Bethany Williams’s London Fashion Week Mens presentation was set in the Charing Cross Library, forming the foundation of her brand’s seasonal message in the community mainstay of the local library. Free to all for intellectual enrichment regardless of background or beliefs, the library set the perfect tone for the presentation of the SS19 collection entitled “No Address Needed to Join”.
The presentation unravelled as stories within stories to a soundtrack of The Gingerbread man audiobook. The brand’s social and sustainability story was visually expressed through garments that appeared to have been crafted from sheets of compressed book pulp, cut into strips then hand-woven. Comprising of half a dozen looks representative of a materials re-appropriation design language, the textile-led designs mixed materials rich in text, texture and colour – exuberant and bold – as you would expect from a collection with such a strong social message.
A true team effort, Bethany’s collections rely upon co-operation and collaboration, which must involve vast planning, negotiations and partnership agreements. Her business model goes way beyond simply ordering fabrics from suppliers and working with garment manufacturers to sample and produce her collections. This season Bethany and her team worked with The Quaker Mobile Library, which makes literature available for borrowing to marginalised members of society who have no fixed abode (who are unable to register for public library services) and British publishing house Hachette UK. She obtained waste materials from Clay’s book manufacturing facility in Suffolk and took it to San Patrignano in Italy and worked alongside the community there to weave fabrics mixed from the book waste, waste from San Patrignano itself and donated pre-production waste from textile mills in Italy.
On the garment construction side, Bethany has continued the previous season’s partnership with the London College of Fashion’s ‘Making for Change’ programme, which supports the training of women in Downview Prison. Women on the programme will be constructing the jersey pieces for production orders of the collection. The production focuses on working closely with innovative rehabilitation programmes including San Patrignano, Making For Change at HMP Downview and Manx Workshop for the disabled (button production), providing skills and meaningful employment.
Making up a considerable portion of the collection were oversized hand-knitted jumpsuits, sweaters and trousers created in collaboration with Wool and Gang’s Heal the Wool yarn (made from 100% recycled Peruvian wool fibre with 30% of the yarn price donated to Friends of the Earth. Recycled wool was sourced from Kent for the hand embroidery on the knitwear pieces. All the sampling was hand-knitted by Bethany’s mother on the Isle of Man where she grew up. Yarns were also sourced from Chris Carney Collections, a recycling and sorting facility, where knitwear is washed and unravelled before being hand-knitting into pieces for the collection. The denim elements within the collection were also sourced in the same manner and unpicked before being reconstituted and hand-printed into new garments.
What transpires from this overview of the extensive collaborations and partnerships Bethany Williams forges is that sustainability is impressively integrated and fundamental to her brand, not a token afterthought or a simple matter of ordering organic or recycled materials for use in the collection – it is the very foundation of her creativity and modus operandi while celebrating inclusion, social mobility and community. Here, fashion is a vehicle for good with her inspiring roster of collaborators for the creation of her collections and their delivery, which was achieved through a presentation in collaboration with social and environmental activists and TIH Models, a niche, socially engaged modelling agency exclusively featuring individuals in unique living conditions.
Of course working at a ‘grass-roots’ level reclaiming and re-appropriating materials from waste can make for difficulties in ensuring required quantities for production and potentially in consistency of material quality. The manual nature of many of the processes may also be challenging to scale up for larger production quantities. Both these factors mean this is not a business model that can scale easily, but maybe that’s not the point here. Speaking of fashion as a vehicle for positivity and change, Bethany Williams states “we provide an alternative system for fashion production, as we believe fashion’s reflection upon the world can create positive change.” Job done. As part of this season’s community commitment, Bethany is donating 20% of the profits from this collection to The Quaker Mobile Library. Bethany Williams is available now at 50m, Ecclestone Yard, London.