Meet Bethany Williams, The Designer Who Just Won A Fashion Award For Her Contribution Towards Covid-19 Crisis

‘As designers within this current generation we are problem solvers.’

Bethany Williams

by Bibby Sowray |

Looking for a glimpse at the future of post-coronavirus fashion? Look no further than Bethany Williams. The 30-year-old is the poster girl sustainable fashion has been crying out for, shaking off its dull reputation and making kindness cool; really, really cool via her eponymous brand. This year, Williams proved the power of the fashion community, joining forces with fellow designers Cozette McCreary, Holly Fulton and Phoebe English, to found the Emergency Designer Network, one of this year’s honorees at the 2020 Fashion Awards. For this year’s gongs, the British Fashion Council has chosen 20 such honorees, recognised for their contribution to one of four categories: community, creativity, environment and people.

Williams’s Emergency Designer Network has helped make 50,000 surgical gowns and 10,000 sets of scrubs for health workers in the UK. Since April, it has worked with 40 NHS Trusts, and 150 makers, to create a community (everyone from packers to fabric sourcers to drivers) that has come together to help fight coronavirus.

‘As designers within this current generation we are problem solvers,’ she says. And while the global pandemic rippling through the world has proven the altruistic nature of many fashion brands – with numerous Italian behemoths donating millions to hospitals across their country, and LVMH using its perfume and cosmetics factories to produce free sanitising gel for hospitals and authorities in France – it didn’t take disaster for Bethany to take a community-minded approach, which makes her all the more inspiring.

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Bethany Williams AW20

Bethany Williams backstage
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CREDIT: By Jade Berry

Bethany Williams backstage
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CREDIT: By Jade Berry

‘I hope that the kindness and redirection of resources isn’t just a temporary measure,’ she says. ‘I would really like to see these larger brands manifest permanent programmes and systems within their brand DNA as an ongoing business model.’ The past year has seen her awarded the second inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award and the British Emerging Talent Menswear award at 2019's Fashion Awards, as well as shortlisted for the LVMH Prize and named a British Fashion Council NEWGEN recipient. This year, she's one of 10 designers who have been shortlisted for the International Woolmark Prize. All this and her brand isn’t even half a decade old. She’s also spoken in Parliament about implementing legislation to prevent retailers from burning surplus clothing. ‘If people were educated that when you order multiple sizes, keep one and send the others back, they’re going to be burnt, you wouldn’t do it.’ She is energetic and admired industry-wide: Vogue’s Sarah Mower has called her an ‘epiphany’.

‘I focus on my work and not people around me,’ she says, ‘and try to stay true to my beliefs.’ Her beliefs are the foundation of her brand, which she established upon completing her MA in menswear at the London College of Fashion in 2016. Every collection is created in collaboration with a charity. The charity inspires the clothing, which is then manufactured in collaboration with other social projects, using only recycled and organic materials – her jersey cloth is made by female inmates of HMP Downview in Sutton, who are being trained to be machinists, for example. Twenty per cent of sales of the collection are then donated to the charity.

Her altruistic nature stems from her childhood on the Isle of Man. She regularly volunteered, encouraged by her mum, a trained pattern-cutter who works for a charity as well as running her own soft furnishings business (she also produces Bethany’s knitwear samples). ‘She’s a big influence on me,’ says Bethany. That’s perhaps why he was drawn to the work of London-based Magpie, the beneficiary of her A/W ’20 collection. The charity helps mothers and under-fives in temporary or insecure accommodation in Newham, east London. ‘Currently, there are 2,500 homeless families just in Newham,’ she explains. ‘The whole of the North of England has fewer homeless than this one borough in London.’

Bethany’s are beautiful clothes worn by people ‘in the know’, such as model and activist Adwoa Aboah and international fashion editors – but that will no doubt change soon. She shows at Men’s Fashion Week, but considers her clothing unisex; it’s sized small, medium and large and she wears her own pieces. It’s another way that she’s disrupting the traditional system.

But what about the future? ‘I want to work not just in fashion but furniture, art practice, commissions – and not just have a massive wholesale business; I don’t think that would be right, just making loads more clothes.’ While the world might not need more clothes, it could certainly do with more Bethanys.

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The source of Rihanna's blue Dior by John Galliano beaded choker, Nina Gabbana Vintage is run by Marie Laboucarié from her apartment in Paris. She mainly sells '90s and '00s pieces from designers including Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, Gucci, Fendi and more. Well, if it's good enough for Rihanna...

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Cassie set up Darling & Vintage as a store on Etsy, where she still sells everything from embroidered 1950s jackets to sun dresses and '70s maxis. It's certainly worth following her on Instagram, however, where she announces new items for sale. Given the speed at which most of them tend to sell, it's best to keep a close eye on her posts!

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A relatively new venture from influencer Rachael Clifton, this is a great Instagram account to follow if you're in the market for stand-out pieces you could wear every day. Think excellent accessories and statement jackets, all of which can be bought via DM.

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Rokit Vintage
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