Since receiving the Newgen sponsorship for AW15, Sadie's full time job has become her brand. Her past two collections were shown on schedule at LFW, she has held a window at Selfridges, and collaborated with & Other Stories and Barbie. For animation, Sadie and her brother Joe are represented by RSA Films. Their clients include Top Shop, Loewe x Hillier, and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
This interview took place via email between Tate in New York and Sadie in London and Paris
TVPS: Can you give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
SW: These days I’ve been running my own label since receiving the Newgen sponsorship for AW15. Since AW16 I’ve been showing my collections with presentations on schedule at LFW. On the side I often take on free-lance work (in design, teaching and stylist assisting) to help fund myself. I also receive Swarovski sponsorship at the moment, so it’s really exciting to integrate crystals into my collections.
I also do animations, which my brother and I started making together at university. He was studying film, and I was doing fashion and stop-frame seemed like a fun and exciting way to illustrate a project that I was working on. At the time I was interning with Katie Hillier, and she loved the animation we had made and asked if we could make them for her forthcoming jewelry brand. So that’s how we got into making them for clients.
For animations, how do you and your brother Joe work with the client to give them what they want but to also stay true to your own vision?
Depends on the client. Sometimes the brief is super open like “Here’s what we are doing this season, go for it” but sometimes there is lot’s of back and forth with various drafts of treatments (storyboards). Me and my bro knock heads and come up with the ideas, and he understands how it could work technically. Then I work more as the art director, mainly making the sets, but Joe often helps crafting these too. He sets up the cameras and lights, and we sit and animate them together. It’s really time-consuming and tedious so we often end up getting on each other's nerves, getting delirious, having a laugh and staying up all night.
Were you ever at cross roads of doing animation or fashion design?
Yes. Sometimes it seems like a good alternative when fashion feels really stressful.
How was your time at Central Saint Martins?
I studied my BA at Brighton and my tutor Jane Shepherd recommended that I apply for the CSM MA for the Textiles pathway. It was the best decision I made because before then I always struggled a bit, and found pattern cutting very tricky. Once I began approaching design through textiles, I felt everything fall into place. I spent the whole first year experimenting loads, and learning a lot form my mistakes. The course taught me to recognize my strengths and edit my ideas to deliver a focused and refined outcome.
And your time at J.W. Anderson?
I worked with J. W. Anderson in my year out between BA and MA. My friend Mel was a pattern cutter there and got me on board. It was a great insight into how a small label starts out and runs itself, which gave me some of the knowledge that I needed to start my own label.
It’s really tough to start your own label and initially I was scared of it from seeing how stressful it was for Jonathan. I thought it would be mad to go it alone, but opportunities (Newgen in particular) came my way, and I’ve found myself here now!
Has the animation partnership helped the Sadie Williams brand and vice versa?
Yeah for sure. It’s a way to express my creativity using another outlet besides fashion design. I think the first time I recognized that it directly helped my brand was when I was approached by Mandi Lennard to design a collection for Barbie and she specifically asked if we could make an animation to accompany it too. Which is actually one of my favorites!
What is your creative process from concept to runway?
I’m quite eclectic in how I collect my research, from all different sources, including lots of images from photography books, and original garments bought from Portobello Market and E-bay. I also like to buy textiles, trims, and materials, often from places like Shepherds Bush, and experiment with them.
I then collate all my images/materials and create collages and mood-boards that express the ‘world’ that the collection inhabits. These go up on my walls as a constant reference. Quite a lot of my work is reflective of my personal style too, that mix of tomboyish/graphic/sporty combined with feminine/decorative/elegant.
Sometimes I have a direct theme that I will research thoroughly, but sometimes it’s less obviously themed. I like to play on my strengths in pattern, print and textiles.
Were you influenced by your upbringing?
Definitely. Everyone undeniably is.
What influenced your aesthetic the most early on?
The first place I was allowed to go shopping unaccompanied by my parents was down my local Portobello market; me and my best mate were age seven and given one hour, so we literally ran to every stall and shop we loved. I think growing up going around Portobello, and Shepherds Bush markets have definitely had a massive influence. I still shop at both. And going to boarding school, away from London meant that as a teenager I could really experiment and play around with my clothes in that strange kind of isolated and protected environment.
How did having your model, Marland, design the set affect the nature of the shoot?
I met Marland on a shoot that I was assisting on. She pointed out that she loved the top hanging on the rack, which turned out to be the one that I made! We kept in touch, and when I saw her concrete/silicone pieces, I thought that they would be perfect for my forthcoming collection/presentation. She was really up for it and came over from NY and stayed in my studio working on the pieces. She was fully immersed in the creative environment and saw the collection come together, and helped with customizing accessories too. So it was perfect for her to be my girl for the season in the lookbook, it all felt right!
