San Patrignano: Tom Adams & Bethany Williams

Back in December you might remember reading about the inspiring community of San Patrignano in Italy. I spoke with LCF’s Director of Social Responsibility Claire Swift about our plans to work with San Patrignano in order to achieve joint ambitions of supporting rehabilitation. Last month Tom Adams, BA Menswear Course Leader, and Bethany Williams, MA Menswear graduate, visited the community to follow up on Claire’s work and lay the foundations of an exciting collaborative project. I spoke to the two of them to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about the purpose of your visit to San Patrignano?
Tom: We were invited by Claire Swift to work on this project. Claire has been working with female prisoners, to help them develop skills in sewing and manufacture, and to assist them with finding work when they are released. The work that she has been doing has very strong echoes with what is happening in San Patrignano.
The project itself involves BA Menswear students, who will be developing of a set of coats with fabrics created by the weavers in the community in San Patrignano. Prototypes of selected student’s design ideas will then be made by the female prisoners at the Making for Change manufacuring unit at HMP Downview.
The project will hopefully help promote further awareness of these two very worthwhile ventures. It will also help the students, who will be designing the coats, to understand that fashion and creativity can be a very powerful tool for personal and social change. I really hope that we can do justice to this opportunity. 
What did you discover whilst at San Patrignano? How did the visit go?
Tom: It was very eye-opening, as I was not expecting the community to be on such a large scale. When Bethany and I first arrived, we had an opportunity to visit some of the departments and speak to people who had just arrived, and those that were also leaving. It was very striking how much change was evident in the people who had been there for a while. The experience had given them a much greater sense of purpose and sense of self. I found it a very emotional experience. 
Bethany: The visit was incredible, it was amazing to see all the great work San Patrignano are doing to help people towards a better future. Tom and I were shown around several workshops and the level of skill in the craftsmanship was beautiful. We both found the visit very fulfilling and an emotional experience.
How do you think the partnership with San Patrignano can benefit LCF and its students?
Tom: At London College of Fashion we are very aware that fashion isn’t just about clothes, but that what we do has an impact on society and that we need to be responsible in what we do. We have been working with sustainability for quite a while now, and on the Menswear course, we have had some successes in high profile sustainability competitions such as the Kering awards, but this is a different way of looking at the impact of fashion. This project connects with very important issues in society and illustrates that creativity can be a very powerful tool to make a difference. They will also really enjoy the opportunity be involved in a live project that will have very beautiful outcomes (fingers crossed). 
Bethany: I believe that social and environmental issues go hand in hand – through exploring the connection between these issues we may find innovative design solutions to sustainability. As a graduate from LCF I believe the college has an outstanding commitment and development towards sustainability. The university helped push my practice and help find sustainable design solutions. I am very proud and lucky to be a part of such a forward thinking environment and this incredible project.
I believe the project will help the BA students see the importance of what San Patrignano are doing and hopefully influence their design decisions towards a more sustainable future – as they are the future of fashion.
What did excites you personally about working with San Patrignano?
Tom: I really enjoyed meeting the team. Everyone was very lovely and welcoming. It was also great meeting the girls in the weaving department and having the chance to work with Bethany. It was great fun exploring the archives and imagining what could be done with the samples and the skills that were available. It is a rare treat to be able to ask the question “could this be done this way” and to be told yes that can be done…this must be what it feels like to be Karl Lagerfeld. 
What will you take away from your visit?
Tom: A sense of optimism. That if you decide to help people who are not in a great place, rather than treating them like criminals or lost people, some very magical things can happen.
Bethany: Everybody at San Patrignano were so lovely and helpful and the work they are doing is really helping people to change their lives. I found the visit very magical and believe projects like San Patrignano are the future of fashion.