QEII Award 2019 winner Bethany Williams with models, and the Duchess of Cornwall. Image credit: Darren Gerrish.
In this week’s episode of Wardrobe Crisis, Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large Clare Press is in London speaking to three young designers to watch.
Recorded on the final day of London Fashion Week, Clare spoke to London-based designers Bethany Williams (who has been making headlines this week as this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design), Matthew Needham and Patrick McDowell about why they care about sustainability and how they apply it to their work, what they’re doing to combat fashion waste and how they are redesigning the whole system.
“Fashion schools everywhere are full of eco warriors and bright, brilliant kids who are determined to do fashion differently. London is the leader,” says Clare. “This is the capital that produces the most vibrant student shows and earth-shaking emerging designers.”
Listen to the full podcast here:
London College of Fashion graduate Bethany Williams is one such emerging designer doing things differently. Through her exciting collections that epitomise the meaning of positive fashion, Bethany champions social and environmental causes and challenges perceptions . For her debut LFW show last Sunday (as a menswear designer she usually shows during London Fashion Week Men’s in January), Bethany showcased her latest colllection produced in collaboration with women’s shelter Adelaide House – a safe space for women escaping homelessness and domestic violence in Liverpool. Bethany worked with TITH to cast homeless models for the runway show alongside activist Adwoa Aboah, while the entire collection was made from recycled and organic materials, like waste product from Liverpool’s Echo Newspaper.
It’s easy to see why Bethany was presented with the second Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design (last year presented to Richard Quinn).
This unique Award, initiated last year in recognition of the role the fashion industry plays in society and diplomacy, will be awarded annually to an emerging British fashion designer who shows exceptional talent and originality, whilst demonstrating value to the community and/or strong sustainable policies.
“As a designer thinking for the future, it’s a case of problem solving all the issues that face our generation – from the planet to the people – if we don’t do it, who is going to?” Bethany told Clare.
Central St. Martins MA student Matthew Needham knows that the fashion world watches students and new designers in London, so he’s using that power to shake things up and question the current unsustainable fashion system. A radical upcycler, Matthew’s work turns trash into thoughtful garments that make a political statement: that we’re wrecking nature, and it’s not on.
He was inspired by his experience interning at a luxury fashion house in Paris where he realised that almost every brand, no matter how high-end, has a waste problem. “It’s driven by pressure,” he says. “Fashion goes around in circles and we’ve created this pattern for ourselves.”
“If you are talking about sustainability as a whole there are so many different problems. Not just the environmental problems, but also the treatment of workers, the pay – it’s just such a messed-up system. We’ve created this awful beast – it will fall, at one point, and then it will rebuild,” Matthew tells Clare.
Emerging sustainable designer and Central St Martins graduate Patrick McDowell actually started his fashion career aged 13, when his mum wouldn’t buy him a new school bag so he made his own from upcycled materials. He soon had a business selling what he made, and at 16 appeared on the reality TV show the Young Apprentice.
With his eponymous label, Patrick is rethinking the whole fashion waste system, from repurposing deadstock materials and considering the climate impacts of his production, to making limited editions and choosing an access over ownership model.
“If I want to be in certain stores, I need to have at least 50 pieces in my collection for them to buy from it. Because if they want to buy one style of trouser, they want to see 10. And if they want to buy one top, they want to see 10,” he told Clare.
Find out what happened when Clare Press spoke to Livia Firth about the Green Carpet Challenge, being an active citizen and her childhood on the Wardrobe Crisis podcast.
Read Rosanna Falconer’s London Fashion Week diary for all of the sustainability highlights.
Listen to this week’s episode in full and read the full show notes.
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