And how was working with Venetia Scott and Poppy Kain for that lookbook?
Ace! Poppy is one of my best friends, and we have worked together a lot over the years, I still assist her on jobs when I can.
And Venetia is my aunty, but also someone I have a great respect and admiration for and I’ve been surrounded by her work my whole life, and helping on shoots with her since I was a teenager.
So it was ace!
3 years ago you were quoted in a Dazed article saying “I have no plans for my own label, I think I would go mad.” What changed since then?
Probably gone a bit mad!
I started because Sarah Mower interviewed me before the launch of my & Other Stories collaboration and asked ‘what’s next?’ I said I wasn’t sure and she suggested that I apply for Newgen. I was accepted and thought it’s probably now or never.
So I started small with a collection of 6 looks. I decided not to take it to a showroom (for buyers) because I more wanted to see if I could cope and enjoy doing my own label before starting properly. I ended up managing well and decided I wanted to keep it going.
Do you still make all of your clothes?
I never made them all! That would be impressive.
Why do you think people tend to shy away from color so much?
Because it can be seen as less mature, refined or cool. And people aren’t always so bold.
Do you work on your textiles digitally or by hand?
Both! I don’t like to pigeonhole what I do or set limits. It’s all down to experimentation, sampling, what works well, what’s right for the piece/collection. I feel that people want things that have some mark of the hand or show of craftsmanship. I definitely feel more inclined to things that have something a bit more special to them rather than just a basic digital print. For example, even if I am using digital printing, I will often really consider the print placement and how the design will flow across seams, or work when pleated, etc. Or perhaps add another process to the textile, such as bonding or embossing the printed textile.
Who’s on your team?
I don’t have any permanent staff yet. I’d love to sort out at some point in the near future so that I can share all this with someone.
I’m really lucky that I have a really supportive gang of friends and family that help me out, and I have interns too, so we work together as a team to pull everything together.
On the other hand, I do have a team of people that I continue to collaborate or work with from season to season, like my stylist Poppy Kain, or free-lance silk-screen printers, pattern-cutters, and seamstresses.
But yes, managing people is definitely something which I wasn’t really prepared for and still find quite tricky. Essentially it’s all about organization and communication. It all works out if I’m focused and calmer.
Is it important for designers to have a strong personal presence online to support their brand?
Each to their own. I don’t feel any pressure to conform to a certain kind of online presence.
Is there a supportive community for young designers in London?
Yes yes yes. London’s great for that!
I definitely have given and received lots of help/advice/support from my peers. I love that about being a London based designer. I don’t think I could be a designer anywhere else.
In my opinion, being inspired is like falling in love in the sense that it becomes a challenge of how to predict or force it. In that sense how do you cope with the demanding fashion calendar?
I’m not sure if I cope all that well. It’s a roller-coaster! Lots of extremes but at least it’s not boring.
Do you ever feel like everything in fashion has been done before?
No, I think that idea is boring.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
I would love to collaborate with a sports brand one day!
What challenges have you come across when starting to sell your clothes?
Lots! Working out how to manage production at an affordable cost is tricky, especially when you are still a small label and the order quantities aren’t so high.
What tactics have you found that have helped you through this process?
Asking people with more experience for advice. Trying to embrace the business aspects of it all rather than being too daunted by them.
Do you go to market in both Paris and London? Is that typical?
After LFW I take the collection to a showroom in Paris. Pretty much all the buyers go to Paris to make their decisions on buying for the season, so it’s essential to have some presence there if you want to sell the collection.
What’s important to you about a casting?
Health and diversity.
Who or what prepared you the most for the challenges and successes that you have faced in your career?
Having Louise Wilson as my MA course leader definitely prepared me in more ways than I could have imagined. She sets you up to be tough and rely on yourself and the design identity that you forge through the sheer hard work and focus whilst on the MA.
Did you have a plan on the best way of how to introduce your brand to the market?
Nope. I accepted several projects (Selfridges ‘Bright Young Things’, Barbie collaboration, & Other Stories collaboration) that came my way after graduating and this lead to my invitation to join Newgen and to, therefore, start my own label. I still really love working on collaborations and special projects if it suits me/my brand.
How was your collaboration with & Other Stories, did it feel differently having your clothes produced for a mass international market? How did that come into play with the design?
Man, I was sooo excited to have my clothes available to everyone! I had no idea how it would be received and was so happy it was received so well. I obviously had to design with wearability in mind, but it wasn’t tricky since it was quite a reflection of how I dress/dress-up anyways. The design team met me and saw my MA portfolio which also included much more wearable ideas than my graduate collection of floor length gowns, and so that’s how I got the gig.
How are the Newgen community and your peers there?
