Bethany Williams at London Fashion Week

When Bethany said she wanted to change the system many doubted it was possible; but three collections in and she’s proving that fashion does not have to come at the expense of people and planet.  Ever since Bethany graduated from MA Menswear at London College of Fashion, UAL in 2016, she has been unwavering in her desire to create a business based on her values – with social and environmental awareness at its heart. It’s a brave stance from a young designer about to enter one of the most competitive industries in the world.  But Bethany has always been different. Before her graduation  show her Mum could be found backstage, busy knitting socks and adding the final touches to her collection. 

For Bethany everything is personal – her beautifully original pieces, rich with hand-crafted detail translate into collections that her customers treasure. Fashion that is meaningful that connects us with humanity; to the people that made the garment, weaved the fabric and carved the buttons. Fashion that encourages social enterprise and gives a percentage of profits back to good causes. This way of working is not easy; to create a business that places sustainability and social responsibility at its core is not without challenges, but the QEII Award for Design, which she receives today, should demonstrate that it is possible to embrace and face head on the challenges that threaten our industry, from resource depletion to climate change.  

Bethany’s work brings into sharp focus some of the country’s most difficult problems, from homelessness to domestic abuse, but her work is much more than social commentary. Her ethos is one of collaboration – where social and environmental concerns go hand in hand; she embeds herself within communities from charities to prisons, to provide meaningful employment and create engaging and empowering opportunities to create positive change.  

Yesterdays  show is characteristically personal, featuring models who are friends and activists who champion and support the issues which Bethany cares deeply about.  In the audience will be colleagues and students from London College of Fashion, UAL and those from the charities and organisations who she continues to work closely with her.  The showcase slows fashion right down and represents the  antithesis of disposable culture. It features  14 carefully crafted looks from her collection ‘Adelaide House,’ which takes its name from a women’s shelter based in Liverpool, one of only six such facilities in the country, which provides a safe place for women leaving prison or dealing with issues such as domestic violence and homelessness.

Bethany was inspired by the city of Liverpool – the first city in the UK to have social housing and by the prominent socially engaged female politicians that have helped support their local communities.  20% of the proceeds from sales will go back to Adelaide House to support some of society’s most vulnerable women.   The soundtrack mixed by Benji B gives us time to contemplate. The voices belong to women from London College of Fashion, UAL’s ‘Making for Change’ programme, a unit which provides support and training in specialist machines skills for women at HMP Downview. The unit will be constructing the jersey pieces for this collection.   

The recycled tent material you see suspended above the catwalk, a nod to the importance of shelter, have been constructed by Lydia Chan and will be used to create her next pieces. In line with all of Bethany’s previous collections, Adelaide House has been produced using recycled and organic materials. Bethany has worked alongside Liverpool’s The Echo Newspaper, utilizing their waste products and book waste from San Patrignano in Italy – a community that welcomes those suffering from drug addiction and marginalization and helps them to once again find their way. The relationships built between Making for Change, San Patrignano and Manx workshop (who carve her buttons) represent a long-term commitment to providing skills and meaningful employment for those in the production process.   

Knitwear has been created in collaboration with Wool and the Gang’s, wool fibre which is renewable, biodegradable and dead stock yarns. The sampling is hand knitted by Bethany’s Mum, Cecile Tulkins and Alice Morell Evans. The denim elements within the collection are sourced from Chris Carney Collections, a recycling and sorting facility and is unpicked before being reconstituted and hand printed into new garments.     Bethany has created an alternative system for fashion production, she is proving that fashion can be extraordinary, individual and beautiful AND take into account the people and the resources in the system. She exemplifies an ethos which is capable of changing the way we view and consume fashion. A true fashion activist challenging the status quo and for this Bethany, we salute you.