Sophie Pawson used to be a fashion buyer (River Island, Arcadia, ASOS) and then, in February 2013, after 12 years of doing that, she walked away. She realized she was no longer in love with fashion. In fact, she felt burnt out and empty. But she was only 35, what was she going to do now? Luckily she had a very understanding husband and when she said she wanted to chuck it all in, he said he'd support her decision.
A year later she's sitting inside a pretty little beach hut called The Marguerite in Whitstable and it's not only her own business -- it's a brand new life.
During the week Sophie and her husband live in Hackney. Sophie works part-time for a café called "Pie In the Sky" which is run by the charity called "Foodcycle" that aims to give people in deprived economic areas a fresh start. Sophie's role as a mentor in the kitchens at "Pie In the Sky" is to supervise and work alongside people with learning and physical disabilities and help them develop social skills and a sense of purpose. "Pie In The Sky" uses donations from supermarkets and other food outlets of raw materials -- fruit and veg that's almost at its sell-by date -- and makes nutritious meals to sell in the café. It's a world away from fashion.
And, at the weekend, Sophie gets away from London too. She heads down to Whitstable to The Marguerite with her two French bulldogs (Dominic and Dave, who have their own adorable Instagram account) and puts the finishing touches to her very own beach hut.
A year ago, while walking the dogs along the beach, she spotted a beach hut that was for sale and, although her friends said she was crazy, spent her entire savings on buying it. Because she had no more cash left, she had no choice but to do all the work herself. And that's made all the difference to how she feels about this new life. She's done it herself.
The Marguerite was in disrepair when she bought it and she started from scratch, stripping down paint, doing the electrics, weather-proofing the outside, repairs galore. Again, due to lack of funds, and a desire to make The Marguerite something truly her own, Sophie sourced all the furniture locally and as thriftily as possible.
And now it's ready to rent for tired city-dwellers who need a place to escape to. Sophie has expanded The Marguerite's business plan to include catering. When people rent the beach hut they can also buy one of Sophie's hampers. Everything is bought locally on Whitstable High Street -- or baked by Sophie herself (she just learned how - needs must). She does a deli and cheese hamper with local chutneys or afternoon tea (with her home-made scones) or children's tea party fare.
It's only looking back now that Sophie can see how her fashion training taught her savvy business skills, how to be innovative with a budget, use inspiration and source materials from wherever they appear and to be open to chance. She doesn't regret a minute.
And The Marguerite is such a beautiful place to sit and dream while watching the sun sink into the horizon. Or shelter under an umbrella with a mug of P G Tips if the Great British Summer does its usual thing.