, into each and every garment she produces.

From wherever they are in the universe looking down upon her, those ancestors must be overwhelmed with pride.

For more information about Shilpa’s business, go to www.houseofbilimoria.com and follow on instagram @house_of_bilimoria @mini.bili_by_hob

If you’ve a photo of yourself in an item created by House of Bilimoria, please drop us a line at yesplease@eloquentlyher.com