Westward Bound clothing featured in exclusive collection as part of multi-million pound cultural project

If you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to over the last little while, we’ve got some exciting news.

We’ve created several garments for The Box museum in Plymouth, which has recently received a multi-million-pound investment. 

This is a huge honour for our brand and a testament to our bold, individualistic approach to clothing design. Our founder and managing director Steve Beech explains more.

What is The Box?

The Box is Plymouth’s major new museum, art gallery and archive and is the result of a recent £46 million cultural spend. This investment was made in 2019 and was  Britain’s largest such arts commitment in the UK that year.

This institution is led by Plymouth City Council and supported by various bodies, including the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and more.

How is Westward Bound’s clothing connected to The Box?

Based upon a request, we’ve donated a dress to The Box, as part of their permanent collection. This garment will feature in their Dress Code – Fashion Stories from The Box exhibition.

In addition, we have designed and made two garments specifically to represent and reflect upon the historic Cottonian Collection housed within The Box. We refer to these as our Cottonian Bound and Goddess Cottonian dresses.

Below is a breakdown that explains more about these collections and why we’ve created items for them. 

Dress Code

The Dress Code – Fashion Stories is Plymouth’s first exhibition dedicated to fashion, and the dress donated by us will sit well within the museum’s costume and textiles collection. To quote the Box, this now encompasses everything from ‘lace to latex’.

It provides people with the opportunity to learn about Plymouth’s fashion past, from as long ago as the 1700s, as well as its present and future. More than this, it speaks to contemporary conversations about identity, sustainability, shopping, design, making and craft.

What did we donate for the Dress Code exhibition?

The simple answer is that The Box sought our Brand Me – Flag Me dress, which seemed the most apt of our designs for their collection.

It is an ‘in your face’ branded item with a mildly subversive take on the British flag, whilst its colour choice has been selected to pick out the green, black and white in a nod to Devon’s heritage. The white neck to waist harness adds a subtle twist that fits our own company history as well as the remit of revisionist historians within our Sceptered Isle. 

As part of this project with The Box, we shot a photograph of the dress on The Hoe, Plymouth, in front of the iconic Eddystone Lighthouse (Smeaton’s Tower). This is one of the South West’s most well-known landmarks and one of the most famous lighthouses in the world. We went for a relatable, funky-punky vibe for this one. Yes, this area of Plymouth really does look this striking.

Terah Walkup, Curator of Art at The Box, Plymouth, comments: “We are acquiring the Brand Me dress because of Westward Bound’s local history and importance, and its representation of 21st-century fashion. 

“Our dress history collection has items from the 1700s to 1970s, but very little material after that. We wanted to acquire this dress to represent the contemporary production of fashion and garments in Plymouth to continue the story of Plymouth’s history of garment manufacture represented in our collections.”

The Dress Code exhibition runs from 2 April to 4 September 2022. 

Cottonian Collection

Furthermore, we have created two new dresses to represent The Box’s Cottonian Collection, an outstanding collection that was given to the people of Plymouth in 1853 by William Cotton III and donated to the City of Plymouth by Act of Parliament in 1915. The entire collection is now within the sphere of The Box Museum. 

This collection contains several thousand fine and rare prints, drawings, watercolours from across the world, alongside a library of around two thousand books. Of specific note is the collected material relating to Sir Joshua Reynolds.

For those who aren’t fully aware of the magnitude of Sir Joshua’s work, he was the leading portraitist in England in the 18th century and one of the major European artists of the time. He was the founding member and first President of the Royal Academy of Arts and influenced generations of painters.

The Cottonian Collection is culturally and historically significant for a couple of reasons, namely:

  1. It’s protected by an Act of Parliament from 1915. 
  2. It’s additionally recognised as having national Designated Status by The Arts Council England in 1998. This means that it’s one of the UK’s most important collections.

The iconic status of this collection spurred us on to go down and conduct a photoshoot there. The Box kindly invited us and facilitated this desire.

What did we create for the Cottonian Collection?

We created a beautiful aubergine and gold dress for a photoshoot in front of the famed bookcases of the Cottonian. We also created a powerful creamy white dress for a photoshoot in front of several of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ paintings, including one of his friend Charles Rogers in 1777.

A painting by Stephen Poyntz Denning of William Cotton III, who inherited the collection from his own father and gave it to the people of Plymouth, is also included within the shot. All was perfection in composition and delivery.

We couldn’t have asked for a better model than Olivia Harriet – she’s such a fantastic, lovely person. The spirit of Stevie Nicks mixed with the ultimate elf fairy, and was a real bundle of energy on the shoot. I’m not sure if bookcases have ever looked so good!

Our Head of Design, Sarah, created both dresses in one day. We knew we had to do it justice, and we upped our game for it.

A lot of thought went into the shoot because it meant an enormous amount. For a brief moment, you’re a part of the history of that collection, and you have to be serious about that. If someone’s been gracious enough to let you into their world, you have to reflect your responsibility to it.

We’re presenting these dresses in a very traditional context and paying homage to an iconic collection. We are very much embracing it and looking at how we can integrate ourselves into it because, as I said, it’s a great honour to leave our mark, in a respectful way, on such a prestigious body of work.

In designing the aubergine gold dress, my wife Sarah and I paid close attention to the vibrancy and feel of the wood used to construct the bookcases within the Cottonian Collection. 

