BETHANY WILLIAMS' NEW COLLECTION TELLS THE STORIES OF ALL OUR CHILDREN
17 June 2021
Interview & Text: Celine Lika
Pictures: Ruth Ossai, Courtesy of Bethany Williams
For her new collection All Our Children, London-based designer Bethany Williams has partnered with the Magpie Project, supporting families with housing issues in Newham. With the help of artist Melissa Kitty Jarram, Bethany featured illustrations by the mothers and children of the project throughout her SS21 collection to tell the families’ stories.
Since the lockdown in the UK, London-based designer Bethany Williams has buried herself in her work. Now, we all get to see what she has been working on: the beautiful Bethany Williams’ Spring/Summer 2021 collection All Our Children. ‘It’s been a really tough year for everybody, but I’m also positive of the work that we did and that we’ve been able to build our team,’ Bethany says.
The fashion label recently moved into their new studio space in Poplar. Now, they are on site with a social manufacturing project that they have been working with, Making for Change. The project tries to cut the high reoffending rates for women in the UK by offering paid employment and furthering their training. ‘We’ve been waiting for this moment. It’s been a long way due to the pandemic, and we’re just so excited to finally be in the space.’
For Bethany Williams’ new collection, she has worked with another organisation from London: All Our Children ‘celebrates the ethos of the Magpie Project’. Bethany has been volunteering for and collaborating with the London organisation since 2019. The Magpie Project supports families with housing issues, whether it’s temporary, unsuitable, or no accommodation. 80% of the community that they work with fall under the legislation No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). These families don’t have access to social security money due to their immigration status, which currently affects about 100,000 children in the UK.
The Magpie Project provides a safe and fun place for mums and children under the age of 5. For example, they support families with essentials such as food and children’s clothes, give advice, and do workshops. Bethany was introduced to the project by a PhD student who was working alongside them. ‘When I had a meeting there with the founder Jane Williams, I just fell in love with the project.’
Just like Jane, Bethany believes that regardless of a child’s immigration status, ‘they are all our children,’ which inspired the name of her new collection. In fact, the families of the Magpie Project were actively involved in making the pieces for All Our Children. ‘Working closely with the mums and minis, we brought in artists, poets, and filmmakers to tell the families’ stories through the collection.’
Faces from the community wearing pieces from Bethany Williams' All Our Children collection
During lockdown, they commissioned the artist Melissa Kitty Jarram to run digital workshops with the families. She did drawing activities to get the families engaged, thereby creating collaborative artwork. ‘They came up with these really beautiful illustrations, and Melissa transformed them into patterns and prints that are featured throughout the collection,’ Bethany says.
The label donates 20% of the proceeds from the collection to the Magpie Project via the Bethany Williams Benevolence Fund, which is used to support families during emergencies when no other funds are available. ‘It’s been really lovely to be able to launch that and to hear Jane’s updates of how the funds are being used.’
Bethany showcased her new collection with the help of photographer Ruth Ossai, who shot pictures of families from the community wearing the pieces. Playwright and writer Eno Mfon wrote a poem for this occasion, which became the soundtrack of the lookbook film. ‘We invited her to come and tell the story of all our children.’
The Magpie Project and their collaboration are very dear to Bethany’s heart because she believes that ‘we need to protect the most vulnerable in our society – they are our future.’ She therefore sees her latest project as a ‘call to action, for people to take more responsibility and accountability for our next generations.’
For her collection All Our Children, Bethany once again committed to sustainability. ‘For us, sustainability is about intersectionality: how social issues and the environment are interconnected. We believe that you need to be both socially and environmentally responsible.’ Bethany has therefore been working with social manufacturers and championing unheard voices through her collections. Additionally, she has been using materials that are waste or organic and working with slow manufacturing processes, such as patchwork, quilting, and hand-printing.
For instance, Bethany Williams Spring/Summer 2021 collection includes a windbreaker made of deadstock material from Adidas. The brand sent Bethany their deadstock that hasn’t sold as well as old samples, which Bethany worked into patchwork. ‘It’s been a lot of work because we got so many orders, and each windbreaker took us days in making. All the patchworking – it’s like a work of art. So, every single item is completely unique.’
The designer wants to facilitate change within the fashion industry. ‘We’re trying to show that it is possible to work in this way and create a different system of production.’ To share their knowledge with others in the industry, they offer free tutorials, for instance. ‘We believe that this kind of information needs to be shared so that everyone is able to move forward. We’re all constantly learning. You can never be perfect; it’s about trying your best and just doing what you can.’
Bethany therefore tries to raise awareness of both social and environmental issues with All Our Children, which she has really enjoyed working on. ‘It’s just a beautiful thing to work on together. The mums and minis have been so supportive of the project, and it’s been lovely to develop this relationship. We’re continuing to collaborate with the Magpie Project for the next collection, which is also exciting.’