Seamless visions: Bethany Williams at SLOW
In late February, I was invited to show my work at SLOW, a showcase curated by Fashion Revolution's Orsola de Castro in partnership with The House of St Barnabas, a Soho based charity and not-for-profit members' club that supports people affected by homelessness. There could have barely been a more appropriate setting to draw a connection between place, practice and context!
On a dummy mannequin, I had placed an oversized coat on top of a boldly printed, organic cotton all-over suit. Both pieces were part of my MA graduation collection in Fashion Design Menswear at London College of Fashion, entitled 'breadline'. The name directly refers to the context of both inspiration and production. I regularly work with charities and rehabilitation communities; for 'breadline', I collaborated with the Vauxhall Foodbank as well as supermarket chain Tesco. Handing out fresh fruit and vegetables at the food bank, a voucher-based welfare supply system, I asked for unwanted denims or knits in exchange. Tesco, who delivers to Foodbank, also offered me free cardboard and the branding of its 'basic value' staple foods line. Some examples of my work below:
I love the idea of creating alternative systems and exchange economies. I took the cardboard, knits and denim, and picked them all apart - layer by layer, thread by thread, reassembling the material into oversized shapes. Denim was hand-embroidered to connect smaller pieces, jumpers taken apart and re-knit, cardboard soaked, pressed and laser cut. The result was, in the case of the cardboard coat, a seamless technique that I really haven't come across anywhere else. From a distance, the coat's structure - a basket-weaving technique and its frayed edges - recalls faraway Polynesian communities, visions of chatter and connection over endless hours spent in crafting beauty.
Connection and handwork indeed are essential to my practice - but I didn't have to travel this far! My philosophy rests firmly on the basis of slow and sustainable production, if possible, at home in the UK. My research is informed by a cradle-to-cradle approach, where nothing is wasted and all is appreciated. First and foremost the people within those communities that I seek to support - through employment to begin with, and later in sharing profit margins.
This is probably to do with my upbringing. Since the age of 17, and influenced by my mum's hands-on approach and engagement in community work on the Isle of Man, I have worked in shelters and charities. I became aware of the impact disparities on society, and that was probably why I felt inspired by Nicolas Bourriaud's concept of relational aesthetics, where art fosters an exchange of lived experiences. I just love working with real people and working in real communities and making real facts rather than just talking about stuff.
I don't mind that my pieces are one-offs and that their production is barely fit for scaling. I don't want to take over the world, I just want to do my thing: make beautiful things, be creative and help people at the same time. I think that my cradle-to-cradle process is directly applicable to society at large: appreciative of leftovers and their usage within a value-bifurcation of contentment. In my designs, I try to translate this philosophy into contemporary and easy pieces. I want it to be tongue-in-cheek; I'm talking about serious things, but I think I'm young and I think one should have fun as well.
The House of St Barnabas and Fashion Revolution would like to thank Design Surgery for their support during The Future of Fashion Weekend.