This article, Bethany Williams: Designed for Good, was written by Katy Canales.
Images: All images courtesy of the V&A. © J. Stocker
Fashion designer and humanitarian Bethany Williams has attracted accolades and headlines with her 2021 and 2022 collections. Her work marries cutting-edge fashion design with a gold-standard ethical manufacturing process. Like straw into gold, she has been able to transform the discarded into desirable designs that have graced the pages of Esquire, GQ and Vogue magazines. She has successfully refashioned her collection’s materials from abandoned tents, book waste and woollen off-cuts. The manufacturing process champions schemes to upskill and employ women in rehabilitation centres and prisons in the UK and Italy and she also gives 20 percent of her profits to charity.
Back in 2019, Bethany approached the Young V&A Museum (previously known as the V&A Museum of Childhood) to research its children's clothing collection. She was interested in seeing local and refashioned children's clothing as she was about to embark on her first children's clothing collection. The collection was in support of The Magpie Project, a local charity for homeless young families, and Bethany hoped that our collection would offer a springboard for her designs.
The Young V&A Museum holds the nation's children's clothing collection which spans over 400 years and consists of around 9000 pieces from binders to deeley-boppers. Each piece holds a story, either about its time, design, maker or wearer. Bethany explored items from across the collection, including 18th-century bodices with leading strings made of Spitalfields silk, a boy's skeleton suit and wrapping gowns to 1940's party dresses and mourning coats. She inspected the stitching, the weave and the ingenuity with which these items were cut and assembled, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
A year on with, Bethany Williams launches her 'All Our Children' Spring/Summer 2021 collection at London Fashion Week. Her collection was vibrant, fresh and new and received huge acclaim. The fall-front of the Skeleton suit, the boned bodices, the flounced dresses and pantalettes demonstrated clear parallels with the historic items she had studied at the Museum.
The silhouettes of the collection are inspired by the V&A Museum of Childhood garment archive. This collection sees Bethany’s first detailed exploration into tailoring with a suit inspired by a historical children’s skeleton suit from the 1800’s. The skeleton suit was the first children’s garment designed for play.
Jane Williams, The Magpie Project
Bethany's work not only draws together ethical manufacturing processes, historical references but fuses these aspects with artistry. The collection’s colourful fabric patterns are the successful result of a creative collaboration between artist Melissa Kitty Jaram and the mothers and children supported by The Magpie Project charity. As part of the charity's Mothers and Minis creative play sessions the families created portraits of each other and these were the launchpad for Melissa's designs that make up the bold and dynamic patterns of Bethany's 2021 to 2022 collections. Williams's collections are fantastic examples of successful co-design, ethical fashion, and power of our collections to inspire. This year the Young V&A Museum acquired two sets of Williams mother and child outfits. Bethany's designs will be part of a stunning showcase in the Young V&A Museum’s new Design Galleries, celebrating co-design with children and sustainable fashion design.
Find out more about the Young V&A on the V&A website.