Extinction Rebellion calls time on fashion

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Extinction Rebellion activists disrupted the last London fashion week in February

Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists have announced plans to shut down London Fashion Week (LFW) this month to raise awareness for climate change caused by the fashion industry. On 26 July XR delivered a letter to the British Fashion Council (BFC) calling for the cancellation of LFW, co-signed with Maria Chenworth, CEO of clothing reuse and international development charity Traid, and Safia Minney, founder of eco fashion label People Tree.

Indeed, the Swedish Fashion Council has cancelled Stockholm Fashion Week in order to set new sustainable standards in the industry. XR suggested the BFC reconstitute LFW as “a People’s Assembly of industry professionals and designers, as a platform to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency, to face the truth and to take action.”

They also plan to stage a funeral for the industry, on the last day of LFW, 19 September. Sara Arnold, a key XR activist behind the shutdown, told the Guardian “that should be where it stops for ever. During this absolute emergency, celebrating new fashion, which is essentially what fashion week is doing, is not relevant.”

Last fashion week in February, XR set up “swarming roadblocks” and asked the BFC to end a “business as usual” approach to fashion.

This season marks a redoubling of efforts. Caroline Rush, CEO of the BFC, responded to their letter, agreeing that “we are facing a climate change emergency and all need to act.” She pointed to the “Positive Fashion” showcase that platforms designers who “demonstrate that business can be done differently”. For the BFC, though business might be sporting a different hashtag on social media this season, go on as usual it certainly must.

The need for change in the industry is dire. Over 100 billion new garments are produced every year. Textile production generates 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases, and enormous amounts of clothing ending up in landfill, notably single-use outfits. According to XR, the industry is set to grow by 81 percent by 2030, “putting an unprecedented strain on already devastated planetary resources”.

In April this year XR launched Boycott Fashion, a social media campaign to encourage consumers not to spend any money on new clothes for an entire year. Laura Krarup Frandsen, a student from the Royal College of Art, staged an XR die-in in lieu of a graduate show. Arguably, the fashion week shutdown takes actions out of an individualised realm and tackles the question of the wider system of production.

Clare Farrell, a leading XR fashion activist, recognises that initiatives like the “Positive Fashion” showroom at LFW, or recycling initiatives at high street shops, may be a case of greenwashing by companies more concerned with their image than actual change. “There’s tons of stuff going on, and the issue is that that’s just not enough,” she told Vogue. “The fashion industry is so good at co-opting anything and then making it fashionable and then selling you something.”

Rena Niamh Smith