Fashion as a 'force for change': Bethany Williams shows us an alternative fashion industry
There's an alternative vision for the fashion industry being dreamt up, one that uses waste materials and enjoys community collaborations galore. Now you can meet the designer behind it all, Bethany Williams, whose work goes on display at London's Design Museum from today.
The free exhibition gives us a fascinating insight into Bethany Williams' creative approach to confronting social and environmental issues as well as her process material and the communities she has given voice to through her innovative designs.
On display across the four walls of the balcony gallery in the museum's atrium, the exhibition is part of the Designers Thinking in Public programme and takes a much closer look at Williams' approach to design, presenting the story of her innovative process as a designer through garments, textile samples, archive material, photography and film footage. You'll also have the chance to touch sample fabrics that have been made by repurposing waste. "With our work, we hope to continue to reach new audiences, encourage inclusivity and positive change for the fashion industry," Williams remarks.
Head of Curatorial Priya Khanchandani adds: "Bethany Williams' work fuses a streetwear style with handcrafted forms that are rooted in human values. I see it as a joyous example of design that is socially produced and kinder to our planet. The display is framed around the notion of Alternative Systems because it shows the immense potential for the design industry – fashion and beyond – to confront social and environmental issues through more ethical ways of working. The exhibits unravel the voices of the studio's many collaborators, their creativity sewed into the garments' every stitch, and celebrate what inclusive design could be."
For those who love the detail, you'll get the chance to see who Williams has collaborated with, such as the San Patrignano drug and alcohol dependence rehabilitation programme in central Italy, the Magpie Project for mothers and their children living in insecure housing in east London, and Adelaide House, a women's shelter based in Liverpool. Each season, the studio collaborates with a different charity and donates a percentage of profits to the cause at hand.
You can also follow the design story behind each of the studio's collections, including garments with stories embedded into them, such as the Prison Messages sports jacket from the Women of Change collection, which features screen-printed words from letters exchanged between the women of HMP Downview prison in London and the women of the San Patrignano community about what change means to them. Alongside it is an image of the 1912 Suffragette Handkerchief embroidered by women at HMP Holloway, which inspired the design of this garment.
In the final section of the show, you'll get to know the work of the Emergency Designer Network, a collaboration between Phoebe English, Holly Fulton, Cozette McCreery and Bethany Williams. Using their knowledge of textile manufacturing, they created a network that galvanised hundreds of volunteers and provided approximately 12,000 scrubs, 100,000 masks and 4,000 gowns to frontline staff during the pandemic.
It's inspiring work from the sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist whose practice demonstrates how things can indeed be done differently. In fact, to coincide with the exhibition launch today, Williams is presenting her latest collection, The Hands that Heal Us, at the Design Museum – inspired by the ever-growing community of makers, creatives, local and social manufacturers, all of whom play such an integral part in her brand and supply chain.
Bethany Williams: Alternative Systems opens today, Tuesday 22 February 2022, at the Design Museum. Entry is free of charge. Discover more at designmuseum.org.