Representing the creative future

Westminster BA Fashion 2022: Past Preservation, Future Adaptation

Thumb through the sketchbooks, uncover the concepts and meet the designers making fashion mindful

Returning to physical form, the University of Westminster’s BA Fashion show was a rallying cry for reinvention. True to the institute’s parliamentary name, fourteen graduates presented their collections as a manifesto on change–conscious thoughts, and ethical concepts. Within it, traditions were transmuted for a better world, personal identity undertook a moral evolution and new life was breathed into bygone material. From artisanal Scottish weaving to deadstock denim and repurposed kites, each designer cradled craftsmanship with curious hands. Their dexterity unearthed a desire to daydream – painting visions of the future that are not filled with flying spaceships or megalomaniac robots, but with inclusivity, regeneration and community. “If it’s not accessible, it’s not sustainable,” summarises Maya Magnay, a graduating designer.

Only a fortnight ago, Steven Stokey-Daley from the class of 2020 won the LVMH Prize for his interpretations of fluid sexuality within a rigid class system. Among the BA collections, Owen Edward Snaith echoes a similar disconnect with his project that seeks queerness in macho fishing towns; threading tartan from the Pride Flag and knotty rucksacks out of trawl rope. While some designers found peace in themselves, like Jiao Xie’s introspection on human emotion, others were concerned with loss. Grace Kwon discovered a light in the global shadows of grief and Eduardo Moreira explored the absence of autonomy during a Portuguese dictatorship, whereas Sarah Dowle studied excessive control in worship. From West Yorkshire to Bauhaus Germany, the many worldviews on display at Westminster remind us that fashion is destined to be diverse. As they close a chapter in education, the graduates open their eyes to the industry armed with ample innovations and positive intentions.

Yani Bridge

Where can freedom be found? For Yani Bridge, it’s felt in the air-howling rush of a parachute descent or caught in the frothy ripples carved by kite-surfers. Her final collection, Catching Wind, pulls on extreme sports; the daredevil sensibility of billowing sleeves, tight-strapped goggles and macramé shoes that audibly mimic ocean waves. “This is a collection to lift and strengthen your spirit,” says Yani, who hails from the coastal city, Porto, in Portugal. It was through a bilingual childhood that she fostered curiosity for travel, and later, saw fashion as something of a cultural teleporter. “My aim is for the wearer to be transported – with large shapes that rustle, feel free and light, to constricted pieces that emulate a body under more strain while practising these sports,” she describes. Making use of reclaimed aerial and diving apparatus, like graphic, neon kites and wetsuits, Yani upholds a strong ethical ethos and as much of an aptitude for repairs. During this project, she learned how to fix leaking air holes, vacuum-seal hoods with a valve pump, and most significantly, compromise her work with confidence. “Through the back and forth of creating a toile and then modifying it with the tutors’ help, I loved seeing how it all came together to create something quite unexpected.” As she flies the student nest, Yani is set to begin a short course on pattern cutting, before returning back home: “I’m applying for fashion week in Portugal as I feel very connected to my country and would love to be a part of the scene there, always pushing sustainability forwards.”


South Korean designer, Haemin, seeks golden moments in a grey world; chance encounters and acts of kindness, collective compassion and spontaneity. “What I have been exploring are the random joys we can find in our lives,” she says, rejecting the superficiality of social media. Once a devoted History student, Haemin took a break from education to figure out true happiness. “I started to explore myself more deeply and realised that I would regret never studying fashion. It has always been my dream since I was a little kid.” After enrolling at Westminster, she applied her optimism to the environment, considering how design could both spark joy and save the planet. “I found that the initial problem causing sustainability issues is the attitude society has towards fashion. You need to understand the responsibility of your purchase – I would like people to buy clothes for their background and meaning, to become involved in a culture, campaign or social act. Not to show off one time on Instagram,” she says. Through floral embroidery, puckered natural textiles, revitalising old fibres with new, and even an apple core jacket zipper, her collection is an artisanal ode to Mother Earth. “Time management has been a real challenge in this project – trying to realistically balance six looks with hand-work textures! But now I know my capabilities, I try to plan less and catch something fun, unexpected,” she reflects. Beyond graduation, Haemin hopes to continue designing, though she won’t be launching a brand – in a bid not to contribute to fashion’s market oversaturation. Instead, she “would like to make a platform for everyone who is interested in exploring and learning about different stories through clothes, visual elements and objects, as a chance to understand and become more involved.”

