Change the System: An Interview with Environmental Activist and Independent Designer Jay S Williams,
Amid a crisis of fast fashion and an uncertain future, Jay S Williams- who founded the Empty Brains brand aged 17- creates clothing that is ethical, sustainable, and carries a prevalent message. We spoke to him about inspirations, Extinction Rebellion, and pivotal moments for the brand.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Shola
Would you please tell us your name, your age, where you’re based and what you do?
Jay S Williams, 20, Bristol, I run a small independent sustainable clothing brand called Empty Brains that makes punk reworks of second-hand clothing tackling political, social and environmental issues.
How would you sum up the Empty Brains ethos?
Empty Brains strives to create awareness of climate change, the dark side of the fashion industry and political issues and hopefully create positive change by doing so.
What made you decide to pursue starting your own clothing brand?
I started it because I wanted a platform to put out all the art I was creating at the time. It seemed like an exciting community to get involved with and I really enjoyed how art looked on garments rather than hung lifeless on a wall. To begin with, there was a loose theme of anarchy and rebelling against the system behind the garments but it was more about trying to create something new and exciting, exploring different styles until I found one that I felt like I could pursue in greater depth.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Shola
And what made you choose the name- ‘Empty Brains’? Is there a particular significance?
Empty Brains is a comment on how so many people in our civilisation go about their everyday lives completely void of excitement and joy and simply follow orders shouted by their 9-5 boss. Their brain therefore may as well be empty. So, I suppose I am using the name as a warning: ‘don’t fall into the trap of the empty brain’.
I know last year you made the announcement that Empty Brains was making the move to become as sustainable as possible- how has this transition been, and what exactly triggered you to make that decision?
Yes, that happened after I took part in the Extinction Rebellion protest in London in April of 2019, I only went for a day but what I saw had an incredible impact on me. When I got back I felt so moved and inspired by the sacrifices people were making to help raise awareness of the horrific dangerous of climate change that are already upon us, and unless we act right now our world could easily spiral out of control and become far worse. Just in the last few months the UK has experienced horrendous flooding and more recently the savage fires have covered Australia. More than anything, what really got to me about the protests was hearing about all these shocking facts but then also seeing how many thousands of people were on the streets doing anything they could to make a difference. From that point onward I have not bought a new item of clothing for myself or for my brand and have swapped completely to second hand reworks. This not only allows us to reuse the materials we already have rather than creating more, but we also use printed slogans so people who wear Empty Brains are almost walking banners for positive change! The transition was a lot easier than I thought; I think as soon as you accept that your main goal is to minimise waste and impact on the planet, even if that means sacrificing profit sometimes, then decisions become a lot simpler because you know exactly what you can and can’t do. At the same time things become a lot more interesting because you must think how you can achieve your sustainability goal while also keeping in touch with brand aesthetics and quality.
What would you say has been your biggest achievement so far- is there anything you’ve been particularly proud of?
I can’t think of any one moment that has been my biggest achievement. I still find it incredibly rewarding every time somebody complements or supports the brand so thank you so much to everyone who has, and I do appreciate it even if I look super moody (not great at smiling all the time). I’m incredibly proud that I own a brand that is as ethical and sustainable as I can make it and campaigns for social and political change.
What’s in store for 2020? Do you have any specific visions for the future of the brand?
I really want to do a lot more collaborations, not just with other clothing brands but any creatives, musicians, poets, film makers, photographers. I think now that I have developed how I want Empty Brains to look and what I’m trying to say with it, it's time to work with other people to help spread this message and grow as a brand and vehicle for shouting the truth. I would love to use Empty Brains to create a safe space/platform that people can discuss issues that are important to them and help to teach others how we can support them. So, if anyone wants to collaborate or has some ideas they want to discuss, raise awareness for, send me a message on Instagram or email!
Shop Empty Brains here: https://www.emptybrains.co.uk/
View the Empty Brains instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/emptybrains_/
Photos from @nshola.e