In the midst of a climate crisis, BRICKS asks what the future holds for traditional fashion weeks.
Photo: Extinction Rebellion activists at London Fashion Week in February, courtesy of Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey
Fashion week season is soon to commence, and the fashion flock prepares for a jam-packed month of shows, parties and glamour. But as the climate emergency becomes ever more pressing, the idea of celebrating and promoting newness feels increasingly out of step. And it’s not only the clothes – from the transportation of show-goers to heavy amounts of single-use plastics – the nature of traditional fashion weeks is inherently dirty.
Stockholm Fashion Week’s decision to cancel itself, partly due to sustainability concerns, has spurred a debate of unprecedented power. Industry professionals and environmentalists alike question the relevance of the decade-long concept, which fundamentally celebrates consumption and production. Following the Swedish Fashion Council’s bold move, all eyes are on the big four as fashion month approaches.
“Stepping away from the conventional fashion week model has been a difficult, but much-considered decision,” said Jennie Rosén, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council, in a press release. “We need to put the past to rest and stimulate the development of a platform that is relevant to today’s fashion industry.”
“What I would want to see from everybody is more collaboration. Our industry is currently most talk, so it would be great to see some results. The fashion industry is broken, we need to come back together and reunite as an industry. At the end of the day we’re all in the same boat.”.” - Evelyn Mora
And that’s also what Extinction Rebellion has demanded from the British Fashion Council; a cancellation of London Fashion Week and a radical transformation of the fashion system. Come September, the group will organise a funeral not only for LFW, but also to commemorate the lives lost because of fashion, whether be human lives, wildlife or loss of nature.
“Our perspective has always been that fashion week is not relevant within a climate emergency,” explains Sara Arnold, coordinator of the Extinction Rebellion Boycott Fashion team. “Constant newness is at odds with the planet. It’s celebrating new things. It’s celebrating a culture of newness and excess.”
“Just flying people all around the world to look at and buy new clothes at wholesale is completely absurd in the time that we’re in,” she continues. “We should all be absolutely panicking about this, and yet, business is going on as usual.”
Image; sustainable designer Patrick McDowell's show at Helsinki Fashion Week
Breaking the status quo and rebuilding structures has already been proven possible by a number of alternative fashion weeks around the world, with Helsinki Fashion Week being one of the pioneers. Having introduced its sustainable edition in 2016, which includes a zero-waste policy and circular approach, the Finnish capital is pushing for a more modern and innovative future. Founder Evelyn Mora thinks there is space for fashion weeks, but they should spotlight change-makers within the industry and be a platform for knowledge and innovation.
“There is a future for fashion weeks, but they need to evolve, they need to become more experimental, collaborative and open,” says Mora. “The time for exclusivity is over, isn't it? What is exclusivity, who does it benefit?”
Keeping Helsinki Fashion Week open to the public has allowed show-goers to network and connect, something Mora thinks is key in solving the environmental challenges that lie ahead.
“What I would want to see from everybody is more collaboration,” says Mora. “Our industry is currently most talk, so it would be great to see some results. The fashion industry is broken, we need to come back together and reunite as an industry. At the end of the day we’re all in the same boat.”
Sustainable designer Patrick McDowell, who showed at Helsinki Fashion Week in July, agrees that there is a future for fashion events, but they need to be pushed into a more modern and sustainable direction.
While some changes are being made – London Fashion Week has announced that this year’s schedule will include shows open to the public, and Copenhagen Fashion Week has appointed a sustainability advisory board in order to become the world’s most sustainable fashion week – the elephant in the room remains; volume.
“The fashion week system, in general, gives a sign to the world that we can carry on consuming when we can’t, we can’t carry on consuming things that we don't need,” says Arnold.
Fashion is a cultural commentary on the world, and yet, at a time of climate emergency, it perpetuates a system of newness. As long as production and consumption are maintained at the current speed, the environment can never win.
“We feel that London Fashion Week has a responsibility to let people know what the truth is and declare a climate emergency in a way that is loud and clear,” says Arnold.
The future for fashion weeks remains blurry and it’s clear the industry must come together to rebuild its business model.
“I always say that it’s easier to start something from scratch than reshape something big,” says Mora. “We want these big four to come onboard and do the same thing. Sustainability can never be a brand, you can never own sustainability. Doing things right doesn't make you a hero, it makes you a decent human being.”