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Maddie Williams, Eco-friendly Fashion

Maddie Williams, Eco-friendly Fashion

By: Lauren Ablondi Olivo

Maddie Williams is the environmentally conscious designer who turns builders’ sacks into catwalk-worthy garments. Despite an initial suspicion of the fashion industry, the 22-year-old has evolved into a sartorial visionary.

“My mum was friends with Jimmy Choo when I was younger,” says Maddie Williams with only the hint of a smile, “There's a picture of me in a baby carrier in his studio.”

Her anecdote seems in contrast to who she is today, an hipster-esque young woman, who focuses on eco-friendly fashion and straying away from the traditional concept of mass production. Was having a mum in fashion photography the inspiration for her incursion into fashion? “The opposite, really. My mum did try to ward me off and was like, ‘Just don’t do it to yourself.’ But I had to, of course.”



Studying fashion at the University of Edinburgh, Maddie cultivated an individual outlook and vision for designs. “The course was very free. They don’t push you down any particular path, and I don’t think that Edinburgh has a particular aesthetic that you would see; if you saw a group from our graduate year, [you wouldn't think], ‘Oh! That person must be from Edinburgh.’ Everyone was very different.”

Had she always wanted to go the avant-garde, high fashion route with her clothing? “Yes.” However, she was never sure that fashion was her destiny. “I’ve always been creative; I’ve gone through phases where I’ve wanted to be a film director or do set design. Initially I rejected the idea of fashion because of the stigma; I felt like I would constantly have to justify myself. In my head I was like, ‘Don’t write it down! Oh my God, why are you doing this?’ But I had to. It felt the most natural. You get to make, you get to draw, do photoshoots, everything; it’s a quite rounded industry.”



Using recyclable materials, Maddie is an early adopter of the sustainable fashion movement. The push for eco-friendly designs is coming from high-end, well-known brands as well, but the real spark for change is being driven by younger, up-and-coming designers. Maddie attributes this to her generation's hyper-awareness for the environment. “It’s very hard to ignore. It’s a thought that’s always present, because we’ve grown up aware of it our whole lives. And it’s something that we feel is a genuine, real, a threat to us, so anything we can do that is in our power to combat that, we should.”



Maddie uses a variety of reusable materials in her designs, which change throughout her collections. “In my initial graduate collection, I mainly used Royal Mail postal sacks. I discovered them through a process at the beginning where I was testing different materials and gathered loads of different stuff to try out. I just happened to be doing some experiments with these sacks and thought, ‘Oh, these are actually really versatile and can be changed quite drastically from their original form.’” Since her graduate collection, Williams has started to use builders’ rubble sacks. “If you live in London, if you get the train, you see these sacks strewn about the railway lines. They’re always outside people’s houses if they’re having work done or on building sites, and so we just kind of took them off the street or asked builders if we could take leftover ones. And they’re single use only so if we didn’t, they’d just get chucked. And ever since I was a child I’ve liked making things out of other odd things.”



For a collection that’s so imaginative and vivid, one would think that she’s constantly creating, the wheels always turning. But she attests that it’s the opposite. “I’m [not] one of those people who’s constantly channelling ideas. Some artists and designers are constantly having ideas and having to put them down on paper, but I’m not. I have to actively say, ‘now I am doing this’ and sit down and actually do it. Once I get to that point I find it quite easy, but I guess I have to be looking at my research and be drawing.” How long does that preparation take? “I tend to go through quite a long stage of research, gathering images and drawings and creating sketchbooks, things like that. [For my latest collection] I directly lifted forms from throughout my research – fertility figures or pagan costumes or a sixteenth-century dress – and smooshed them together to make collages to generate a few different silhouettes. And then I would go through trials, seeing if it actually works and how it could be changed, and thinking about 20 million alternative ideas and then, finally, making the garment.”



Now that she’s had her debut at London Fashion Week as a Fashion Scout "Ones to Watch" designer – a “very pleasant experience” – does she have a plan for the future? She says, “I tend to not set long-term goals, and so far it’s been working quite well. I’ve been quite lucky that the ball has been rolling and when things have dropped off, other things have picked up. So, I plan on doing that for a little bit longer. But showing at London Fashion Week has made me think about starting my own brand, even though it’s terrifying.”



Why so modest? “Maybe it’s because I’m so fresh out of education, but my motive has been concept, creativity, and entertaining people, rather than making money. But now that I’m facing the realities of life, I have to start thinking, “Okay, if I do want to continue being creative, how can I support that? It’s tough.” 

“I’ve been so lucky," Maddie continues. "I have had support, people showing interest. The [February 2018's Fashion Scout] show was such a big confidence booster... It just makes you think, ‘Oh! You should have more confidence in yourself!’”


Interview: Lauren Ablondi Olivo
Photography: Yoshitaka Kono
Art Direction: Rebekah Roy
Hair & Make-up: Evan Huang using MAC & Carol Joy
Models: Kristina @ Body London & Iliana Moroyoqui @ First Model Management
All Clothes: Maddie Williams, unless stated otherwise

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