Fashion Is Fabulous, But It’s Not Much Use If We’ve Nowhere To Live. An op-ed by Clare Press
Canary yellow, heritage plaid, mismatched florals, midi-skirts, the new trench… were these the major trends that emerged from London fashion week? Or was climate change activism the biggest one? Granted, it’s not as fun as Halpern’s sequins or Molly Goddard’s tulle, but ask yourself: who’s going to be focused on acquiring a fabulous new dancing dress or outsized designer coat in a world warmed by 2 degrees? I’m sorry to be such a downer, but if you thought Brexit was difficult to navigate; this is next level.
When we talk about sustainable fashion, the alternative is exactly that: we can’t keep doing it. It’s simply not going to work. We need to figure out a new way, and that’s going to take major brain power, ingenuity, creative thinking, determination, focus, and working collectively.
As the Environmental Audit Committee’s report Fixing Fashion (pointedly launched during fashion week) notes: “The way we make, use and throw away our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution. Synthetic fibres are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, in fish and shellfish.”
Last Sunday, Vivienne Westwood’s Autumn/Winter ‘19/’20 runway had an end-of-the-world-is-nigh vibe. She cast actors and activists as models, including Rose McGowan, who proclaimed, “Planet Earth is our home.” It seems we need reminding.
BBC Earth was also keen to hammer home to fashion fans the fact that Mother Nature sustains all life. And it’s high time we figured out how to act more responsibly towards her. “Planet Earth is like no other, breathtaking landscapes exploding with colour, home to over 8 million species of plants and animals,” begins a new short film linking clothing production to environmental degradation.
Narrated by Liz Bonnin and produced by the BBC’s Natural History Unit (which made Blue Planet) the film is the result of a partnership with Mother of Pearl designer Amy Powney, and is supported by the British Fashion Council. This trio launched the project at a reception at Spencer house during fashion week, along with a social media campaign: #SustainableMe is designed to get the BBC’s huge audience on board with making ecologically-aware fashion choices. (You can take the pledge here.)
“This planet sustains us and every creature we share it with,” intones Bonnin, as the screen fills with tigers, frogs and humming birds. “But more than that, it inspires us. Exquisite species overload our senses with their vibrant shades, patterns and textures. Up to now, many of us have taken it for granted but it’s not too late to protect the source of our creativity.”
Find me a fashion designer who hasn’t looked to Nature for inspiration, whether literally referencing flowers, trees, the oceans, the rainforests, animals, feathers or only the colours and moods of the wild or the weather. Bet you can’t, because our natural world is the source of the greatest, most diverse, most magical, spine-tingling beauty. It’s not just our home, but the source of all life. Including ours. We’d do well to remember this with every breath we take, because seriously, we’re trashing the joint.
Earth’s human population is expected to reach 11 billion by the end the century. Given the sheer numbers of us, you might argue, as Extinction Rebellion (the non-violent direct action group that demonstrated outside the Victoria Beckham and Burberry shows) does, that the only way to fix this mess is by smashing capitalism completely. In this scenario, there’d be no fashion industry.
Others advocate for working within the existing system to make it more sustainable. For rethinking how we manufacture, make available and care for clothes, and for constantly challenging ourselves to create new and improved processes of producing and recycling them that are less harmful to the environment.
Mother of Pearl’s new collection uses organic peace silk and GOTS-certified organic cotton. Her No Frills line has a fully traceable supply chain. She’s worked with UK company Colorifix on a BBC Planet sweatshirt that uses 10 times less water than conventional dyeing processes. Will buying that jumper save Nature? Alas no, but it might help spread the awareness we need to allow it to flourish.
Powney likens the climate crisis to a war that we know is coming, but says that’s not a bad thing, or it wouldn’t be if we just woke up. “We can prepare and we can change,” she tells me on the latest episode of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast. “It’s like we have this amazing opportunity, but everyone is just putting their fingers in their ears and going, ‘La-la-la.'“
Clare Press is Sustainability Editor at Large at Vogue Australia, Global Ambassador for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, and is key voice for the global Fashion Roundtable Community.
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