Often experience is considered to be the best teacher one can have in life. But being able to use that experience and make a meaningful difference in the world is a rarity, yet that something that London based fashion designer Bianca Saunders hopes to accomplish. Taking her own experiences as a person of Black and Indian heritage, Saunders challenges traditional notions of masculinity with her Indian inspired designs and promotion of diversity within the fashion industry.
Born in South London, Bianca Saunders came into early contact with the arts through her parents’ word of encouragement and pursued design after switching from her original study of fashion promotion. Eventually, Saunders decided to pursue her Masters in design from the Royal College of Arts. However, it was during her educational experiences that Saunders harnessed race as both an essential part of her art and an obstacle to overcome. “At Kingston and the RCA, people weren’t from my background, so it made me find out exactly who I am,” she explained. “I feel like, with race, it becomes almost like stepping on eggshells – why is it like that, it should be a casual thing”.
From those experiences, Saunders developed a clothing collection, Personal Politics, for her MA graduate show. The show for that collection garnered praise from Business of Fashion’s Osman Ahmed who said that the collection “in a few minutes had as much beauty as the whole of Moonlight”. Taking a closer look at what made it special, Saunders’ collection focused on men’s wear and drew focus on the unorthodox levels of design that were employed. The collection made use of simple white shirts and sweatpants. However, the way the fabric stretched across the models cross-examined norms of clothing for men. The different pieces of clothing emphasized the showing of skin in non-common areas broke tradition with the masculine and square frame of men’s clothing. In doing so, Saunders like other contemporary thinkers challenges the preconceived idea of gendered clothing and their implications for identity as well.
Following her MA in 2017, Saunders further gained prominence and was named in the 2018 British Council of Fashion’s “One to Watch”. She also presented her spring-summer collection 2020 at London Fashion Week and is part of the Forbes 30 under 30 list for 2020. Without question, Saunders has taken a different approach to her design, being both a women designer for men’s clothing and is one of few black women in the industry to do it. She reflects that “I had to work a little harder to get an in. Since then, though, I wouldn’t say my race has made it a struggle. Luckily people of my age that I know have been striving to be big in fashion, so we help each other out”. Indeed, being successful always brings a spotlight but in different ways for people of color. In these emerging times, making a difference from all angles helps others to the same who come from similar struggles.
Nevertheless, Saunders has overcome these racial boundaries and opts for being different in her approach to designing. In her Spring 2021 collection, Saunders The Ideal Man collection was created in order to further breakdown the norms of fashion for men. “I always want to be empathetic,” she said. “Part of my design process is almost like listening to people”. Furthermore, “ Listening, that is, and also observing how clothes move, and how guys habitually wear things in their off-guard moments”. The collection itself is rooted in the organic feel that people have when dressing like nobody’s watching. For men, there is an expectation to always hold a certain frame. However, in the collection, the wrinkles and simplicity make the outfits believable. In doing so, the perception of men’s dress and their expectations become less about constraining and more about liberation. With that mind, it is easy to see why Bianca Saunders’s work defines the upcoming years in fashion.