Lily Willan

Lily Willan grew up as a true West Yorkshire lass. Her dad would blast Northern Soul music whenever they cleaned the garage together, Bradford’s Valley Road football ground became a regular haunt and family photo albums were filled with sticky summer days that her uncle spent down the pub clutching a couple of tinnies. “My grandparents were both antique dealers, my mum was a fashion designer and my dad is a jeweller. When I came home from school, they would always have these little objects to show and explain the history. It sparked my love of telling a story through design,” she says. Upon moving to university, Lily feared drifting from her younger, teenage brother and his Stone Island style came to heavily sway her perception of menswear. “This collection is a nostalgic and highly personal tribute to my roots, exploring assumptions around traditional Northern masculinity whilst also paying homage to the important male influences from my formative years,” says the designer, who has experience working at Martine Rose and Nicholas Daley, amongst other brands. Every stitch and seam has a sentimental flourish: there’s a football shirt emblazoned with her dad’s shop logo and opening year as the digits. Leather tags came from her grandad’s birds of prey, acid-dyed prints reveal images of her brother and friends when England won a match 4-nil, while tailoring fabrics have been sourced entirely from local mills and pin badges point to Lily’s old gig-going Harrington jacket. “It meant so much to me that every time something went wrong or I felt stressed, it seemed to be a much more personal failing,” she shares of the design process. “A surreal highlight was shooting the lookbook in a pub near my Leeds college where I used to drink. It felt like a real full circle moment.” Capturing intimacy in an industrial heartland, Lily will further champion local craft when she leaves education.

Grace Kwon

If death is darkness, souls are the light. Illuminated by scarlet flames, the joss paper at Chinese Buddhist funerals emitted this sentiment for Grace Kwon, whose collection “is a tribute to honour those who have passed, and a promise to live life to the full.” Hailing from London, with Korean, Malaysian and Chinese heritage, transcultural identity appears as a burning theme in Grace’s work. “Godspeed began at a time of mourning and brings together influences from my background,” she explains. It can be seen in the ruffled Victorian gowns, inky black and modestly gathered, or the bodies shrouded by long, streaming sleeves of Korean Sangbok attire, worn to grieve the deceased. Except there is no reason to cry, only one to celebrate – “I want to make people look and feel beautiful, confident, sexy, sensational,” says Grace. “This is my happy escape, and something that I couldn’t imagine my life without.” Before her time at Westminster, the designer was caught up in the A* rigmarole that finds itself secondary to academia; a melting pot of burnout and perfectionism. “I was brought up believing this was the only way to success and spent a good few years convincing myself that fashion was just a hobby that I would move on from. On this course I have started to learn that piling on pressure to achieve whatever notions of perfection you have is unnecessary and even an impediment to your creative process,” she says. Bidding farewell to her studies, Grace admits she will miss the delirious late night studio chats but glows bright with optimism for the future. “I’d love to work with a brand that is playful yet powerful, unafraid and unapologetic. I’m also planning on selling my printed tights – there has been some demand so sit tight, I’ll be back after a little detox!”

Steph Birtles

Paper chains, bunting and honeycomb lanterns conjure strong ties to childhood; the nostalgic charm of art class, where tiny hands are double-coated in glue and far too much glitter. “I have always been very creative and enjoyed painting and making things. I was drawn to fashion as it allowed my artwork to have another purpose; to be worn,” says designer Steph Birtles. Enveloped around origami structures, her collection is as much about material innovation as it is illusion – replicating fragile, vintage Christmas decorations with the durability of raw blue denim. “Just as paper rips, shreds and becomes discoloured, denim is distressed, frayed and bleached,” she explains. Building on a past in print design, Steph is ripping up new ground in texture – it’s evident in the torn and tasselled knee highs, then the coats, which all come intricately spliced to varying severities. Her gradient colours fall somewhere between a breezy blue sky and ocean-floor indigo, in hulking, cocoon shapes that could easily consume a studio mannequin. Demonstrating scale, but also the fine skills required for geometric construction. “The best part of making this collection was being surrounded by immensely talented and ambitious people who were all always happy to share knowledge, give advice and, most of all, positivity and motivation,” she reflects. “Being able to aid in someone’s expression of self through clothing I have designed is the most exciting part of fashion and it gives my creative process a greater purpose.” For her next step, Steph will continue to pursue the obscure applications of denim, trialling and refining techniques in conceptual womenswear.

