British brand ROOFLESS strives to alter and question the complex system of fashion and believes the critical power of art can be used to achieve this. Bethany Williams, the designer behind ROOFLESS, has created A New Life, a collection embedded with real people, and hopes to cause a real social effect.
When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you get started?
I’ve always been interested in fashion and art but as a student I found it very difficult to combine both disciplines. I chose a degree in Fine Art but always felt I had to justify the use of garments within my practice. Through the creation of ROOFLESS I am able to combine all my interests and know this is what I want to do with my life. Help people, create art and design clothes.
How did you get started?
My initial inspiration was through exploration of a homeless community and substance abusers with Brighton University, creating a documentary with the charity Impact Workability. I discovered a social minority group, which I wanted to engage with. I started volunteering at the local Monday night soup kitchen and felt that I wanted to use fashion and art as an experiment to see if I could create some form of change through these interactions. So in my final year at university I set up ROOFLESS, an art practice and clothing collection with a charitible message.
What effect (if any) do you think your childhood has had on the creativity you display as an adult? What are your earliest memories involving fashion?
My family are very creative, caring and concerned about people and the environment, which has had a massive influence on my art practice and how I view the world. Their views and beliefs has provided the foundations which my work is built upon. I believe they have encouraged my intrigue with obscuring normality to make the viewer question what is already in place. I have always wanted to alter and question the system of fashion and I believe the critical power of art can be applied to achieve this.
What are your earliest memories involving fashion?
Watching my mum making mine and my brother’s clothes and knitting with my nan.
What inspires you?
Participatory art and the idea of the activated spectatorship have played key components for the development of my practice. The curator and theorist Nicolas Bourriaud’s views of relational art as ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.’ Due to the contemporary world reducing human interaction, relational art develops a collective political project, rather than emancipating the individual.
I aimed to expand upon Nicolas Bourriaud’s views that relational art may explore social bonds through pre-existing types of relations and stepping towards the idea of recreating social-professional models and applying their production methods. Therefore, I have been fascinated with the production of alternative systems of exchange, which engages with a minority group and uses art practice and fashion as an experiment to see if I can create some form of change through this interaction.
What is your design process?
My design process stems from the concept and the social space I engage within, and I always start with the material. The purpose of altering the garments is to add economic value, which will subsequently go back into the cycle of exchange that ROOFLESS creates.
In Collection 01 the second skin allows the garments to retain their essence and character from the previous owner, whilst creating a new layer inside the garment out of materials sourced from hardware stores. Ironically playing with and contradicting the requirements of a garment for the previous owners and what the requirements of the new owner within the realm of fashion and art. I aimed to create an environment within the garments, acting as a shelter, which the buying costumer has no need for. Remarking on the ability of manipulating the consumer through skilful promotion and design.
Collection 02 ‘A New Life’ is inspired by the conversations, interactions and history I encounted during my art residency in The New Life Charity Shop. I hope we have designed and created a collection embedded with real people and I hope to have caused a real effect in this social space, through the sale of the collection and interactions that have occurred in Wood Street.
Have you ever doubted your talent/work? If so, how did you work through it?
I constantly question my practice and I believe that this questioning is how you can make work stronger.
Do you design with a specific client in mind? If so, who is that person?
When designing the first collection 01, I tried to create a collection that reflects elements of the social space I work within and the people I meet. So for the first collection I designed for the homeless at the soup kitchen in Brighton, and the second was designed for the people of Wood Street.
Is there a piece or a collection you are most proud of?
The vacuumed formed plastic jumper, as this piece contains some of the dinosaur toys that the children in the local area of Wood Street would save their pocket money to buy. When creating the new collection ‘A New Life’, we wanted to explore, engage and embody the social space of Wood Street. By creating and sourcing in the New Life Charity Shop, I hope the collection has been influenced by the stories we have over heard and the history that we have learnt during our time in Wood Street.
Have commercialism and/or the media had any impact on your work? Is this good or bad?
Yes, the ideas of commercialism and consumption have influenced my work greatly. I am intrigued with altering the production and selling process, and through this interference, I hope the buying will question the whole process and see the available space for an alternative. The alternative system of commerce ROOFLESS has created could be applied to any industry. I anticipate the buyer can see that exchange economies is possible and not just idealist concept conceived by a bunch of hippies.
Political economists argued two centuries ago that economies are based on three functions: production, consumption, and exchange. Since that time, first production, then consumption has taken its turn as the driving forces of value creation. As the consumption era draws to a close, exchange is emerging as the next driver of economic growth. For example, the Burning Man festival, is based on “gifting”. With nothing to buy or sell and no sponsorships, the festival experience is all about exchange.
Who or what is something or someone fabulous that you think is underrated or overlooked?
I believe the influcience of critical theory within fashion is something that is overlooked and is a crucial component of my practice. I think there is expanding space within the fashion industry, as designers are constantly pushing the boundaries and by introducing critical theory of art into this industry, might be a way to create a platform for social change.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
I would say don’t feel that you should have to mould your work to fit a discipline or industry, the most interesting part of creativity is the cross over.
All Clothing by Bethany Williams for ROOFLESS
Photography by Amber Dixon
Styling by Leanne Trigg
Hair & Makeup by Charlotte Gaskell
Model(s) Kalm Paul-Christian, Chris Tanner, Gemma Shakespeare, Hannah Shakespeare & Jack Willsmore.
Location Wood Street, Walthamstow
Special Thanks to everybody at The Wood Street Indoor Market