Our story…

Hi! I’m Clare, the co-founder and owner of Bare Canvas.

Bare Canvas was launched in 2015, built up from nothing but a vision I had with my partner Ben and we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been able to build our business together.

We started as a festival stall and have evolved into an exclusively online shop, making and selling creative handmade and bleach painted clothing as well as accessories and crafts from some wonderful makers we met on our travels. Here's how and a little more about us:


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Where did it all start?

Before we were a couple Ben and I were close friends for many years. I had come from higher education, graduating from Bournemouth Art’s Institute with a BA in Fine Art. I went on to work in the arts sector as well as working my way up to a management role at a well-known high street fashion store. Ben had more of a construction/trade background and had spent years volunteering at many festivals.

We shared a love for the festivals and I would find myself at many of them through the summer often working on artistic projects or working as a fire hula hoop performer. After a while we were lucky enough to find work together working on our friend’s clothing and accessories festival/Christmas market stall. We learned so much from them not knowing at the time how valuable that would be to us in the future.

We very much felt a break was needed in the new year after working long (but fun!) hours at the Christmas stall. Ben had spent a lot of time in Asia which was somewhere I had always wanted to go. It was a very easy decision to make and so we booked one-way tickets to Thailand with the idea of returning in the spring to our friends at the festivals.
We were off!

Travellers Turned Traders

We found ourselves travelling through Thailand and into Malaysia. It was here one morning on a Malaysian island, having breakfast on the beach we reminisced about a conversation we had had in a pub in England before we left. We had discussed the joint wish of one day owning and running our own clothing business that we could take to festivals, events and markets.

My artistic journey had recently taken me back to experimenting with bleach, something I had played with at college when I was 17. I started practicing with small designs, patterns and effects on material and quickly realised I could shade and go much further with it, I could actually properly paint. Over time I developed different techniques to be able to paint in bleach with great detail, this was so fun to me to learn a brand-new media that I had never seen used like this before, learning by trial and error and experimentation.

Perhaps we could somehow combine this with fashion and have our own festival stall? We even came up with a name, ‘Bare Canvas’, a play on ‘blank canvas’ and combining Ben and Clare to make ‘Bare’. Everyone is a Bare Canvas and you can choose to decorate yourself in whatever way you like! We laughed a lot that night and said who knows, maybe one day, it’s a future dream.

While on that beach in Malaysia we found ourselves going past reminiscing and went into how we would actually do it. We decided to spend that day making a future business plan to see what might be possible how. That day we researched everything from licences and insurances to costs, stock and shop fittings, there were a crazy amount of things to research. Somehow though just the following day, we had a solid plan of what we wanted to do and how, the best part? - It actually felt achievable!

It was intended as a plan for the future but we had a huge taste for it. We wanted to start immediately. We felt so strongly that we could make this work and it was all we could think about. Our only option was to somehow secure some funding and this is where we got very lucky. After speaking with many of our friends and family members for around a week, (on the worst internet connection as someone had stolen the cables from the island we were on!) we had somehow secured a number of loans which was enough to make a start on our Bare Canvas dream, we couldn’t believe our luck. Our travels had now become an exciting business
trip! Bare Canvas was GO!

We couldn’t have been happier or more thankful to those people and we would like to say a huge thank you to them. We couldn’t have done it without you and we thank you so much for believing in us!

Developing the business...

Having experimented with bleach on clothing we wanted to complement that with more creative handmade garments. We knew we wanted to source stock in the U.K and from Asia too so we headed back to Thailand after our trip to Malaysia. Thailand was known to us far better than any other Asian country and we had already met a few people we wanted to talk to about our ideas.

In Thailand we set about visiting markets, makers, shops and street vendors looking for ideas and inspiration. We didn’t want to purchase any fabrics, stock or supplies not knowing exactly where it had come from, how it was made, who made it and that working conditions were up to our standards so we took time to talk to people properly. Once we had identified people that we wanted to work with we would request to see where and how they worked to see for ourselves. This took us to some incredibly obscure places, areas, houses, workshops and we met some wonderfully welcoming and fascinating people and families.