Lucy Higgens

“Wrapped in cotton wool,” according to Lucy Higgens, is the idiom that best introduces her menswear collection – a trove of cloud-like design, in crisp whites and puffy, snowball silhouettes. “It explores the emotional fallout that followed a global pandemic and notions of protection from fear,” she says. In this, there is a dichotomy: the want to reintegrate with society exists against the urge to introvert, away from viruses and outside risk. Translated through utility fashion, Lucy tampers with these ideas of security and exposure; zips that can pull up to the nostril or down to the navel, translucent fabrics versus thick-felted wools. During the project she gained a Levi’s sponsorship, which allowed for the repurposing of faulty and end-of-life denim, in trousers and appliquéd accessories. Four years ago, Lucy moved from her humble village in Northern England to pursue fashion, and has since completed work placements at Daniel W. Fletcher and Craig Green during her degree. “When I was in college I decided that I needed to choose between what I was good at and what I loved doing. My parents have always been supportive of my choices – when they got over the initial shock that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer!” she jests. Emerging from uncertainty, Lucy feels grateful for the friends made on her course; in many ways a comfort blanket to the worries of the world. “I’m just feeling so fortunate that we’re able to have our show and really celebrate our collections in person,” she reflects. “I think that one of the most difficult challenges has been staying true to your design vision whilst trying to be genuinely sustainable. The work is never finished, it can always be improved.” Leaving the BA safety bubble behind, Lucy embarks on her next journey, hoping to work at a heritage design house like McQueen, Burberry or Louis Vuitton in the menswear ateliers.

Christy Higgs

When he was 15-years-old, Christy Higgs was volunteering at Oxfam and able to take home any damaged donations. One day, after a leisurely bag rummage, he found a black silk dress that, he thought, would better suffice as a shirt – “it was the first thing I ever made and it was botched beyond wearability,” says the designer. “After I put it in the bin, I looked up the name on the label which read ‘Mary Quant’. A priceless original was on its way to a Manchester City Council tip and to me, this clearly meant my future in fashion was bright.” Fashion history, by some irony, is where Christy now excels – his final collection draws on ancient anthropology; how it relates to artisan culture and the chronology of material. “I’ve been trying to tell the story of craft, which I now see is in fact the story of us. I thought about the earliest people; making handprints in caves and carving visions of Venus from stone. We made things with our hands and became more than animals,” he shares. Clay, wool and wicker, moulded by fine-tuned fingers soon turned to machinery and rendered touch redundant. Much like the relationship between tradition and technology, or Frankenstein and his monster, the designer felt a dysfunctional bond with his own creations, having given so much of his time towards their existence.”The work felt like it was a person, rather than a thing. Some days I would hate the sight of Him, as though I was a disappointed mother and He was a disgrace to the family. Other days I would feel like the proudest mum at sports day, cheering loudly for Him at the egg and spoon race. I have been a patient mother too: basket weaving with stinking old willow, or losing my fingertips to hand stitching leather seams.” Wishing to preserve leathercraft, Christy looks to a future in accessory design which he will pursue after a year-long internship at specialist studio, The Backward Vendor.

Eduardo Moreira

Tight-laced leg corsets are Eduardo Moreira’s reaction to restriction. “I’m paying homage to my rural Portuguese homeland, where I reference the legacy of folklore alongside family memoirs from the civil war and the stifling dictatorship of Salazar,” explains the designer, who for research, used AI algorithms to generate ghostly beings as figments of the past. Named Arrebentas, derived from the verb ‘to break’, his collection deconstructs the conservative brutality that prevailed in Portugal until the sixties, yet it also celebrates the restoration of liberty in local communities. “It invites us to confront our fears and cherish our independence at all costs, as a timely tribute to political, social and cultural freedom,” he says, though freedom had always been plentiful in his imagination – Eduardo’s entry to fashion came long before Westminster, in his mother’s clothing shop at only five years old. “I used to spend my afternoons pinning plastic bags to a small mannequin she had around for window displays and I would draw on paper tablecloths at restaurants.” Both he and his methods have greatly matured; this collection contrasts stiff cotton twill tailoring and robust denims with delicate drapery and artisanal tufting – all deadstock, sourced nearby – as though two sides are in opposition. On the course, though, it was all about converging: “The amount of knowledge and creative self-awareness I’ve been able to take from this process is priceless. It taught me the importance of a good network system and made me appreciate all the great people I’m surrounded by,” he muses. After graduation, Eduardo would like to pioneer sustainable research methods and techniques: “In that way I believe I’d see myself associated with a part of the fashion industry that doesn’t just take but also gives back. But first I really want to be locked away on a desert island for a couple of weeks!”

