What We Learned at London Fashion Week 2020: Can Fashion and Planet Ever Co-Exist?
London Fashion Week 2020: Extinction Rebellion have called for an abrupt end to the fashion industry’s biggest global event. It seems extreme but some activists believe fashion can never co-exist with a healthy planet. Of course, the issue is far more complicated than simply choosing between the Earth’s health and new clothes… We’ve taken an investigative look at London Fashion Week 2020 a week on to see how much stands to change, how much already has, and whether fashion brands can continue to thrive without causing further damage to people and planet.
Can London Fashion Week ever be sustainable?
Taking place from 14 to 18 of February, London Fashion Week 2020 saw plenty of controversy, with protestors, designers, advocates and industry representatives coming face to face. Ready-to-wear fashion and straight off the runway style means rapid production, often at the expense of workers, communities and the environment. Fashion Week showcases new-season collections in advance, encouraging consumers to think about clothes they’ll not be buying for another year, perpetuating the cycle of commerce and the call for ‘new’ trends and styles.
Big brands and superbrands like Richard Malone, Phoebe English and Vivienne Westwood, known for leading by example, were shoulder to shoulder with some unexpected advocates of sustainability at London Fashion Week 2020. But how far are big brands willing to go? Virtue signalling and greenwashing are rife in the fashion industry so how can consumers differentiate between real sustainability and tokenism?
Brands like Preen by Thornton Bregazzi showcased a shift towards more sustainable practices. The February LFW show featured georgettes made from recycled post-consumer plastic waste, pieces in organic cotton and acrylic buttons swapped for buttons of biodegradable corozo nut. A start, but sustainable fashion journalist Alden Wicker suggests even this effort sees us “politely clapping while the world burns.”
“The world that Fashion Weeks were created for — powerful department stores and glossy magazines — doesn’t exist any more. Buyers are going to fewer shows, because many of the runway pieces were created as an Instagram moment and probably won’t ever be produced. (Has anyone seen Viktor & Rolf’s giant “I Want a Better World” gown out in the real world?)” she writes for The Cut.
Sustainable progress at LFW20
Still, truly ethical brands dominated the runway at London Fashion Week 2020 in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The TO BE FRANK X Amy Molyeaux show was an example of how LFW and sustainability can coexist.
TO BE FRANK Founder, Frankie Phillips told us, “During Fashion week we showcased our TOBE Range, which is our new mid-market brand launching in May. And our High fashion range F, which is this season a collaboration with luxury fashion designer Amy Molyneaux. It was important for us to show both ranges to explain who we are as a brand and to use this platform to talk about true sustainability.
We have garments made from natural fibres mixed with new technologies which monitor our carbon footprint. We have every product linking with a charity from women’s empowerment to providing water to communities around the world.
Some of the world’s larger brands have not been built on a sustainable framework so changing their entire supply chain and way of working is not going to happen overnight. We have started as a purely sustainable brand from the ground up, it’s part of our DNA.”
Can fashion and planet co-exist?
Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsolo de Castro said, ‘We are, undeniably, at a crisis point. Human beings have always exploited and degraded fellow humans, but we didn’t quite have the capacity to shamelessly exploit and degrade nature the same way until recently. This attitude is bringing us (and our entire earthly ecosystem) to the brink of extinction. This is unprecedented and does require immediate, extreme measures. However, in my opinion cancelling major international fashion weeks is not the way forward, not yet. The better option is to urgently redesign them and upgrade them to become hubs of what fashion needs to be, and fashion needs to be ethical and sustainable.’
And many superbrand designers seem to agree. “Sustainability is something that every brand has to embrace. Because in two to three years if a brand is not sustainable, it will be out of business.” Tommy Hilfiger told journalists at London Fashion Week 2020.
The TommyXLewisXH.E.R. capsule collection release claimed that more than 75% of the collection features sustainable elements. Hilfiger added, “we’re also looking at different ways of everything from packaging to using recycled yarns to using vintage and upcycling a lot of what would normally go to landfill. So, it’s a big project but we would like to be leaders in it and we’re taking it very seriously”.
Who’s accountable for real change?
“Brand accountability still needs a lot of work across the board.” says Fankie Phillips, “I would like to think that the reason for this negligence is not due to the brands not caring but due to them simply not being aware. All brands need to take responsibility for their impact on people and the planet and it’s understanding this impact which gives us the tools to make the changes to do good. Not ignoring them or shirking responsibility.”
This is clearly not a binary issue. We don’t have to choose one side or the other as Extiction Rebellion suggest, because it’s within our power to make choices that don’t require a compromise on either side. However, large-scale change starts with those with the most power.
In 2020, the British Fashion Council has pledged to continue to focus on its Positive Fashion initiative. Positive Fashion is led by three pillars: environment, focusing on environmental and business governance to drive a more sustainable fashion future. People, representing the people, from the product makers to the staff, students and models who pioneer our brands. And community and craftsmanship, supporting the talent, skills and elements of craftsmanship that make up the industry and have positive impacts on local communities.
We’ve seen change at London Fashion Week 2020, which shows us that brands and the bodies controlling standards are waking up to the importance of sustainability, but it’s also up to consumers to push this forward. Brands don’t create if there’s no customer demand so as ever, protest with your purchases. Sustainable fashion can and must be more than a token gesture for the world’s superbrands at LFW 2021.