Once all of our stock and shipping was arranged there was a quick dash to a Thai island before we were back in the U.K awaiting our stock and getting ready to launch Bare Canvas to all you lovely people. We were feeling super motivated!

We took my artistic passion, retail fashion experience, Ben’s trade background/skills and we set about creating our shop. There was a lot to do from designing logos and signage, rigging internal and external lighting, shops fixtures and fittings to business cards and decoration. Most of the equipment we gathered was either second hand, in need of fixing, upcycled or made from scratch from recycled materials. Our fold out display tables for example were made by Ben from scrap wood from a building site that would have been thrown away.

As well as all the official and legal avenues associated with starting and owning a business I needed to spend time developing and creating bleach art stock and researching ethically sourced clothing that was also easy to work on with bleach. In the end I found a supplier in England that only uses wind and solar power - perfect! 

Trading at Events and Online

When we started Bare Canvas, Festival season had already started and applications for that year’s Christmas markets were long gone. We weren’t sure how we were going to survive until the following year but we had to at least try. We talked to our trader friends and festival contacts and somehow secured pitches at several events that year. We found ourselves at our first festival – Arc Tangent within weeks followed by Bestival and Exeter Christmas Market. 

We then went on to do full circuits of the UK festivals each summer, travelling straight from one to the next. We were proud to have Glastonbury Music Festival accept us into their markets and even prouder to have been shortlist for their Green Trader Awards which recognises stalls that work ethically and sustainably. Out of 900+ traders we made the top 6!

Trading at events was so much fun but it did not come without its problems. We seemed to be particularly unlucky with vehicles and weather. Multiple times we arrived or left a festival on the back of a recovery truck. We had a marquee damaged in bad weather (which included a mini tornado!) and another completely destroyed in a large storm. On several occasions we arrived to festivals to set up and had to be towed onto our pitch site due to the ground being already flooded. We would then have the muddy aftermath to contend with and would need to clean mud off every inch of our equipment and stock after each festival. U.K. weather really can be the pits sometimes!

It is really hard to explain just how fun it all was though. We met some fantastic people, had so many incredible experiences and made many lifelong friends.

During the festivals and markets there was a question asked to us repeatedly… are you online? We weren’t online and it seems strange to say now but it wasn’t a priority to us at the time although it was something that we wanted to do at some point.

We decided to start selling online and have more of an online presence which actually went quite well for us. It eventually took over from selling at events and needed our full attention - not for us to be stuck in a muddy field with no internet connection. We looked at many different options and potential solutions and it really wasn’t an easy decision but we eventually decided to concentrate more on our personal home lives and online side of our business.

Now and to the Future

We now have a quieter lifestyle with time to concentrate on the online side of Bare Canvas. We have an adorable dog called Zoso "the official Bare Canvas mascot" and we could never have had him if we were still travelling the country trading at events. Plus no matter how hard he tries he can never bring home as much mud as we did after festivals!

We've been working hard to build our customer base and social media following. I've learnt a lot of new skills along the way and have used a lot of my previous retail training and experience to give customers the kind of service that they deserve. I am an enthusiastic shopper myself and know what I want out of a good shopping experience. We do things in a way that feels true to us as people which is a refreshing way to work when you've been obiding by a big
company's rules for many years.

After years of using online marketplaces as our platform it is definitely time for our own website, which we built ourselves. We hope you enjoy using it!

We would like to think we can build our business, expand our premises and start to employ some lovely people in future.

Will we return to the fields one day? Never say never, who knows what direction the future will take us.

We hope you have enjoyed our story and continue to support us in the future. We also hope you enjoy shopping with us, thank you to you all!

Ben and Clare, Bare Canvas x