Maya Magnay

Deep in Waterloo station, at approximately 8am on a given week day, comes a rumble of boardroom banality – the pinstriped corporates sipping coffee in one hand, a briefcase in the other, swarming onto trains with creased brows and capitalist urgency. “A lot of my collection is made from suiting – I wanted to take something from the mundanity of the commuters I used to see and make it a bit impractical; I wanted to take away the functionality of it,” says designer Maya Magnay. “I’ve been looking at how clothes can restrict our movement by connecting parts of the body. Viewing fashion as art that goes on a person, rather than just necessary apparel.” As such, the collection explores dynamics between second and third dimensions that dig beyond the surface-level capabilities of clothing. By taking virtual body scans of themselves, flattening and sublimating these into graphic prints, the resultant faces – crumpled by curvature lines – are anything but bland. “I have learned that just because a design seems simple, it doesn’t mean you need to do any more to it – know when to stop,” they advise. Bandage-wrapped in knitwear knee braces and bell-shaped tops that swallow arms whole, models depict constricting times in Maya’s life, when creativity became stifled in school academia as well as the uncertainty of a late ADHD diagnosis. “I’m sorry to be leaving education. I’m going to get some training in programming knit next – I feel like it’s a path with so many things to learn and experiment with that I don’t even know about yet,” they say. “I’d like to find a place in slow fashion, and I want my work to be accessible for lots of people –  because if it’s not accessible it’s not sustainable.”

Owen Edward Snaith

As a young child, Owen Edward Snaith would observe his grandad hauling fish from rural shores on the East Coast of Scotland; weaving diamond mesh on his boat before the next catch. Murky skies spattered by seagulls, lapping waves and the salty air inform his final collection entitled Incentive. Within it, the designer captures identity in fishing nets, “exploring family heritage and growing up queer in a small community,” says Owen. It was the materials surrounding him; the rusty metals and knotty creel pots that first introduced an admiration for textiles. “Clothes were my outlet for expression. Dressing in an outlandish way, hand-sewing my nana’s curtains into coats and walking through my local town adorned in charity shop jewellery – these were my ways of experimenting,” he adds. His project not only repelled the macho stereotype of trawlers, but it lured in a whole network of helpers to realise the vision. “I have interacted with the people of Dunbar to create responsibly, support underrepresented groups and allow them to find new ways of modernising and using their craft to sustain themselves,” says the designer. Alongside deadstock rope and broken nets, Owen hand-painted a tartan from the colours of his local harbour, blended with those of the Pride Flag – it has since been transformed into a thread count and is undergoing official Scottish registration. Next, he produced an original Fair Isle weave from wool, ensuring that all knitwear was handmade in Aberlady. “I know I’m not saving anyone’s life, but these make you feel like you have truly accomplished something,” he says of the process. “It has opened my mind to people that I once thought would not accept me. The shared pride in our work and eagerness to create something by hand has brought us together.” After curating an exhibition at the John Gray Centre, Owen aims to renovate a mill into a multifaceted creative space that trains local people and educates children on handcraft. “I aspire to create somewhere that queer youth in working class environments can exchange with their metropolitan peers to keep fading industries alive.”

Mel Hewgill

What exists between surrealism and absurdity? In research, Mel Hewgill’s mind wandered to the circus, where she found an answer in historical clowns and the early, abstract textile works of Joan Miró. They’re known as Sobreteixims – the same name given to her final collection – translating from Catalan to mean ‘overwhelmed’. Where life feels like a joke, Mel’s quirky creations are the ideal caricature; childlike forms to mourn innocence and balm the burden of adult responsibility in chaotic times. “My designs include playfully oversized, draped silhouettes, as well as tailoring that takes inspiration from the harlequin diamond motif; I aimed to celebrate the simplicity of stripes throughout,” she describes. Prior to her BA degree at Westminster, Watford-born Mel studied a foundation course and it was here that knitted menswear became her specialism – softening masculinity “through flamboyance, colour and fun.” At Westminster, she has learned the significance of self-discipline – starting toiles early and letting go of stubborn impulses, knowing when to accept help. “I was determined to make everything myself because I love to knit and sew but it’s too much for one person. I experienced burnout like I never have in my life but seeing the final lineup all together has made it worth it,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed making the clothes. I used to hate pattern cutting but I’ve discovered interesting ways to make it less painful for myself!” Going from one circus to another, as Mel enters the fashion industry she hopes to continue making, crafting and tailoring wherever possible.

