Looking back at the early days of the pandemic, they were definitely unprecedented and unsettling, but those times also forced many of us to find new ways to express ourselves and discover what makes us most happy. Shanel Campbell, the founder and designer of Bed On Water, remembers stepping away from fashion and substituting painting in as her new art medium. “I stepped away from fashion because fashion is expensive and not as accessible as it should be – even when you have an enormous amount of talent,” she says. “The upside about that was that it forced me to be creative in different ways. I started drawing and painting and now those paintings have been brought back into the fashion form as prints.”
Campbell was born and raised in the Bronx, New York and she comes from a Caribbean lineage. “My mother is St. Lucian and my father is Jamaican,” Campbell tells ESSENCE. The emerging designer began her formal study of fashion at Philadelphia University, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in fashion design, and continued her education in NYC to earn her Master’s degree from Parson’s School of Design. Her journey with education also extended into a career as a former fashion design professor.
Now, Campbell runs her own limited production company, Bed on Water, which produces fashion collections, art media and objects. The brand’s emphasis to not just create fashion alone may come from the founder’s love for short films or her growing list of talents. “You know that joke about Jamaicans always having three jobs? I’m the type of person that’s like if I can do it all or learn a new skill, I’ll do it,” says Campbell. “I love teaching myself new things. I consider myself an artist, creative director, photographer, fashion designer, painter and film editor.”
The designer’s official return to fashion kicked off with creating a full collection for the brand’s first runway show. As an official member of the MADE Class of 2022, Campbell was able to design an immersive display at the MADE x PayPal Marketplace and execute her first fashion show. Historically, Campbell has used human mannequins as models for Bed On Water’s previous designs, so the runway show also marked the first time the designer would be sharing her vision of who she envisions wearing the brand.
“It’s made for everybody. Anyone who wants to tap in, can tap in,” Campbell explains. “I would say it’s made from the heart and soul of a tomboy, which is what I consider myself. It’s for everyone who finds it interesting and especially for people who love to collect. I love vintage objects and I like things that feel one of a kind, so Bed On Water is supposed to be something that’s original.” Although Campbell technically designs from the female form, she doesn’t attach gender to clothing and welcomes anyone who can vibe with the clothes to do so.
In efforts to ensure there’s space for everyone, Campbell’s already plotting on the expansion of the brand’s inclusion. “I plan to expand on sizing in the future when we have more pattern-making team members,” she says. “I think that’s something I definitely need to work on because I want this to be something for everyone. If I could have a full pattern-making team, I would have everything for everyone. I would build this world out crazy and a whole universe and a film to go along with it where it just looks like people walking around the city dressed in my clothes.”
Those familiar with Campbell’s previous designs may associate them with the Afrofuturism aesthetic, but that’s not necessarily her intention. “I think it feels Afrofuturist because of my studies around time and my studies around vintage pieces. I apply chrome elements and silver, but those elements are not necessarily referencing the future,” she explains. “It’s referencing seeing chrome on the train everyday when I’m going around the city. The train is a huge part of my life – I’ve taken it hundreds of thousands of times.” However, by her definition, what Campbell is creating can still be considered Afrofuturism. “I think Afrofuturism is when someone that looks like us tries to create their own world or their own future and that can be whatever we want it to be.”
In this case, it may look like Bed On Water’s latest collection. In addition to the paintings that inspired the prints throughout the collection, the silhouettes are inspired by vintage items from Campbell’s personal wardrobe.
Although this was Campbell’s first runway show for Bed On Water, she found herself very confident and satisfied throughout the process. “I think I’ve been doing it to the best of my ability the entire time. I don’t think there’s been a moment when I wish I would have done something differently,” she says. “The universe has been very kind to me and it’s working with me and not against me, like something can seem to go wrong and then two days later I realize that needed to happen. Everything has been falling into place at the time that it is meant to. It just feels very intense to build a 20-look collection with a small team, but it’s been as good as it can be with my budget and my singular team.”
Ahead, see Campbell present Bed On Water’s first runway collection.