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Sustainability as a resource to commit ourselves to the situation that surrounds us. When it comes to predicting the future of the fashion industry, designer Maddie Williams is clear: brands that want to be sustainable will have to extend their mission beyond obtaining economic profit. Innovative with her creation techniques, Maddie won the 2019 Redress Design Award. A few months later, she talks about how her work has evolved beyond the textile barrier to investigate new creation formulas that allow her greater creative freedom.
It’s not coincidental that your garments are sustainable. You make your collections from zero-waste, upcycling and reconstruction. At what point during your academic training did you decide to investigate alternative methods of textile manufacturing?
I think just growing up at the time I did, and probably even more so for people of my generation. All our lives, we have been aware of the concept of climate change and humanity’s impact on the planet. I’m sure this anxiety is something that is constantly present in many of our minds, so I think we are driven to find ways we can help within our personal areas of expertise.
I was increasingly thinking about sustainability throughout my education. It was touched on a little in secondary school, and my interest in social issues raised when I was on my foundation course. Then, when I was on my BA, I seriously started thinking about environmental sustainability and the connection to the fashion industry. I remember watching the True Cost documentary and being really affected by it, rewatching it many times and being shocked by the facts it presented. I knew I strongly disagreed with those practices and did not want to participate in that way of working.
We are used to minimalist sustainable fashion garments. However, your pieces are an explosion of colour and personality. Is it more difficult to achieve this result through sustainable processes?
The use of sustainable materials is very important. I am a bit of a scavenger at heart and have always enjoyed making things out of ‘trash.’ I will typically start sourcing potential materials at the same time I’m forming my body of research and developing my concept. That way, the research and the materials I can get hold of will influence my design work.
There is a constant back and forth between the making and the designing. You might come up with an idea on paper, then try it in 3D, and it doesn’t work the way you imagined. You then have to alter your design and work with the nature of the material.
I like to have a concept and storytelling to guide my work, and communicating these stories and messages is the most important thing for me. I also think that the work has to be exciting and appealing to engage people, just like any other art form. If it doesn’t evoke any feelings in you or the audience, what’s the point?
Behind each of your collections, there is a story that deserves to be told: from the conception of a group who survived the collapse of contemporary civilization in The Mourning, to the goddesses that inspired you to create silhouettes that accentuate and glorify the form of the female body in your graduate collection. What is your creative process when developing a new collection?
I usually start by doing research and developing a concept or narrative that I want the work to be inspired by. I will then develop the silhouettes and textiles simultaneously, so each will influence the other. Using reclaimed materials encourages you to think differently and perhaps more creatively about how you handle fabrics. My colour palettes, for example, are usually dictated by the colours of the reclaimed materials I have at hand.

You had the chance to intern at Vivienne Westwood after showing your collection at Graduate Fashion Week in 2017. What background did you get after working at one of the pioneering fashion brands in terms of sustainability?
It was definitely interesting to see the inner workings of such an established and renowned brand. As interns, we were also able to travel to Paris for fashion week and help and observe the process of getting ready for the show, which was exciting.
I can’t speak for internships in all brands, but the experience did make me realise that they are unethical and unhelpful in many ways. They only allow privileged young people who are financially stable to get a toe in the door while offering very little in terms of education. Interns are generally expected to do the menial labour that the permanent staff don’t want to do, for minimum, or more commonly, no wage. Internships often offer little scope for growth or progression and introduce young creatives to the deeply embedded practice of devaluing their own labour and the knowledge that working for free is the only way to ‘get ahead’ in the industry.
Is sustainability the new punk?
If it’s authentic and the company/designer is truly aiming for ethical and environmental sustainability, then yes. If punk means going against the status quo, any organisations whose goals aren’t just profit and growth are punk.
You have created your own textiles from materials such as Old Royal mail sacks that are made of woven polypropylene. Do you think that the lack of knowledge about the reusability of certain resources makes materials like plastic demonized today?
I chose to use repurposed materials because humans have created so much stuff that there are mountains of useable resources going to waste! I also enjoy the constraints using repurposed materials puts on your creativity – it forces you to think in new ways and become more experimental with textile manipulation. I also enjoy the often unpredictable nature of what results from upcycling; your work will be defined by the properties of the pile of waste you have in front of you, so you can let the materials guide you.

“Hopefully, sustainability will not be a category anymore; it will just be the structure that underpins creativity.”
You won the first prize in last edition’s Redress Design Award. What impact has this recognition had on your work?
It definitely had some impact on the recognition of my work, especially straight after the award. I was approached for interviews or for the use of my garments in shoots. Because I don't have a business and I’m not making and selling any clothing, it’s hard to say if the recognition would have had any impact on people being interested in buying my work. Unfortunately, it hasn’t landed me any job offers!
What do you think about the lack of sustainability on the catwalk? Thanks to specific awards, the work that great designers like you are doing is being discovered. Do you think that sustainability will continue to be considered a separate category in the future?
I think it’s disappointing but not unexpected. Most of the fashion houses that can afford to put on a catwalk show are big businesses whose main goal is to make money, so they are only interested in sustainability if it will sell product. I am aware this is a massive generalisation, and I’m sure lots of brands are moving to make their offering more ethical/sustainable.
There are also plenty of smaller designers who manage to show during fashion weeks who have sustainability embedded at their core, like Bethany Williams. I think that fashion will have no choice but to evolve in a more ethical and sustainable way. People and the realities of climate change will force businesses to change. Hopefully, sustainability will not be a category anymore; it will just be the structure that underpins creativity.
What new techniques are you researching right now?
I have actually been moving away from fashion recently, and even more so during lockdown. I’ve reverted back to childhood interests of fairies houses, nature and dolls. I have been using papier-mâché to create small sculptures and dolls (or maybe they’re puppets), as well as doing more gardening and making miniature houses out of foraged twigs.
So far, I am finding doll-making much more creatively free than fashion because while there are still elements of fashion design, I can also work on character design and don't have to worry about the practicalities of someone needing to wear the clothing!

What would you like to see in the winner of the 2020 Redress Design Award?
I would like to see someone who, unlike me, has the energy and mindset to be able to cope and thrive in a commercial setting, who is driven to change the industry from the inside out.

Gema Terol
Carolina Hughes
Lookbook photos
Katie Allen
Artwork photos
Carolina Hughes

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