The proposed shutdown of LFW by Extinction Rebellion
“Like many of you, I first knew of the proposed shutdown of LFW by Extinction Rebellion when I saw their social media last week and subsequently read the article by Lucy Siegle.
I was at Wilderness Festival last weekend chairing a talk on fashion and sustainability with key names in the new generation of fashion talent, Bethany Williams winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for design with a sustainable and social impact and Patrick McDowell and our Jodi Muter-Hamilton. Both designers use waste, are utterly sustainable in their brand from design to delivery and ensure no one in their supply chains are working in unsafe conditions or paid unfairly. Indeed Bethany has worked with women from a refuge in Liverpool and with Vauxhall Food Bank and gives a percentage to chosen charities.
These, like many other brands in the UK are small businesses with fantastic social consciences whose margins are already tight and pushed further still by the lower rate of GDP in the foreign currency market; this impacts not only designers who buy fabrics from Europe, but also all of us who work internationally and are currently earning a lot less due to the fall in the pound since the Brexit vote.
Our packed talk at Wilderness Festival revealed that even those not in the fashion industry are keen to shop more consciously. These consumers also are aware that the high street, as well as designer brands, must be just as accountable as the new generation of talent.
These brands did not know about XR’s ambition to shut down LFW, which will affect those who are a part of the sustainable fashion movement and located on the BFC’s Positive Fashion roster, which they are now growing to be a central feature of the shows. Something the BFC could address is planning a new model for the intense fashion week scheduling— now at 8 collections per year for many brands. This is escalating consumption and it’s these shopping habits which lead to a huge amount of waste, clothes never worn, recycled or ending up in landfill after one wear.
Other areas to address are the throwaway plastic bottles at fashion week, interns working the doors and ensuring venues are always accessible for all.
We all need to stop and redefine what fashion weeks are and what a new industry which has Inclusion, Representation, and Sustainability front and centre of the business model. When I was interviewed for US Vogue last week, that’s why I called for a global policy for all the international fashion weeks. This would outline clear aims: from no models under 16, or size 0, to no single use plastic and a clear guarantee that all brands do not have modern day slavery within their supply chains and are hitting a clear target. We would work with them on this collectively – such as support with recycling fabrics and using waste byproducts.
This is something which Fashion Roundtable would be happy to steer and support as a global blueprint for all fashion weeks. We must ensure that as new markets grow, we don’t lose sight of the growing values of brands such as Bethany or Teatum Jones, but equally we could set quotas for domicile production in each territory where there is a fashion week, thereby safeguarding talent and artisans across craft and fashion globally.
The day before our panel at Wilderness I was on a separate panel with Tamsin Ormond, co-founder of XR. I have known her for over a decade and respect her stance and her life’s mission working on the climate crisis, the largest issue of our time. She thanked me for saying that fashion needs to clean up its act. It does and that is the mission I set up for FR: be that from a coherent Brexit strategy, to visas for manufacturing workers to ensure that work doesn’t go underground with unsafe working conditions and untenable wages. If the UK hurtles towards a No Deal at Halloween, this could be the reality.
Our policy paper on Representation and Inclusion will equally be a road map to ensure that all talent not only has access, but is fairly treated from grades at college, to in work opportunities. These points along with our advocacy on STEAM education and on BECTU union membership for fashion assistants will all go towards making fashion not only creative, but also safe, fair and transparent for all of us, from all backgrounds.
Fashion could do more to clean up its act. I am not wrong in thinking that and I am not alone. We would welcome the BFC to get behind our work. I am asking for all advocates, creatives and experts within the sector to come together now, so we can work on a clear policy which kickstarts our global fashion week policy ambitions. I emailed Tamsin a week ago about the XR wish to shut down LFW and asked for a meeting. I am yet to hear back from them. I emailed Lucy Siegle and heard back within minutes. She has kindly said that she supports our global policy aim and is working on setting up this meeting.
It needs to happen as soon as possible. Many brands must be feeling the strain of an imminent Brexit and the UK’s clear lack of governmental support for the sector. Until we launched 19 months ago fashion had not been mentioned in years in the Houses of Parliament, since we launched it has been across numerous questions to the PM, debates and events. From that awareness we will build policies which support our sector to grow sustainably.
I have also spoken to a number of Positive Fashion brands, who knew nothing about this threatened shutdown and feel targeted when they are doing everything right in terms of sustainable practice.
What concerns me is if LFW is to shut down with no clear direction on how to rebuild future fashion weeks more sustainably. Questions include: do we need all these shows and collections from larger brands? And as wholesale dies, do we need shows at all? We will see the death of LFW and the rise of other fashion weeks? This is something I have been saying may happen if brands decide to jump to Portugal for the tax breaks, or creatives moving to Paris for access to markets. Shutting down LFW without a clear joined up global policy won’t shut down fashion, but it could bankrupt or force relocation on those brands who are already our light bearers for sustainable change.
As an extremely visible, global showcase, targeting LFW is something which grabs headlines. But we inside the sector know the real business happens in Paris, Milan and NYC. London is the show pony, not the work horse. We don’t have huge numbers of buyers here and we don’t have a large presence of big name brands showing either. Many are SMEs literally running from a small studio, working hard to make ends meet. What shutting LFW does is grab headlines and focus on a target: but is that the right target when we only need to look at google to read that 1,106 Syrian children were killed last year and so many of the issues of the arms trade, with the clear links between populism, climate change and wars remain unaddressed and underrepresented in our news and on our minds?
Does shutting down valuable sales opportunities for Phoebe English, Rahemur Rahman and Tolu Coker, all of who are key new generation talents working sustainably and ethically deal with that, which is for me the greater issue? No. Given also the vested interests of so many newspaper owners, why play into their hands with news which doesn’t cover these key and highly related climate change crisis issues? It took lawyers not XR to stop the sale of UK weapons to Saudi when we all know they’re being used to horrific effect in the Yemen. Does targeting designer fashion in that context have quite the same effect to moral and social change: especially given the numbers here who are already creating ethical fledgling businesses?
These are not mass produced hyper sale mega brands, these are small companies with marginal turnovers. All of whom buy into sustainable business practice and so will those who work closely in their ateliers. These are the very people who support XR and see themselves as a part of that message.
I would like to meet with the BFC and set in place clear aims for policy targets for LFW across all these issues. We need to stop the runaway train of shows and sales and hit the reset button. I would also like to meet with XR to ensure they understand that many of these brands are not the enemy, we are the change. Communication, collaboration and clear policy asks are key to why I set up Fashion Roundtable and from the lack of clarity and dialogue this week, I can see it’s needed now more than ever.”