Fashion Students working with designer Mary Benson

03 February 2022

Mary Benson is an alumna of Leeds Arts University, who studied an Extended Diploma in Creative Practice and Foundation Diploma in Art & Design. She is an inspiring, leading Yorkshire designer who is heavily influenced by sustainability in her practice and for her brand MARY.

Our BA (Hons) Fashion Design course leaders continue to have excellent industry links, including with Mary Benson. In fact, Senior Lecturer Andrew Bailey-Bannister, helps out on the production side of things on a weekend for Mary, such as sewing bags and dresses.

It comes off the back of these strong connections that Mary Benson wanted to encourage capable and talented BA (Hons) Fashion Design students to join her for a recent work placement at her studio in York.

Some students from the University are already freelancing or working part-time for the brand, and we hear from BA (Hons) Fashion Design students Amy Matthews (second year) and Ella Gillard (final year) on their recent experiences  and developments in working for Mary.

Amy Matthews

Having always had a strong personal interest in sustainable fashion and upcycling, I was very keen to undertake a work placement with Mary Benson, who is successfully running a slow fashion brand.  I started my internship with Mary at the beginning of this academic year, and since completing it have been offered a freelance job to continue working there, alongside studying for my degree. I was thrilled to accept this offer, as it is so nice to be learning from someone who really values making high-quality clothes; that are designed to last a long time and created with care.

I work for Mary two days each week, and it is such a lovely working environment being in the studio. A typical day for me at the Mary Benson studio involves hand stuffing and stitching her velvet cushions; as well as hand-placing and printing her signature vinyl appliques, onto various products. This could mean printing intricate designs onto her iconic velvet dresses and jumper dresses; on to smaller limited-edition items, such as hair accessories and Christmas decorations; or my personal favourite which is upcycling second-hand vintage berets with sparkly applique stars and strawberries.

I have learned and am continuing to learn so many new skills in the creation of these magical products mentioned, the preparation and packaging of orders, and gaining a glimpse at the day to day running of a fashion brand. It has taught me to stick to my values and showed me that it is possible to push for sustainability within the industry.

Finally, working with Mary Benson whilst completing my university course has been extremely motivating for me, especially during an uncertain time as a student due to constantly changing Covid restrictions. It is helping me to become more organised with my time and workload and has offered structure to my week. I am beyond grateful for the experience, and hope to continue being inspired by Mary and acquire new skills as I remain working with her.

Image: Hand stitching and stuffing Mary Benson cushions.

Image: Applique application to a Mary Benson Kids beret.

Ella Gillard

‘In October 2021 I started interning for Mary Benson. She’s one of my favourite fashion designers and I’ve been following her work for years now, so when I landed an internship with her brand I couldn’t wait to get started and make the most out of the opportunity.

I interned for about 3 months, during my time I learned an incredible amount from the design and production processes, to how to run a successful fashion brand. Typical tasks involved: pattern cutting, cutting fabric, overlocking, heat pressing and sewing dresses, bags, or accessories.

Since interning, my sewing skills have improved greatly, I have become highly confident with using industrial sewing machines and ensuring I can sew garments to a high industry standard. This opportunity had also encouraged me to work both independently and with a small studio team. It has given me fantastic experience with how to solve daily business issues, whether design, production, photoshoot, or brand development related.

A month into my internship, Mary offered me a freelance dressmaking assistant position, commencing once my internship had finished.

As a freelancer for Mary Benson I generally focus on the dressmaking and sewing aspect, which has pushed my sewing ability to a higher standard again. It has also given me further experience working in a small design studio/ team setting which has been invaluable in pursuing my long-term goal to set up my own brand in the future.

To conclude, I have learnt so much from this opportunity already and now with freelancing, my design and sewing skills are continuing to grow immensely. I’m really enjoying working at Mary Benson and I’m hoping I will be able to continue freelancing for Mary, after I finish my current Fashion Design degree at Leeds Arts University.’

 Image: Mary Benson with her team of freelancers and staff including Ella.

Image: Cutting and pattern work for Mary Benson designs.