What role does Fashion Week play in the Climate Crisis?
At last, change is coming – or at the very least its message is getting louder!
But is that message being heard, and more importantly, is its impact being felt in action? It appears that with each passing day the fashion industry is feeling the pressure and is realising that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.
As another packed September fashion month comes to a close, with shows across the globe in NYC, London, Milan, and Paris, the air is buzzing with disparity. In contrast to the usual trend-hungry anticipation, creative exuberance and “parade of excess” that Fashion Week is often celebrated for, the mood in London was instead tempered by activist group Extinction Rebellion– who were calling for an end to London Fashion Week as we know it entirely.
The growing activist group followed through with several peaceful and powerful protests throughout the week, which ranged from ‘die-ins’ to a beautifully theatrical funeral procession that laid fashion week to rest in a pair of coffins (the latter performance created an undeniable presence and much media attention in the process).
The Extinction Rebellion made an urgent and heartfelt plea prior to this fashion week:
“The UN Secretary-General has warned us that humanity faces a ‘direct existential threat’ if we do not change course by 2020. We are now LESS THAN ONE FASHION SEASON away from that date and the radical action needed to avoid runaway climate and ecological breakdown has not yet begun. We cannot rely on politicians. We need culture to lead the way….”
On the 26th of July 2019 at 5.15 pm, Extinction Rebellion sent a letter to the British Fashion Council.
“In recognition of the existential threat that faces us, we ask the British Fashion Council to be the leaders the world needs now and to cancel London Fashion Week. We ask that instead, the industry convene a People’s Assembly of industry professionals and designers as a platform to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency, to face the truth and to take action.”
The British Fashion Council agreed, stating that “we are facing a climate change emergency, and all need to act.”
The BFC’s largest ‘Positive Fashion’ showcase shows that their sustainability vision is strengthening. For example, this includes supporting and highlighting the exemplary work of progressive responsible designers such as Phoebe English, or designer activists duo Vin + Omi. However, this positive message also needs to permeate the breadth of London Fashion Week much more. As Safia Minney, pioneer and founder of fair-trade clothing company People Tree, stated, ‘I’m calling on London Fashion Week to have the strength and courage to change everything it does.’
Earlier this year the British Fashion Council launched their Institute of Positive Fashion:
“Through the Institute of Positive Fashion, the BFC aims to create an industry blueprint by bringing together expertise from different areas to help brands in the industry navigate an often confusing to understand topic and kick-start a much-needed comprehensive step-change. Informed by research, expert opinion, industry insights and the significant industry experience of individual businesses and organisations, the power of collective effort will amplify independent activity.”
There are clearly several multidimensional, industry-wide initiatives taking place to challenge the fashion industry to change radically. Although fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, it also holds huge potential for solutions to the urgent climate crisis.
However, the bold, systemic changes necessary to impel significant shifts are slow in coming, as these challenge the very economic models that feed most of the fashion consumption model. Fashion should be a cultural signifier of our times, yet the industry still adheres to an archaic system where seasonal collections are relentlessly produced from new materials, creating pressure on our planet’s resources and the people who make our clothes.
Throughout London Fashion Week, we took stock of some of the solutions proposed and examined how some London designers are pushing the boundaries of fashion and design, placing sustainability at the core of their brand ethos and operations…many have come through our doors to source materials for their collections:
Phoebe English SS20 Fashion In Times Of Emergency was a presentation of stunning creations made of reclaimed, recycled, and certified materials. Her open source approach to sustainability is endlessly admirable – throughout the presentation she shared her process and supplier contacts, acknowledging that true change will only happen if we are able to collaborate. ⠀
Her brand is entirely made in London, England. Each piece is created with close attention to detail and quality, rejecting mass-production or ‘fast’ fashion. The journey from a sketch to a garment is limited to ca. 10-15 mile radius and the entire business operates from one studio in South London. ⠀
Keeping producer responsibility at the forefront of all design decisions and thinking about the product’s impact from the beginning, middle to end-use are all key…and Phoebe excels at it!
Patrick McDowell is a creative systems thinker and designer and a force to be reckoned with. We had the privilege of spotlighting Patrick’s work at our last Expo back in January 2019. Since then, Patrick has continued to gain attention by combining his colourful and humorous personal expression with sustainable principles. The label has taken part in incredible collaborations with Swarovski and Depop, and they’ve also reclaimed deadstock materials from brands such as Burberry…proving that sustainability is anything but beige.