We personally absorbed the colours and hues within the blend of the exquisite Georgian bookcases and leather bound tomes. We believe that we constructed an outfit that closely aligned with these elements. The aubergine and gold colours, we feel, perfectly complements – and brings to life – the look and feel of the Cottonian Collection. This is our Cottonian Bound dress.

The other dress is a classic, white and contains a mixture of Elizabethan and Victorian design styles. It’s essentially a creamy white with gold and light blue, and it’s some of the best work we’ve ever done. The colours having been being influenced by an historic naval figurehead, Basilisk (1848), hanging in The Box’s foyer.

We shot this in front of four Sir Joshua Reynolds paintings – to have one Reynolds work behind your dress is good enough, but to have four behind it is truly remarkable. I was looking back at the images we shot and thinking: ‘That fourth painting doesn’t work in the edit!’ Regrettably, it sits outside of the photo, top left. That’s how spoilt we were.

Two of these images will hang in the Cottonian as an example of a representation of the work. This is a very PR-savvy move by The Box, and I take my hat off to them for their imaginative thinking.

Yes, it may possibly cause a bit of a stir in the more traditional branch of the art world – and I could understand why. But naysayers need to realise that unless brands like Westward Bound, which has its own rich, diverse cultural history and global appeal, help to represent these collections, the curators have an uphill struggle gaining a wider appreciation of their charges. Otherwise, nobody is getting involved with them apart from researchers and academics.

My good friend, the curator and author Stephen Ellcock, in a private conversation, referred to our work with The Cottonian Collection as an “intriguing and provocative collaboration” that fitted in with the zeitgeist of his latest book England on Fire, A Visual Journey through Albion’s Psychic Landscape.

Terah Walkup comments: “We were excited to do a fashion shoot in that space: for one, it offers a new lens to think about our historic collections. But there is a history of fashion shoots with the collection. 

“We have photographs from the 1980s of a fashion shoot in the Cottonian (in the process of getting these images digitised). Also, on a material level that’s not so obvious: latex comes from the rubber tree found in South America and Africa. The Cottonian furniture is made from rare woods from Asia, Africa and South America, and the rare books held in the cabinets (dating from the 1400s to the 1800s) are on subjects of art, architecture, travel, literature. 

Volumes such as Maria Sibylla Merian’s Insects of Surinam also reflect this botanical connection and the global networks of material trade that continue to impact art, craft, fashion, politics, making, and labour”.

Why did we become involved with The Box?

We wanted to funk it up a bit and make young people interested in antiquities; otherwise, they become coated in dust and cobwebs. 

We want to reshape public thinking with this collection. People nowadays have been polluted into assuming that anything that isn’t modern, or that you can’t buy or sell, isn’t important. We’ve been made to think that knowledge is boring. In reality, culture is fundamentally important, and being informed isn’t dull. It is power!

Gallery connections need to be alive. You need to capture people’s imagination, and our dresses have very much done that. 

How does it feel to work with The Box?

To be a central feature of such a vibrant, culturally outlooking facility is a privilege, and I’m respectful to the institution in which we’re being included. I’m a big believer in education, museums, and public libraries – I believe that this brings society forward and that the cultivation of the mind is key to civilisation as a whole.

A well-educated society is only a danger to people who wish to use that against you and keep you ignorant. A decent society would wish to promote inclusivity via the education of its population.

When it came to being involved in The Box, a cause that represents education for the common good, then naturally, we are absolutely on board with and want to be a part of that. Not only this, we want to be an advantage to it. 

With being an asset to culture in mind, and with a nod to William Cotton III, we have provided The Box with a free licence, in perpetuity, to use the completed photographs. I will be intrigued to see what appears in their Gift shop and beyond. I was brought up within a value system that viewed the definition of success as putting more into society than you took out. This fits.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

The important amalgamation here was to be true to the collection whilst being honest to ourselves.

It would have been so easy for us to become complacent and for our creative process to become formulaic and repetitive. When you run a business that’s assumed to be sexual in nature or desire-based, people are either for or against you, then you can fall into the trap of being clichéd because that works with whoever’s tired ear you are seeking to catch.

But we have to be bold and true to ourselves where the opportunity arises – and this was very much the perfect opportunity. 

I can’t thank my team enough for the work they’ve done in enabling us to seize this opportunity and represent these collections. I work with a brilliant group of people. A special mention has to go to the model Olivia Harriet and photographer Jon Cooney, who I’ve known for several years, for all their creative input on the day. 

It was a tight team, and you could tell we knew each other on the photoshoot – there weren’t any primadonnas. The process ebbed and flowed like the sea coming in and out, and everyone was on the same page without having to say anything. It was one of the best days I’ve ever had, workwise.

Explore Westward Bound’s clothing at The Box

The Dress Code collection is open to the public from 2 April to 4 September 2022 and free to attend.

Below is the address and contact number for The Box  to see Westward Bound’s Brand Me – Flag Me dress and other timeless pieces up close:


The Box

Tavistock Place, 




Contact number:

01752 304774

Opening times:

Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm

Discover Westward Bound’s full range of latex clothing

At Westward Bound, we pride ourselves on providing bold, high-end rubber latex clothing with a rich heritage and fashionable edge. You can explore our range of individually cut, hand made latex dresses for women and men’s latex clothing if you’re feeling creative and want to make a statement.

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