Despite being valued at around £66billion last year in the UK alone, the fashion industry regularly gets a bad rap for its supposed lack of contribution to meaningful change. Talks this year have been of sustainability, progress and maintaining relevancy in a globally fluctuating socio-economic landscape. 

Bethany Williams, a shining star of London Fashion Week Men's, is a woman on a mission to ring the changes, starting closer to home. Keen to learn more, we spoke to the designer about her fashion-with-meaning manifesto.

You’re producing menswear via a women-focussed philanthropic message; would you elaborate on that, please?
My SS18 collection, Women of Change, focuses on women’s rehabilitation. Working closely with both female prisoners and the San Patrignano drug dependency program, I wanted to explore how fashion can affect social and environmental change. Through this collection – as well as my work with London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London and San Patrignano – I’ve been able to collaborate with marginalised parts of society to bring about positive progress and encourage social enterprise. When a man buys a piece from the Women of Change collection, a proportion of the proceeds will go towards supporting some of society's most vulnerable women; it’s an interesting twist on the ongoing discourse around gender. 

Bethany Williams, Women of Change, Spring/Summer 2018

You’ve also been working with Shelter and organisations like TIH Models, so a similar point of view is reflected elsewhere too.
Fashion is a way of expressing your thoughts and beliefs, and that is what I do through the collections I create. The communities that I have collaborated with through my latest project have inspired every aspect of the collection. It was important to see the materials and become part of the community. I loved being engaged with the women; their responses to my work were integral to the collection. I visited the girls yesterday in the prison as we have been working on the production for the store orders, which we'll be sending out at the end of the month. Additionally, I will be working alongside the girls in the prison and the girls in San Patrignano for the next collection. 

I just want to support organisations that I really believe in. TIH Models, as you mention, is a new modelling agency that supports youth in London who have been affected by homelessness; working with a modelling agency that supports social change is very important to me. 

Has your focus always been menswear? Since your visual editorial also includes women, do you think there’s a case for saying that collections will eventually become gender-neutral?
I prefer wearing menswear and just find the shapes more interesting. A lot of my orders are for women, and I do believe that collections are becoming gender neutral and the separate fashion weeks are merging – I have actually started producing XS sizing for orders. That said, I would love to explore womenswear more in the future.

Bethany Williams, Women of Change, Spring/Summer 2018

In another progressive move, you’ve chosen to move away from the increasing regularity of main-schedule shows and presentations. What inspired that decision?
Due to the prolonged process involved in each collection, the level of external organisation and support expected, and the bespoke nature of the garments, I have chosen to operate by collections rather than seasons. Also, the production for store orders is very difficult and time consuming as there is lots of unpicking and unravelling! I believe in creating fewer, beautiful, handmade pieces that will last and be loved by the buyer. It is the role of designers to create innovation within the industry, and sustainability is one of the key issues of our time. As young designers, we are the future and we have to find cost-effective ways and solutions to sustainability. Producing garments ethically, sourcing of materials and handmade processes can be much more costly, but I believe the key is to create fewer pieces per collection. 

Click here to learn more about Bethany Williams.