Bethany Williams & Making For Change Are Revolutionising Fashion Collaborations

From #10 The Family Issue, the socially-conscious designer shows us around her new studio space in Poplar and introduces her latest collaborators, London College of Fashion’s ‘Making For Change’ initiative.

This article originally appeared in BRICKS #10, The Family Issue, which you can buy from our online store here.

PHOTOGRAPHY Hidhir Badaruddin

When I ask Bethany Williams what led her to an eponymous brand name, she replies that she could never find a single word to encapsulate all the work that her brand does. This makes sense, as the once independent graduate designer is now a leading changemaker in sustainable luxury fashion, having revolutionised the traditional brand business model and collaborating with social initiatives for a net-positive output. “It’s such a vast community and collective now, but I never envisioned this when it was just me at the start,” she says modestly. 

Following a successful graduate collection debut in 2016, Bethany was still working solo when she first met Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility at London College of Fashion, UAL. In 2014, Claire set up the department which includes, LCF’s Making for Change, training and production programme, and in 2018 began working alongside Bethany’s brand. By creating long-standing partnerships with local grassroots organisations such as The Magpie Project as well as international social initiatives including San Patrignano and Manusa, Bethany is weaving a growing network of creative hubs that contribute to the making of a better tomorrow.  

While studying for her MA at LCF, Bethany was introduced to fellow student Natalie Hodgson by tutors, and having both grown up on the Isle of Man, the pair quickly became close friends and collaborators. “I was so happy to have the support because I’d been doing everything myself while I had other bar jobs and I was freelancing, so once I could just focus on the creative side of things it was such a relief,” she enthuses. 

The past two years have seen the brand’s accomplishments and accolades stack up, winning the Queen Elizabeth II Award for young designers in 2019 and the British Fashion Council and British Vogue’s Designer Fashion Fund earlier this year. The latter awarded her a £200,000 grant to grow her business which she used to set up an additional studio at Poplar Works, the first of which, a sample room, is supported by LCF. London College of Fashion’s Making for Change is situated on the same site and is additional to the initiative which began in a women’s prison in 2014, helping women gain hands-on fashion manufacturing skills, industry-recognised qualifications, and potential employment in the fashion industry. 

“Moving into this space in Poplar and having Making For Change on site has really helped the team feel connected, and we’ve been able to expand the team this year too,” Bethany explains. Her newest recruit, 22-year-old Matta Siregar, joined in February after leaving another internship. “They literally saved me from fashion internship hell,” says Matta, who met Bethany and Natalie during a mentoring session that they offer students via Zoom. “On these calls, they got to witness my journey and could see I was having a progressively worse time. On the day I was told I wasn’t going back to that job because of COVID-19, both Bethany and Natalie called me and asked if I wanted to join them.” 

Moving into this space in Poplar and having Making For Change on site has really helped the team feel connected.

Bethany Williams

“I feel so lucky to be a part of this family,” says Matta, the room nodding in agreement with the sentiment. It’s clear amongst the team that their shared goal – to create positive change, in whatever form that takes – is underpinned by a shared kindness that radiates throughout their working environment, from the cafe staff downstairs to the training and production space, to the offices. Today, they’re running late due to traffic, having attended a picnic at Coal Drops Yard to celebrate the women that contributed to the brand’s latest art installation piece. They’re politely apologetic for their delay, but they arrive beaming with enthusiasm and pride at the day’s earlier event. 

“I think today could be my proudest moment we’ve had together,” Catriona Macleod, the team’s brand & sales manager, says upon their arrival. “Getting to see the women’s reactions to their contribution was such a fulfilling moment and that’s really rare in fashion. When I speak to other people that work in the industry, they are envious of the opportunity we have here because you get to see a totally different side of fashion and the happiness it can bring to people.” 

When did you first meet Bethany and how did you get involved with his work?  

Catriona Macleod, Brand & Sales Manager: I’ve been friends with Beth for a while and was always in awe of her work as I watched her progression. I previously worked at Browns Fashion so had worked with her a bit through that, and when I left Browns I was keen to lend a hand and join the team, which I was thrilled she said yes to. 

How would you describe working at Bethany Williams in one word?  

Natalie Hodgson, Managing Director: Supportive 

What is your favourite part of your typical working day?  

Anna Ellis, Head of Business Development at Making For Change: It’s a great atmosphere, we’ve got a really great team so it’s a lovely, unique experience. For instance, because Bethany manufactures next door in the same space, they can pop through at any time and ask questions or have a chat. It’s a very encouraging and welcoming environment that we have here and everybody loves what they do. 

Matta Siregar: It’s a hard one because every day is different, but probably Nat putting on her favourite selection mix, Soulection #503, it’s like we all recognise the start of the mix now and it gets everyone in the mood. 

What do you think is the best asset that you bring to your team?  

Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility at London College of Fashion: I think I’m good at bringing people together and knowing everybody’s skills and highlighting everybody’s talent. 

What is something you’ve learned about yourself through working with this team?  

Natalie Hodgson, Managing Director: Working here honestly makes me feel like a kinder person because everyone’s so nice! I think having the social initiatives be at the heart of our work has made me kinder, or more thoughtful. 

What has been the proudest moment working with this team so far? 

Claire Swift: There have been lots of proud moments, but I’m really proud of Bethany’s drive and her ability to keep going and stick to her principles and values.  

Bethany Williams, Founder & Designer: I think the last collection we did, and the installation at Coal Drops Yard with the Making For Change community stories and working with The Magpie Project. We created the flag project during COVID-19, and getting to see everyone outside in the space, it was a really nice moment and felt like a celebration of the hard work we’d done throughout the pandemic. 

How would you like to see your team evolve?  

Bethany Williams: I’d love to see the team expand and through working alongside Making For Change and other social initiatives, it’s so exciting to meet more people who share the same values and same goals, and it’s so nice to have that connection as we grow. 

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