Bethany Williams’ SS20 campaign is an ode to community and collaboration
We talk to the award-winning designer about shooting in Sao Paulo, her illustrious 2019, and why the fight for social change will always be at the heart of her brand.
Photography Cassia Tabatini
If your 2019 was as good as Bethany Williams’, we’d understand if you were a little loath to let the year come to a close. At its start, the London-based designer received the Queen Elizabeth Award for Design at her London Fashion Week show; the following few months saw her personally invited by Naomi Campbell to present at Arise Fashion Week in Lagos, not to mention making the final round of the LVMH Prize. Capping off the designer’s annus mirabilis, she took home the Emerging British Talent -- Menswear gong at December’s British Fashion Awards. Despite the slew of celebration-worthy occasions that the past 12 months have brought, Bethany’s not one to dwell on the past: instead, her practice is laser-focussed on building a better future both for the industry she’s a part of and the communities she comes into contact with along the way.
A flag-bearer for the new breed of designers placing ethical and ecological responsibility at the heart of their work, Bethany Williams has consistently proven that working in fashion and combating social and environmental crises need not be antitheses. Since graduating from London College of Fashion’s MA Menswear programme in 2016, she’s prioritised real-world action first: teaming up with newspapers and publishing houses to turn waste into intricate wearable pieces, and working with charities that assist the homeless, residents of women’s shelters, and inmates of prisons in the UK and beyond. For SS20, she collaborated with Spires, a South London-based association open to vulnerable, socially-isolated women and women involved in sex work, with 20% of the profits from the collection to be donated to the charity. So pivotal was the organisation’s role in its development that Bethany named the collection after one of Spires’ central initiatives, The Butterfly Café.
For the accompanying campaign, Bethany set her sights further afield. The images, shot by Cassia Tabatini in Sao Paulo’s most celebrated park, see the models caught in earnest moments of supportive embrace, complementing the ethics of community coherence at the brand’s core. Having just shown her AW20 collection at London Fashion Week Men’s, we caught up with Bethany to learn more about the SS20 campaign, why collaboration will always be the cornerstone of her practice, and her hopes for fashion’s future.
For SS20, your campaign was shot in Sao Paulo’s Ibirapuera Park, which was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer. How did you end up shooting in Brazil? And what drew you to the particular location?
I was asked to speak about my practice in Sao Paulo and I really wanted to collaborate with members of the city’s creative community while there. The park was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and is such an iconic feature of Sao Paulo. His meticulous research on, and cultivation of, plant species indigenous to Brazil’s tropical regions were cornerstones of his design and he chose plants that naturally thrive in the site’s climate and soil.
While in Brazil, we also visited local social and environmental projects. It was incredible to meet so many amazing people doing amazing things for their country. I was really fascinated by the work of Flavia Aranha, a designer who protects plants that are unique to Brazil’s rainforests by working with indigenous farmers and natural dyeing processes. We also visited farms in the rainforest, which was such an incredible experience.
Were you looking to convey a particular narrative with this campaign?
The shoot was very fluid and happened really organically. We just wanted to collaborate with Sao Paulo’s amazing young creatives and see what happened from there.
Collaboration has always featured centrally in your work: why is it so important to you? And how does it inform your creative process?
Collaboration is so important to my practice. I believe that when you bring people together from different industries, or with different skill sets, you can create something so unexpected. And, to me, that’s always the most interesting part of creating.
This season, you worked with Spires, a South London-based charity that helps homeless and disadvantaged people all year round. How did the collaboration come about?
The collection has been named after Spires’ Butterfly Café -- a weekly-run session which offers a safe space and meeting point for vulnerable women to socialise over food and drink. It allows them to partake in creative activities, and learn and develop skills in arts and crafts, like knitting, card-making and jewellery-making. When speaking to the support workers at Spires they said that the ‘Butterfly Café’ got its name from the transformative effect the sessions have on the women’s lives.
For this season, the prints were created in collaboration with illustrator Giorgia Chiarion who visualised what makes the women feel safe and secure -- as well as the route of the outreach night bus that serves the community -- in a beautifully abstract style.
I’ve also continued to work with ‘Making for Change’, a pioneering programme created by the Ministry of Justice and London College of Fashion, UAL at HMP Downview for the jersey production, and San Patrignano, a drug rehabilitation community in Italy, who have woven recycled textiles from tenting.
Being ecologically responsible has been central to your brand from the beginning, but what do you believe truly sustainable fashion to be? And what key improvements do you think still need to be made in order for fashion to move towards true sustainability?
Nobody’s perfect, we’re all in the same boat learning about sustainability and what the term really even means. I believe that we can all try our best to do better and develop our understanding, whether that’s in the sourcing of materials, social production projects, circularity or systems design.
2019 was pretty illustrious for you: you were presented the QEII Award for Design, reached the final round of the LVMH Prize, and were awarded the Emerging British Talent -- Menswear gong at the British Fashion Awards. What are your ambitions for the year ahead?
I feel incredibly honoured and thankful for all the incredible industry support this year. It’s also an amazing achievement for the community of designers I come from that are trying to find solutions to the world’s problems. Looking forward, I hope this carves out a path for the next generation of designers to come.
Photography Cassia Tabatini
Styling Yumi Kurita
Models Felipe Rocha, Byanca Lima, Michi Czatka, Sam Porto
Assistant Bruno Dalto