The Women Running the (London) Show

LONDON — You could count the number of participants at this month’s digital London Fashion Week, taking place on June 12 to 14, on two hands.

But even if attendance — and budgets — are low in London, there are a number of strong female voices coming through on this season’s schedule that the industry at large could benefit from paying closer attention to.

They embody the spirit of creativity and experimentation the British capital has always stood for but unlike many of their predecessors, these women are contributing to the fashion landscape in ways that surpass their design capabilities. They’re spotlighting marginalized communities; employing sustainable production methods; making charitable donations part of their business model, and simply offering a healthier vision of what having a fashion business looks like in 2021.

One of these women is Turkish-born Dilara Findikoglu, who is planning to release a teaser of her new swimwear collection this weekend.

But this is not your average launch: Findikoglu has joined forces with Oscar-nominated director Yorgos Lanthimos to create a film around her new collection. Along with the film’s teaser, she will be releasing and selling the Dilara Beach Club she dreamed up when designing the collection, in the form of an NFT or non-fungible token.

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“This year was all about discovering new ways of working,” said Findikoglu, who took a break from producing main line collections at the beginning of the pandemic and spent much of the last year of lockdown with her family in Istanbul.

As life restarts, she sees selling her dreams in the form of NFTs or special home objects just as relevant as producing clothing.

“Fashion is great, but it’s important to understand what’s happening around us and also inside ourselves. Early on in the lockdown, everyone was talking about slowing down and thinking about sustainability, but I actually wanted to do that and think of my own mental health,” the designer added.

Taking a step back from the fashion’s traditional rhythms doesn’t mean Findikoglu is tempering her ambition: She shifted her focus to other creative projects, from working with Istanbul’s skater community to shooting campaigns that celebrate female power in the Turkish town of Mardin and working on one-off couture commissions.

A post shared by Dilara Findikoglu (@dilarafindikoglu)

“We haven’t stepped back, we were always online and staying current on Instagram. It was just a case of finding new things to work with,” said Findikoglu, who thinks a new world also requires a new definition of what being a designer means. “My job is to create a lifestyle brand and I want to keep doing that, not just with NFTs but with a variety of new objects. The only thing I won’t stop is getting bigger and getting into new fields. As young designers we need to do what we love but in ways that don’t harm people or nature.”

There’s no such thing as going back to ‘business-as-usual’ for Findikoglu, who wants to advocate for a slower production pace with a maximum of two collections a year, a focus on deadstock fabrics — and a more grounded attitude across the fashion space.

“Fashion has been all about hierarchy, winning, lying about your problems and only showing the highlights and using people. But it’s refreshing to see the direction the new generation is taking; they’re talking about having a nice life, being healthier and rejecting the rules of the old industry that usually involved overworking, not sleeping and living on no money,” said the designer, who is also adopting a more lighthearted attitude in her design process, to offer her audience some relief and sense of fun after a heavy year.

Fellow London designer Priya Ahluwalia is also keeping things upbeat with the launch of her first women’s wear collection, set to be unveiled on the last day of the digital showcase.

The range promises to be packed with bold color, sexy silhouettes and plenty of texture. “I’ve inserted myself a lot more into the process, thinking what me and my friends would want to wear. It’s fun and really meaningful,” Ahluwalia said.

The designer has every reason to feel confident about her new venture: In the last 12 months alone, her work has been recognized with the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design and a Fashion Award for her positive contribution to the industry. She has also been tapped by the buzzy Danish label Ganni to create a capsule and will unveil her first bag designs for Mulberry next week, too.

Ahluwalia fall 2021 

She has been capturing attention on a global scale for her design talent but also the narratives she always weaves into her clothes, about heritage, race or migration.

“Those are the issues I’m naturally interested in so it’s important to raise them and amplify the cultural history of countries that aren’t amplified in a Eurocentric industry,” said the designer, who took inspiration from African and Indian hair for her spring 2022 collection, translating the lines of cornrows or the textures of hair into curved patterns and panelling on clothes.

She also plans to take the conversation further with a series of interviews with fellow creatives sharing their experiences with Black hair and the discrimination they faced. “We need to have those discussions, so that young people can watch them and feel more understood.”

Post-launch, Ahluwalia aims to work on establishing a foundation for her new women’s business, growing her wholesale partnerships as well as her own sales channels — and simply leading by example.

“In terms of the wider industry, it’s only been a year [since diversity conversations really took off] so it’s hard to say what’s going on. I’m not in those hiring meetings and there’s not enough statistics or proof of what companies are doing. But I am running my own business and I know that I’m able to do it in a way that’s not racist. We are a very diverse team and work with mostly female-owned factories in India and North Africa. It’s not that impossible; you just need to do your research,” the designer said.

Bethany Williams has been setting an example of her own: Her new collection, set to be unveiled on June 12, was created in collaboration with Melissa Kitty Jarring, an artist and longtime friend who created artworks inspired by the online storytelling workshops she has been running.

“The whole idea around the collection is the power of storytelling and sharing your personal narrative,” said Williams, who will again be donating part of her collection’s profits to the Magpie Project, a charity supporting mothers and young children living in homelessness.

Bethany Williams Amber Dixon/Courtesy of Bethany Williams

Woolmark was also involved with introducing social manufacturing projects into the collection, while a range of local suppliers helped source the waste Williams and her team brought back to life by patchworking it into knitwear.

Williams is always keen to highlight that between charity partnerships, community projects and her relationships with craftspeople, her designs are part of a large, collective effort: “Collaborations are important because you bring people with different experiences, backgrounds or skillsets together to create work that you could never have imagined. That kind of mentality of ‘I am the designer’ doesn’t work for me, I don’t want to be run by ego. Our practice is all about empathy, kindness and the power of making,” the designer said.

After skipping a season and taking time to reset, Williams has moved onto the same site as her label’s manufacturer in East London, which enables her to now create all her samples and new products in a hyper-local way and keep the label’s footprint minimal. She has also been working on new projects, from a public art exhibition set to open in July to educational projects, which ensure the brand’s margins can remain healthy even if quick scaling up and high profit margins are not of interest.

“We are thinking about a post-growth society. What would it look like if we didn’t have to keep growing and excelling at everything? It’s a really exciting thing to be thinking and can translate into a service or business developing tool,” added the designer. “I don’t think anyone was really getting it when I was just starting. But in the last two years things have shifted and the industry has been paying attention. The younger generation especially are really asking for receipts and holding brands accountable.”

Bethany Williams RTW Spring 2021 Ruth Ossai / Courtesy of Bethany Williams

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