Felder Felder’s twin sister design duo ensure that each piece for the label stands for a story. This season you’ll see GOTS organic cotton from Modespitze featured in their Nightshade dress, and striped recycled velvet made from organic cotton by mill Lebenskleidung in their Bohemian Dream collection. Dreamy indeed!
Hanna Fiedler works with a small-scale network of manufacturers across the UK. Fielder applies traditional tailoring methods and a minimalist aesthetic to create high-quality garments whilst supporting local British craftsmanship. In her SS20 Collection, Sommerfrische, Hanna sourced luxurious sustainable solutions from mills showcased at the Future Fabrics Expo, such as Haussaman and Moos, Shokay, and [coming soon] made-to-order small quantity silks from Seidentraum. If you take a peek inside her beautifully crafted jackets and coats, you’ll see a barcode from Dormeuil which utilises BlockchainOrganica tech (by Chargeurs) to communicate their fully transparent supply chain journey to the consumer.
With an aim to create slow fashion rooted in storytelling, Azura Lovisa focuses on the relationship between the female form and materiality. Bast fibres such as ramie, cotton-hemp, hemp-linen, and pure linen from Anthyia and Bysshe were all featured in her latest collection.
BRANDS WE ADMIRE
Thousands of nettles were gathered from HRH Pince Charles’ Highgrove estate and transformed into textiles for Vin + Omi’s latest collection. Although the use of nettle for textiles dates back two thousand years, it has been largely forgotten in modern times, as its production has not been commercially scaled yet. For SS20, Vin&Omi developed two new innovative ways to process the fibre. Their signature sense of urgency permeated throughout the collection, evoking an experience that feels appropriately timely during this moment.
Vin&Omi’s LFW collection puts nettle back into the spotlight and shows the fashion industry an alternative way forward. Currently over 60% of materials used in fashion are petroleum-based (polyester, acrylic, nylon). However, nettle is a cellulose fibre that is a sustainable alternative: it grows abundantly in our climate and does not need synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or irrigation. Vin&Omi’s innovative approach to materials further emphasises how brands can diversify their fibre basket in order to challenge fashion’s heavy environmental footprint on raw materials.
NEW DESIGNERS TO WATCH
Alisa Ruzavina is a fashion and textiles designer whose work focuses on creating ways in which clothing and textiles can serve as catalysts for co-design, positive social change and increased care for the environment. Her sustainability-driven approach is also reflected in the carefully-sourced materials used for her garments, such as discarded and organic sources. Additionally, she works with Oshadi, a fashion and textile brand designed in London and crafted in India, who will be showcased at our 9th Future Fabrics Expo!
Mariah Esa is a designer trying to tackle waste within the fast fashion industry. She utilises manufacturing waste labels from a small local factory to create bespoke textiles. Her collection uses over 20,000 waste garment labels that would have been thrown away by a fashion manufacturer. The results are stunning and inherently unique!
BRIA/Techstyler is a London-based materials innovation agency aiming to transform the way fashion is designed and manufactured. Their motivation is to drastically reduce textile waste in the supply chain, reduce manufacturing lead times and improve profitability while simultaneously achieving sustainability (for people, processes and planet). We are excited to announce a partnership with Brooke Roberts-Islam’s Techstyler for the 9th Future Fabrics Expo in January 2020!
SPECIAL SHOUT OUT
Together Band is an initiative by Bottletop which aims to unite us as a global community, sharing commitments to all of the 17 UN Global Goals. The bands are handmade in Nepal and crafted using innovative and sustainable materials from upcycled ocean plastic. One kilogram of plastic is removed from marine environments whenever you buy a band. The clasp is made from decommissioned illegal firearms in the silhouette of an upcycled ring pull, in reference to the BOTTLETOP signature material.
How can we all engage with fashion in a different way?
While elements of fashion week still continued like “business as usual” — water was still served in single-use plastic bottles and the frivolity of fashion week was in full swing — there was a tangible shift in focus and the presence of various initiatives aiming to tackle our environmental crisis. Now it’s on us to continue that drive through to real, actionable change. Reimagine, reinvent, reuse, recreate, rent…and only buy something if you will treasure it forever.