Bethany Williams, AW20, Menswear, London.
While some designers and brands attempt to add a sustainable component to an existing fashion business, Bethany Williams has been steadily working on building a business where her approach to sustainability is intrinsic to the structure and motivation of the business. The sustainability in her work is also multi-faceted – not only through her use of materials that are only organic or recycled, but also the social component to the work.
For the Autumn-Winter 2020 Menswear collection entitled ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, there is a symbiotic relationship between the themes behind the collection, the materials chosen, the approach to manufacturing and the social issues placed into the spotlight as a result. At its core, the collection is a collaboration with the Magpie Project», a charity that supports women and their young children who find themselves in a situation of deadlock. When people slip through the gaps of the welfare system, usually due to their immigration status, and are labelled as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ this can produce a situation where women are homeless and trying to take care of small children, but are unable to work, study or move, and are unable to have welfare support.
These ideas have been translated into tangible components of Williams’ collection through her textile-driven approach to fashion design. Illustrator Melissa Kitty Jarram visited the Magpie Project with Bethany on multiple occasions to hear the stories of the mothers and their children, and these ideas have been translated into the vibrant prints used in the collection. Inspiration has also been taken from the nurturing environment needed to take care of children. For example, old bedding has been repurposed and appears in the collection as padded and quilted clothes. The waste from a toy factory are also used in the collection – excess ribbons are used as ties to hold together tiers of the garments.
The very structure of the clothing also takes its inspiration from kidswear. Construction details such as snap closures, extra flaps and wooden buttons would not be out of place at a kids birthday party. Playful use of contrast on zippers, topstitching and internal seam binding also give flashes of colour in a way that is reminiscent of children’s wear without the overall silhouettes becoming too infantilised.
It is clear that the underlying motivation for the collections and projects comes from a place of being thoughtful and helpful rather than paying lip service to environmental or social sustainability. The knitwear in the collection has been created from yarn by Wool and the Gang, but Williams has also created a sock pattern with Wool and the Gang that can be downloaded for free and knitted up to create ‘Magpie socks’» to be donated for children or adults. This was based on the fact that socks were one of the most needed, yet least donated items to the Magpie Project.
Many people who are already working within the fashion industry, or who are studying to be fashion designers, are no doubt struggling with an existential crisis about how to exist ethically within the industry while using their existing skill-set and creativity. With this in mind, seeing how someone like Bethany Williams has approached the design of the whole business should give hope that there are ways to carve out new and more positive models. It’s just not enough to design the clothes anymore; you need to be thinking about how you design the business as well.
Images from Bethany Williams bethany-williams.com»