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Fashion Week: Can it ever be sustainable?

London Fashion Week (LFW) is one of the only fashion weeks going ahead this year (19th to 23rd February 2021). In order to cater for the pandemic LFW has adopted the digital landscape as their global and almost infinite catwalk as it moves almost exclusively online. And whilst everyone staying at home to watch the event as opposed to travelling to London benefits the environment, the coronavirus pandemic has widened the debate over how sustainable fashion can be and whether fashion can even coexist with sustainability. Tommy Hilfiger himself told journalists at London Fashion Week 2020 that “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.”

Fashion week showing a woman in a black and white striped jacket and white trousers.
Credit: Flaunter

The big issue:

One of the main issues with London Fashion Week (LFW) is that it is inherently unsustainable. The show itself is a lookbook of trends the eagle-eyed fashionista has to keep an eye on, but driving designers (both on and off the high street) into creating more clothes to keep up with what’s ‘hot’, is in turn driving demand

High street brands look towards the worldwide fashion weeks for inspiration. Fashion week’s drive the design of seasonal high street clothing and broader trends, maintaining and even fuelling the cycle of clothing production which plays on people’s desire to look on trend and cool. Within weeks of the Fashion Week’s high street designer’s release copycat products, and in turn facilitate people’s desire to be seen in the ‘hottest’ clothing. 

This demand to create ‘on trend’ clothing items inspired by LFW is coupled by the role of influencers in today’s social landscape. For instance, fashion week attendees, one example being the Kardashians, facilitate a desire amongst their most loyal followers to assume the high-fashion look which sadly runs hand-in-hand with the ‘wear once’ trend. And as increasing numbers of us look towards these high-profile social media gurus for fashion inspo, this is only set to worsen. 

Female influencer with makeup on against a pink background taking a selfie.
Credit: Mateus Campos Felipe

Furthermore, many renowned fashion designers are guilty of greenwashing, which adds to the problem fashion week poses. In recent years, more and more brands are claiming they are participating in sustainable practices, but with no real intent of doing so. 

Demand creation and greenwashing are not the only factors that pose a problem to the coexistence of fashion and the planet. 

The environmental impact of conducting the global Fashion Week’s was made apparent by a recent report from Zero to Market. It was concluded that 241,000 tonnes of CO2 is emitted during the 4 weeks of Fashion Week when you include; the travel of fashion designers, models, influencers and other guests; the sheer amount of electricity needed for lighting;  transportation of the set and clothing; the vast quantity of disposable water bottles that are handed out; and the goody bags, much of which is disposed of after the show. 

All this for a show that lasts no more than a few hours

Luckily, calls for a more sustainable fashion week are being heard and with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, more steps are being taken to ensure the survival of Fashion Week.

a group of models' legs with red, blue and pink suede shoes on.
Credit: Flaunter

What is London Fashion Week actually doing to be more sustainable?

Over the past few years, the British Fashion Council has been calling for more moves to incorporate sustainability measures. The first and most notable was the 2018 ban on fur. 

After calls to prevent the usage of fur during fashion week drummed up in 2016, the move was finally made in 2018 and it seems as though fashion week was well on the path to becoming more sustainable. This trend continued throughout 2019 with the British Fashion Council launching the Institute of Positive Fashion or IPF, with the aim of creating an industry ‘blueprint’ for kick-starting real change within the fashion industry. 

Last year, the pandemic pushed fashion designers and the industry as a whole, to pander to the sustainability cause. As more people became aware of the human impact on the climate during the almost worldwide lockdown, calls for sustainable fashion practices increased. Some of the resulting schemes that were implemented in 2020 included:

  • Roland Mauret’s #SwitchToBlue (which oversaw the use of clothing hangers made from ocean plastic),
  • Alexander McQueen’s fabric donation,
  • And the London Fashion Week’s swap shop

But whilst these are all positive moves to ensure Fashion Week can be more sustainable, there is still a long way to go until the event is entirely ethical. 

Forward facing

The future of Fashion Week is green. 

One incredible example other fashion weeks (including London) can follow is Copengagen. Planning to become zero-waste by 2022, Copenhagen Fashion Week has some strict ethical and sustainability guidelines designers must follow. The vast majority of the products are made using at least 50% sustainable fabrics, championing basic but beautiful styles that can be worn season after season, rather than the piece being worn for a few days or weeks. The simplicity and stripped-back nature of Copenhagen’s Fashion Week even extends to the set designs, where few props are used in order to reduce waste. 

Other Fashion Week’s are looking towards Copenhagen for inspiration, but it seems that the global Fashion Week’s are interacting within the wider sphere of the sustainability movement, taking some real and serious steps to minimise their environmental impact. 

2021 has resulted in many Fashion Week’s cancelling their shows, but London is not one of them. Instead, it is adopting the digital landscape to showcase the designs. This is actually one way Fashion Week’s could become more sustainable. As technology continues to develop, there is an increased blend between artistic and digital mediums, making the Fashion Week shows more interesting than ever, from the comfort of your own home. This has a few benefits. Not only do digital shows greatly reduce the need for people to travel, but the audience size is also limitless because hundreds of thousands of people could attend an online event. Fewer props and lighting would be needed, so less electricity would be used and the waste from items such as water bottles would be significantly reduced. 

Additionally, using sustainable brands and materials, and maintaining the swap shops, the emphasis on recycling and so forth, would significantly decrease the carbon footprint of the worldwide Fashion Week’s. 

All of these changes would result in a fashion week that is completely unrecognisable, but it would also represent a fundamental shift in the way we perceive the fashion industry, highlighting the vital steps that need to be taken in order to make the entire industry more sustainable. 

Notable forward-facing clothing brands that high-end designers should be looking towards include GUNAS, Olly, Protected Species and Votch.

Girl with blonde hair facing away from the camera, wearing a black and white gingham coord set.
Credit: Flaunter
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