Now, she’s rebuilding the business from the ground up. Originally, she was going to start with a small collection and lookbook for this season, but when she told Fashion East founder Lulu Kennedy and head of projects Raphaelle Moore about her plans, they were keen to help fund a bigger comeback. (Williams, a University of Westminster graduate, made her debut at London Fashion Week in 2013 as part of the Fashion East group showcase.)
“Ashley’s presence at LFW has been hugely missed in recent years, so it makes perfect sense to support her comeback,” says Kennedy. “The fact that it’s on the 10-year anniversary of her debut with Fashion East makes it all the more poignant. Designers of her talent must always be supported and protected.”
Williams is aiming to gradually regain the trust of her former stockists. “Over the next two years my goal is to rebuild our wholesale accounts and re-establish cash flow,” she says. “If I was doing a lookbook it would feel like less of an event. Whereas coming back with a full show helps to really reestablish ‘we’re back, and we’re doing collections’. It’s more of a statement.”
She will use the XLNC funding to help fund sample creation, improve production, find good reliable suppliers and hopefully avoid delays. “As a small team, making a good product at a good price, with a solid supply chain, is always difficult,” she says.
Williams decided to show off-schedule on the Saturday night during London Fashion Week, which will take place from September 15 to the 19. “You need so much support running a brand, but at the same time, you don’t need to fit into traditional formulas,” Williams says of the move. She is keen to escape the expectation of a show every season, she adds. Other London designers have pulled away from showing twice a year, to reduce costs.
Fans can expect a more evolved version of the brand, Williams says, with a slightly new direction. In 2019, a sperm-printed fleece from her AW19 runway made headlines globally for being transgressive and even appeared on a US talk show. Today, among Isamaya Ffrench’s penis lipsticks, JW Anderson’s Michael Clark-inspired show and phallic shapes at Loewe, it wouldn’t quite feel as shocking. “It’s true, at the time that went crazy,” Williams laughs. “But now, it does feel like everyone is doing stuff like that.”