London Fashion Week SS20: Climate Change Overshadows The Catwalks:

They were all there as usual at the latest London Fashion Week (13th – 17th September: Famous designers such as Mark Fast, Roberta Einer, Molly Goddard, Erdem, Victoria Beckham. However, this time they were not the only focus of the national media’s attention. The spotlight was as much on the demonstrations outside the main LFW venue in the Strand as on prestigious occasions such as the Burberry Show. The UK protest group, Extinction Rebellion, had asked the British Fashion Council to cancel the event altogether “in recognition of the existential threat that faces us” – but when that didn’t happen, as the Guardian’s fashion editor, Jess Cartner-Morley, reported on 14th September, they threw buckets of fake blood onto the pavement to symbolize their view that the fashion sector, like other industries, is leading towards the extinction of life on the planet.

During the five days of LFW, they also handed out leaflets declaring that fashion is one of the biggest scourges of the earth: The water, the chemicals, the waste. “Don’t make any more clothes. Don’t buy any more clothes” they urged, “Instead: Be mad and inventive with the clothes that already exist in the world. We have enough forever now”.

The campaigning designer, Stella McCartney clearly agrees. In an “Open Letter To The Fashion Industry” published in the Sunday Times Style magazine on 15th September, she noted that it’s become one of the most damaging industries in the world and is responsible for more than a third of ocean microplastics: “Every single second, the equivalent of one rubbish truck of textiles is sent to landfills or burnt, while textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally”.

The British Council (BFC), in its pre-LFW press release regarding the possible impact of a “no-deal Brexit”, emphasized the importance of the UK retaining its role as a global leader in creativity, innovation and business – not least because the fashion industry is worth more than £32 billion to the country’s GDP and employs over 890,000 people. However, as the Observer columnist, Ed Helmore, pointed out on 1st September, although people in Britain buy more garments than any other European country, they also seem to throw a lot of it away – in fact, that 11 million items of clothing end up in UK landfills each week.

In response to this, the model Stella Tennant and the charity Oxfam, have launched a “Second Hand September” campaign aimed at persuading consumers not to buy any new clothes for at least 30 days. According to the Guardian journalist,Sarah Butler,on 22nd August, there is already a trend among many young people to buy from resale sites such as Depop in the UK and the market analysts GlobalData anticipate the second-hand market will become 50% bigger than its fast fashion counterpart by 2028.

Helmore highlights the suggestion by Nicole Phelps, the Director of Vogue Runway, that celebrities should set an example by re-wearing gowns they’ve worn in the past. He also cites the results of a United Nation’s study indicating that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of waste water and consumes more energy than the airline and shipping industries combined.

The BFC Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, acknowledges that the issues of sustainability and climate change represent formidable challenges for the fashion industry – but insists that the BFC hears the message of Extinction Rebellion. “Our role”, she told Cartner-Morley, “is to make the information digestible for fashion businesses so they can take practical action”. One example of this was the launch at LFW by the designer Roland Mouret and the Arch & Hook company of clothes hangers developed from 80% marine plastic which is harvested from oceans and waterways and so removes plastic waste from the environment.

Another designer, Julien Macdonald, is similarly trying to ensure his brand becomes more ecologically aware: His clothes, he told the Evening Standard fashion journalist, Lizzie Edmonds, are made from as many organic fabrics as possible. He’s also apparently “bored of young girls on the runway” as although they may look fabulous when modelling his clothes, they’re not the ones who buy them. His declared aim is to produce a collection for “real women”. His LFW SS20 Show took place in Southwark Cathedral the evening of 16th September.

Meanwhile, the BFC is imploring the Government to seek a deal with the European Union that will guarantee that international designers and students will continue to feel they are welcome to study and work in the UK. The introduction of World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs, they argue, will have serious implications, as fashion is comprised of “component goods which traverse borders multiple times before becoming a finished product”. Designers, driven by the need to achieve high artistry and creative pieces, thus have to adopt a global approach in all elements of their business, from sourcing the perfect fabric, through to finding the best pattern cutters in the world to work with that fabric.

Filed under: Society | Posted on September 23rd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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