Watch: Fashion industry rises to the climate challenge

'Right now, what is happening in the fashion industry is not relevant at all,' Extinction Rebellion says.


Following the cancellation of Stockholm Fashion Week, Extinction Rebellion has delivered a letter to the British Fashion Council asking them to do the same for London Fashion Week.

Twice a year, LFW showcases more than 250 designers to a global audience of media and retailers. It’s a highly influential cultural event, but it is undeniably at odds with the climate crisis we are currently facing, with global apparel production projected to rise by more than 60% by 2030, from 62 million tonnes today to 102 million tonnes. 

"London Fashion Week produces annually £100m worth of orders for new clothing. If London Fashion Week is telling people to consume more, then it’s part of the problem," according to Maria Chenoweth, signatory and chief executive of Traid, a charity working to stop clothing waste.

William Skeaping, Extinction Rebellion activist and co-editor of This is not a Drill: an Extinction Rebelllion Handbook, rejected the cultural relevance of LFW, saying: "I find it difficult when people tell me that Fashion Week is a cultural event. It’s a business event.

"If you’re making clothes now, you’re going to be doing something quite different in a few years when this crisis is being sorted out." 

Extinction Rebellion is targeting LFW as part of the direct-action #XR52 campaign, which encourages a withdrawal of co-operation from the most environmentally harmful industries.

"We target the movements that are happening within culture and ask [the people] to recognise this emergency and do what they can with their platform," Skeaping explained.

"The fashion industry has a huge part to play in biodiversity loss and climate change, and is also an incredibly influential industry with an enormous audience." 

Extinction Rebellion has planned a week’s worth of disruption to LFW, concluding today (Tuesday) with a funeral procession starting at 180 The Strand to commemorate the loss of life due to climate and ecological breakdown. 

#XR52 also encourages a year-long boycott of fashion, challenging consumers to get creative and make do with what is already in circulation.

Sara Arnold, from Extinction Rebellion's Boycott Fashion team and founder of fashion-rental company Higher Studio, explained: "Culture should be relevant to the time we’re in; right now, what is happening in the fashion industry is not relevant at all. We need to completely redefine what we think of when we think of the word ‘fashion’."

Higher Studio provides a new model of consumption that could eliminate the need to buy new clothes. For the brands Arnold works with, it incentivises a circular way of working, so designers can profit from their craft and the longevity of their items rather than constantly producing to meet the demands of the traditional fashion cycle. "What’s been really positive," she said, "is that we are seeing a massive rise in resale and also rental." 

But this model needs to be accelerated to have any real-world impact, since the predicted rise in clothing consumption far outweighs the progress being made in terms of sustainability. 

It would appear that the fashion community is taking steps to reduce its impact; designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have long been committed to cruelty-free fashion and pushing towards circularity.

However, sustainability has become a bone of contention among activists when engaging with the fashion community. Arnold admitted that she’s wary of the growing trend in "conscious consumerism", which has become an excuse for brands to continue business as usual.

She explained: "A lot of the change within the industry has focused on materials. The message needs to be about reduction and changing the way we consume things."

While acknowledging that she doesn’t work with "perfect brands", Arnold said she works with ones that are willing to change. One designer featured on the site is Martina Spetlova, who is preparing to launch her new line Mwoven during LFW and will be featured as part of the BFC’s positive fashion exhibition.

Spetlova supports the disruption to LFW by Extinction Rebellion, but it is also a crucial time for her to garner interest from the press and suppliers for her new brand, while also offering her holistic approach to design as a standard that other brands could adopt. 

"I was thinking about the whole life span of the product," Spetlova explained. "Each piece comes with a scannable chip that customers can use to access information on the entire line of production."

Through Mwoven, Spetlova also offers a repair and recraft service: "It’s more interesting to recraft and remake. I think the use of sustainable fabrics is just a rearranging of the fashion industry; nowadays there are so many companies using sustainability as a marketing word." she believes these kinds of initiatives give products a story that creates a genuine emotional attachment to the brand.

Fashion magazines such as Elle and Comopolitian have also been using their influence to change their readers' shopping habits and offer advice on how to shop vintage items.

In July, both titles partnered Comfort fabric softener to open a swap-shop, where consumers were invited to bring clothes to swap or to buy pre-loved items, with members of their style teams on hand to provide advice. Victoria Archbold, managing director of Hearst Live, explained: "It’s important for brands like Elle and Cosmopolitan to be at the forefront of a change in perspective when it comes to purchasing second-hand clothing."

While LFW will continue despite Extinction Rebellion’s planned disruptions, initiatives such as the BFC’s positive fashion exhibition are a step in the right direction. It is ultimately the decision of brands to offer consumers an experience of fashion that doesn’t come with a huge environmental footprint by using creative approaches to help redefine our relationship with clothes.

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