It’s the best thing. I hands down would not have my own label without Newgen. It offers a support for the business side of things, and through it, I have made great friends with many of the other designers. Especially Marta Jakubowski who started at the same time as me. We’re now best mates and are constantly supporting each other in all sorts of ways.
How do you prepare for new territory, for instance, your first presentation at LFW? What did you learn from that experience?
I think that the more you do, the more you have to believe that you can handle the next thing even when you’re going out into the unknown. Sometimes those things are the scariest, but in a good way. I learned that it’s all so much more than me; it’s all really down to everyone involved along the way.
Would you say you took the typical path for being a designer starting a brand or is there even a typical path?
Don’t think I took a typical path. I spent the first year and a half after graduation working hard on the great opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have come my way. I always assumed that I would work free-lance or at a design house.
Would you have done anything differently?
I wouldn’t change any of it.
What experience do you hope the wearer has when in your clothes?
To feel good, confident and happy. I want them to feel like they are wearing something special, and that they are special.
Do you have any design, fabric, or aesthetic staples?
Metallic is something of a signature for my brand. I love a bit of sparkle! And since my textiles are often quite full-on, crafted or labored, I like to keep the silhouettes clean and simple.
Do the textiles serve the clothes or do the clothes serve the textiles?
A bit of both. Sometimes I have a textile technique that I am determined to showcase, and so I have to think of the best way to do this. But obviously I have to design a collection at the end of the day, so I work out what textiles are appropriate to the shape, season, etc.
What originally drew you to Lurex?
The sparkle! But I really fell in love with it through experimenting with it on the MA. It’s so versatile and works so brilliantly with lots of the techniques I use on the heat press.
Is there an isolation factor of being a designer and if so how do you deal with it?
Yep for sure. I think that’s why it’s so important to stay true to yourself while designing because at least then you’ve got that at the end of the day. There’s something quite special about being on this creative journey and being able to make a living from that. But when it’s really hard I often reach out to friends who are in the same boat, and I’ll get calls/texts from them too.
What’s your ideal calendar?
One with more time!
How do you think being introduced to technology later on in your life impacted you instead of the generation that follows who were introduced to technology at a younger age?
I think I had it lucky.
I love Instagram and seeing all these images and knowing what’s going on etc. But I’m happy, grateful even, that I spent my teens and student years delving into and cherishing the things that interested me.
I used to be such a technophobe! I only got an email to apply for Uni/BA and my first USB once I started. I didn’t even have a smartphone or wifi at my student house throughout my BA. But now I have to use it all the frickin time! So I’ve adapted. I know how to do the things I need to, but it’s boring to always be online, on emails, and working on a digital screen. So in my work, I love to keep an element of modern craftsmanship and work created using hands, or old school processes like silk-screen, hand-collaged heat transfer prints, hand sewing in applique, heat-pressing on my machine in the studio, etc.
What was your biggest learning experience?
Ha, you sound like it’s over! I’m still constantly learning as I go and have a lot more to learn. But the more companies and organizations you work with the more you see that everyone works differently and that behind the scenes, things are often more shambolic than they appear. Smoke and mirrors!
How would you like to see this industry evolve?
Slow down! Less driven by hype and fast trends and move towards a more respectful attitude regarding how clothes and fabrics are made. I’m still surprised by how massively popular fast fashion websites are amongst young people and my peers.
Is there an impact that you’d like to make?
I’d like to celebrate the craft and labor that goes into designing and making quality, fairly made clothes. To be part of a generation of designers that can help consumers make smart and selective choices in their purchases, by creating work that people will cherish and treasure.
Where do you want the Sadie Williams brand to go?
I want to continue being able to make original work while working innovatively with textiles. I want my brand to reach and be enjoyed by more people, and to do this through gaining more stockists globally, working on more collaborations and finding the time to create the things I love working on visually, such as animations, lookbooks, and set designs.
I want to learn more skills by partnering up with companies that specialize in certain fabrics or techniques such as denim and knitwear and to keep this ball rolling.
What is your take on this generation and where are we headed?
We’re a pretty confused generation, with the world changing so rapidly, often really surprisingly and dramatically. But I also think that we’re all far more connected in a way I never imagined when I started studying design. I never thought I would be waking up to comments left on Instagram from Japan or Brazil or be receiving internship application emails from students in the States and across Europe. I think this engagement and dialogue has the potential to create great, powerful and beautiful things. That’s what I hope!
What advice would you give to a kid who looks up to you?
Work hard, be considerate, nice, have a laugh, get as much experience as you can. Try out different things whilst you’re young, or you might never know what really suits you. Find those things that you love and really go for it with your ideas, learning from your mistakes is the best way.
Be connected, not just with fashion people, but your mates doing writing or sculpture, film, etc.
Anything you’d like to add?