Sustainability is equally vague as it is trendy. The word encompasses a wide array of problems and their solutions, from pollution and global warming, to transport and labour issues. Figuring out what to focus on isn’t easy. Bethany Williams explained how she tackled the topic : simply do it all! Combining the environmental and the social, the young designer found a way to work locally yet bring change on a global scale.

What is your alternative system to fashion production that encompasses sustainable practices?
My current practice reflects the concepts of positive critique and alternative systems. I’m interested in the designer providing their own system and to evoke change within a community, rather than using the established ones. The current system of fashion could look to the likes of the work of art collectives such as Superflex for inspiration. Superflex is a company based in Copenhagen, which consists of a group of freelance artist–designer–activists committed to social and economic change. Art itself is used as tool for direct social empowerment, not just contemplation or aesthetic experimentation. The freedom of the art world allows Superflex to work with initial ideas in their unrefined state as a starting point. These ideas develop in socially engaged projects, by utilising the locations, financial resources and collaborators that the art world has to offer, leaving the projects in the hands of others. By providing an alternative system for today’s social structures and services, our enormous fashion industry could be used to create social change rather than exploitation.

“I believe in creating fewer, beautiful, hand made pieces that will last and be loved by the buyer.”

I work and collaborate with a charity each season and sustainability is integral to this process. Through this collaboration with communities and charities, I hope to create collections embedded with real people and hope to cause a real effect in the social space we engage with. This will be accomplished through a cycle of exchange, generating profit, which will be given to connected charities, continuing the cycle of exchange.
I believe fashions’ reflection upon the world can create positive change. We try to encourage British Craftsmanship by working with local craftsmen and women factories and suppliers, to create traditional hand crafted techniques within print, woven, knitted and embroidered textiles. Similarly, all garments are 100% recycled or organic, consisting of organic or recycled components, i.e. materials, zips, threads etc.

What challenges have you faced as an emerging ethical fashion designer?
The most challenging part of ethical design is time, as sourcing of materials, ethical design, processes and production is very time consuming when developing collections. Additionally the cost of producing in the UK is much higher and using hand made processes effects your wholesale price points when selling to stores. However, I believe this time and effort is needed to know your source. The buyer is becoming more aware of garment production and wanted to know how their garments are being produced, and their foot print on the planet.

From your experiences as a recent fashion graduate, do you feel that sustainability is something valued enough in the practices of other young designers around you?
Definitely, I think designers are looking at the impact our industry in making on the planet and designing more smartly so that quality isn’t jeopardized whilst finding sustainable solutions. I’ve also be working larger brands which have been developing innovative design and production techniques. For example, Kering have developed the process of tanning Gucci leather for bag production, without the use of heavy metals. The process is more sustainable but also costs the same to produce.

“I believe that social and environmental issues go hand in hand and through exploring the connection between these issues, we may find innovative design solutions to sustainability.”

What are the barriers young designers are facing when trying to establish a profitable business, whilst aligning with sustainable practices? Do you think sustainability is accessible enough to young designers on a small budget?
Producing garments ethically, sourcing of materials and hand made processes can be much more costly but I believe the key is to create less pieces for a collection. I believe in creating fewer, beautiful, hand made pieces that will last and be loved by the buyer. Additionally it is the role of the designers to create innovation within 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.

Interview Harriet Wolstenholme