Hannah Salmon

In the 1920s, at the apex of German Bauhaus art, there emerged a dance called the Triadic Ballet. Performers wore whimsical costumes and moved like robotic clockwork; subverting the intricacies normally associated with theatre. All garments were formed from the art movement’s geometric codes; wearable spheres, spiral skirts and inflated trousers set to shock audiences with modern innovation. Once an oil painter, Hannah Salmon came to appreciate the ballet’s compositions, and it soon became central to her knitwear collection. “I’m translating the smooth, bulbous shapes and steady lines of Bauhaus into soft, blended fabrications. I aim to preserve the integrity of multi-faceted processes and resist mass production,” she says. “Twirling, outlandish figures with their restricted movements made me consider how knitted fabrications could contrastingly enable the body’s motion.” While Westminster does not strictly teach knitwear, Hannah was drawn to its malleability in pattern cutting; being able to stretch and integrate with other fibres. Over time, she has also witnessed an emotional attachment to the craft, where people fear its delicacy and know little about maintenance or avoiding shrinkage. Honouring “hands-on pragmatism,” the designer uses solely natural fibres, often felted, and works with stringent focus – notably taking three weeks to create one cape pattern. “The moment I become rushed is the moment I lose the enjoyment because the process is just as important as the final outcome to me,” she explains. Building on her label, NAHNAH, Hannah enters the industry confident that despite the overcrowded job market, she feels there is a place for her in conscious knitwear: “I aim to answer fashion’s biggest questions right now: the rate of consumption, the emotional value of our clothing, the carbon footprint of our most favoured pieces, wastage, the impact on others and longevity.“

Jiao Xie

“Home is my own stage, and I am the performer.” Jiao Xie introspects on emotion for her final collection – feeling at home in her thoughts. Clothes melt across a spectrum of six colours to signify different states of being: grey equals elegance, yellow feels sunny, red denotes sex, pink can be cute, blue is neutral and black means melanchony. “I just want to convey the beauty and personality of women. I think clothing has this magic ability,” says the designer, who hails from China. “As Hermann Hesse expressed in Der Steppenwolf, ‘everybody has one body but more than one soul’ – so I shared this collection in hopes that we will all enjoy and become immersed in ourselves.” Much like rainbows that emerge from a storm, her designs point to the cyclic nature of human feelings, their come-and-go transience over a week. Completing three years on the course, Jiao’s outlook has always remained positive, largely due to the support from tutors: “The encouragement of Rosie and Robert was very important to my later work,” she says. “I learned a lot of professional and systematic knowledge, and on this basis, I could freely develop my creativity. The main challenges came from myself – being stuck thinking in the early process and feeling self-doubt after all garments were made.” Having interned at two independent brands, XUZHI and 8ON8, Jiao intends to find work in an established design house where she can enhance her eye for womenswear.

Sarah Dowle

Sarah Dowle’s BA project, Giants Among Men, began as a pilgrimage on faith; a journey to understand its enduring power structures and deity-centred devotions. “Religion has always fascinated me through the diversity that it can evoke in its followers,” says the graduate, from a village in Hertfordshire. “My collection is based on the creation of my own religion in a parallel universe, where giant beings move among humanity, blessing their followers in shadow.” Arising from an ominous colour palette, Sarah’s designs look into the division between ‘God’ and ‘Worshipper’ through imposing volumes. One garment appears like the backside of a great masculine statue – its bloated, colossal limbs drag across the floor as though a weighty burden, clinging fervently to the arm of its wearer. Another sees a floor-grazing coat train morph into a human shadow. “This sculpted womenswear aims to create the feeling of something greater than ourselves. I made my own iconography which manipulates the body within itself,” she says. On a foundation course at Central Saint Martins, Sarah found that working in 3D better assists her dyslexia; so in her current project she has adopted varaform casting methods as well as scrap paper and plaster construction. “Leather became a critical aspect of the collection – generating an animalistic, organic dimension and symbolising durability, to be able to stand the test of time,” she says. Faith was also required to complete a project of such scale – Sarah recalls late night sewing with her favourite technician, Pat, making sense of myriad pattern pieces that felt like endless jigsaws. “She would give me the pep talk I needed while I tried to explain she was sewing the outer butt cheek of the second deity’s body, on look six,” the designer laughs. As she leaves Westminster, Sarah’s destiny in the industry is clear: “I want to create my own place to promote positive change and ultimately connect other art forms and fashion in a thought-provoking way.”