The simple answer would appear to be: not really. Another show season has rolled around and we’re all about to take note of the newness we should buy for autumn/winter 2020. The cost – financially and environmentally – of staging over 60 shows and presentations attended by hundreds of members of the global press is undeniable. Seventy-eight brands and 103 stores are piggybacking on the showcase and hosting 346 events. How many of these promo parties will adhere to the BFC’s Switch to Blue policy – its anti-single use plastic scheme, with a particular focus on clothes hangers?
To move forward, we, as consumers, have a responsibility to keep asking questions and demanding better practices from brands. “We have all failed but now radical leadership is required,” wrote Extinction Rebellion, in a letter to the BFC this week. “We need you, the BFC, as appointed industry administrators, to find the power and courage to center [sic] a visionary process and protocol, without delay.”
As outlined before the spring/summer 2020 show season, Extinction Rebellion is urging for the cancellation of London Fashion Week in its current format, to recognise the climate and ecological emergency our planet is facing. The group says it will continue to do so every season until systematic change is implemented, and the industry takes positive steps to halt the continual cycle of over-production and over-consumption.
“I don’t think the BFC is going to have a choice,” a hopeful Bel Jacobs – Extinction Rebellion member and speaker on climate change, animal rights and ethical fashion – tells British Vogue. “In a few years time, watching skinny women walk down a catwalk wearing new clothes when the world is in crisis is going to look weird. Already, it looks pretty weird to me.” Jacobs hopes that the shift in mood around reusable packaging, exemplified by the rise of the KeepCup, will soon extend to events like runway shows. “Fashion as a culture needs to express what’s going on in the world,” she continues. “At the moment, it’s pretty much denying it.”
Reading the BFC’s press release outlining its three pillars of positive fashion: environment, people, and craftsmanship and community, was hard for Extinction Rebellion to swallow. They are sceptical about how many people will visit the interactive #FashionOurFuture photobooth, which encourages exploring ways to slow down fashion’s footprint, when there are free cocktails on offer elsewhere.
But, it’s not all “doom and gloom”. The last protest, in fact, was joyous, despite the elegiac connotations. “We were really impressed by how many people turned out and how flamboyant they were,” says Jacobs. “Extinction Rebellion is about harnessing creativity and channeling it in a different way to express grief about something that’s very, very important.”
How will Extinction Rebellion keep applying firm, but imaginative, pressure? “It’s difficult to put yourself in a space where you’re constantly saying ‘This isn’t enough,’” explains Jacobs, of the challenges the group of part-time organisers face. “But, what gives you the strength to keep saying it isn’t enough, is the fact that this isn’t enough.”
So, on the morning of 15 February – the Saturday of London Fashion Week, which will see Molly Goddard, Rejina Pyo and Richard Quinn present their latest wares – Jacobs and countless other activists will be campaigning outside the BFC headquarters again. “We discussed following the funeral with a silent protest,” says Jacobs. “But there was so much energy rising from youths, parents, animal protestors and others that we had to give everyone a voice. Fashion itself is a multi-faceted entity.”
The group has political aspirations, too. Extinction Rebellion is pushing the BFC to ask the government to pass the Three Demands Bill to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2025; and to outline legislation needed to stop the fashion industry’s exploitation of the planet, people and animals. It is also seeking to steer the BFC towards a complete redesign of London Fashion Week informed by a People’s Assembly, a democratic discussion deciding what fashion – a powerful force with great responsibility – should look like going forward. The problem, Jacobs says, is not the BFC’s acceptance of fashion’s problematic situation, it’s the lack of action. “Tweaking systems is not enough in a state of emergency,” she says. “Change means stepping away from the industry’s emotional and economic adherence to old systems around creating new products.”
The subject of the conversation again turns to joy, and the creative potential of collaborating to find solutions. “I don’t have the answers, and if I did, I’d be implementing them now,” Jacobs says of the imperative of working together. “But, I see a culture of reusing what we have and revisioning how we see and treat the clothes we own.”
How can you help speed up incremental change? Don’t be a passive consumer. Take to social media and ask organisations to outline their sustainability plans. Write to brands asking them to make garments more responsibly. Make a pledge to change your buying habits. And, perhaps, consider joining Extinction Rebellion on 15 February.
To read about the BFCs Positive Fashion Exhibition, visit Londonfashionweek.co.uk/Positive-Fashion-Exhibition. To read more about Extinction Rebellion, visit Rebellion.earth.