Written by Karen Bryony Rose
This September, Extinction Rebellion will attempt to shut down London Fashion Week in a bid to raise awareness of the environmental destruction caused by the fashion industry. They have written to the British Fashion Council asking that it be cancelled, adding “We have disruptive actions planned during LFW and we will be ending LFW with a funeral finale”.
Do you agree with the proposed disruption, and do you think cancelling LFW will make the fashion world stop and listen?
London Fashion Week has always made the headlines. With its history of bold innovation, the showcase of new fashion is well established in Britain’s culture. But this September, London Fashion Week will feature in headlines of a different kind.
Extinction Rebellion intends to shut down London Fashion Week and its aims are supported by science. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, contributing 1.2 billion tonnes of cO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more than international flights and maritime shipping. And let’s not forget that cumulatively, the industry produces about 20% of global waste water.
The science is stark and Extinction Rebellion’s protest must be bold. It’s clear that fashion’s current system of production, consumption and disposal is not sustainable.
Immediate vs long term
Getting the message out to a global audience on the most influential platform in fashion has got to be a good thing, right? And in the immediate sense, that’s absolutely correct. The world’s media alone will bring the message to the masses.
But how about making a difference in the long term? To move beyond the media fodder and to make a real difference means that the message must disrupt in the right place.
It’ll take more than one message over one week in fashion to bring about the radical change our planet needs. We need to repeat and reinforce Extinction Rebellion’s message, with each voice joining to become the majority.
Is it the right audience?
Some might argue that London Fashion Week is about high couture fashion, the opposite of fast fashion. Designers are not directly involved in the production of fast fashion, although these designers do set trends that filter into the fashion cycle.
We don’t have the luxury of tailoring a message to suit different audiences and their needs. We’re all on the same planet and if it goes down, we all go down together.
Aside from the practicalities, London Fashion Week does have influence, with its insistence on pushing the creative boundaries in British fashion. At the very basic level, fashion is created by humans. And we all live on this planet, therefore if we have a platform, we must use it to do good.
The ‘now’ culture
Ultimately the potential impact of Extinction Rebellion’s disruption is intertwined with wider issues, the main one being the increase in consumer demand for clothes. We buy more clothes per person in the UK than any other country in Europe and demand is increasing.
The fast fashion business model encourages excessive buying and is aimed at consumers who like to buy clothes regularly, driven by trends. Every item we purchase is buying into this ‘now’ culture. We buy a new outfit, snap a photo and upload it to social media. And repeat.
The scale of consumer demand is the main crux of fashion’s culpability in climate change.
Let me give you an example that won’t be unfamiliar to you. A few years ago, I bought the same cotton t-shirt in 4 (count ‘em!) different colours because the cut and fit were great on my petite but curvy frame. I bought them simply because I could. I wore those t-shirts for a year at most.
These days the statistics are enough to shame me into questioning my buying habits. Cotton production contributes to global agriculture which causes around 14% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If you add deforestation through land clearance into the mix, the figure rises to between 30-40% – far higher than global emissions from either energy or transport.
If we continue to invest in this ‘now’ culture, we won’t have a future. Questioning the production of our clothes must become the norm.
Make a stand
This year Extinction Rebellion will bring the climate emergency message to the international stage.
Although London Fashion Week designers are removed from high street brands to an extent, I’m still in favour of Extinction Rebellion making a stand in the hope that this becomes another voice in the sea of recent change.
The reality is, our planet doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for the seed of awareness to flourish into fully formed conscious fashion buyers. Ultimately, we need to consume less and we need start now.