London Fashion Week and the issue of sustainability

We are at a defining moment in the history of our planet. The hysteria surrounding the climate crisis is at an all-time high, and the call for action has never been greater. The world of fashion has often been criticised for choosing to ignore this demand. However, this year’s London Fashion Week may be the first to change that. A week before the start of the five-day event, the British Fashion Council launched a new initiative named the Institute of Positive Fashion. The IPF intends to “accelerate progress made in all areas of sustainability that is impactful and lasting, by creating educational programmes and campaigns aimed at both industry and the public”. This comes after the climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion announced its plans to “shut down” London Fashion Week in “recognition of the existential threat that faces us”.

Despite the actions of Extinction Rebellion activists, there was, in fact, a great deal of emphasis on sustainability throughout the five-day event. The French designer Roland Mouret, who is a 20-year veteran of fashion week, partnered with a company called Arch & Hook to create clothes hangers made from 100% recycled marine plastic.“The volume of clothes hangers that went to landfill last year in the USA could build a structure the size of the Empire State Building”, Mouret told The Guardian. “It is time for us to take responsibility for our actions, and to build a more sustainable future for fashion”. 

Another example of positive action in the fashion industry was the #PositiveFashion exhibition at London Fashion Week. This included designers who are paving the way for equality, diversity and sustainability in the industry. Someone who is pushing the boundaries of sustainable fashion is the 23-year-old British designer Patrick McDowell. As a teenager, Patrick made clothes out of unwanted end-of-the-line fabrics and materials. “I’ve always done this, so when I heard about sustainability I thought: ‘Oh, there’s a name for what I’m doing.’” His latest collection Fire Fighting Aunties was created from surplus fabric donated by Burberry and crystals by Swarovski and was displayed as part of the #PositiveFashion exhibition inside the London Fashion Week headquarters. 

In the world of haute couture, Christopher Kane’s show Eco-Sexual combined floral motives and plunging necklines in a celebration of love through nature. “It’s about people who love nature,” declared Christopher. “Making love in nature. Being in touch with the earth. Sleeping with the stars!”. To marry sustainability and sexuality in such a way is an achievement in itself. Since establishing his brand in 2006, Kane has often been recognised for his commitment to environmental and human rights activists. This latest collection with its eco-erotic theme highlights the importance of the climate crisis in the industry. 

Whilst it is clear that sustainability and issues relating to the environment are important to the convenors of London Fashion Week, Extinction Rebellion activist Sara Arnold argues that “what is happening is not in proportion to the crisis we are in”. Despite the good intentions of environmentalists in the industry, Arnold points to the fact that the level of clothes production is set to increase by 63% between now and 2030. As a member of Extinction Rebellion, Sara admits that whilst the group has had “warm and productive conversations with the British Fashion Council”, the promise of sustainability is not enough. “At the moment the industry thinks sustainability can help fashion survive. This is not about the survival of fashion, it’s about the survival of the planet”. 

The connection between London Fashion Week and the environmental crisis is not an obvious one. Nevertheless, it is an important reflection of our times. Now, every decision we make must be checked against a ticking time bomb of environmental destruction. There is no such thing as feigning ignorance when it comes to saving the planet. If they were not before, the leaders of the fashion world are now acutely aware of this fact. 

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