Let’s discuss how – and why – one of the most prominent climate change activist groups today wants to disrupt the world’s biggest biannual fashion event.
Last year, a group of environmentally-focused activists came up with a plan to get their voices heard. Word got out about their plans to protest the government’s lack of acknowledgement towards our current climate emergency, through peaceful civil disobedience. And on 31st October 2018, 1,500 people gathered at London’s Parliament Square to announce a Declaration of Rebellion. This marked the creation of Extinction Rebellion ( aka ‘XR’ ) .
The following six weeks saw over 6,000 Extinction Rebels blocking Central London’s major bridges, planting trees in Parliament Square, and even supergluing themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace, chanting ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!’.
As you can imagine, the movement attracted a whole lot of press coverage, which shared XR’s message with dozens of new spaces across the globe. You’ll now find Rebels everywhere from the Solomon Islands to South Africa.
I thought I’d cite their own official ‘Principles and Values’ list for this one, to make sure I’m 100% accurate!
we have a shared vision of change
Creating a world that is fit for generations to come.
we set our mission on what is necessary
Mobilising 3.5% of the population to achieve system change – using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organising” to achieve this.
we need a regenerative culture
Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable.
we openly challenge ourselves and our toxic system
Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.
we value reflecting and learning
Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.
we welcome everyone and every part of everyone
Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.
we actively mitigate for power
Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.
we avoid blaming and shaming
We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.
we are a non-violent network
Using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.
we are based on autonomy and decentralisation
We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.
As you’d expect following the tone and technique of XR’s first protest, their philosophy is built on taking action via non-violent civil disobedience. It’s a peaceful yet practical movement, with public-facing protests instead of behind-the-screens petitions or under-the-radar letters to local MPs.
This style of protest is a risky one, with some members receiving arrests and / or jail time in response to their participation in the movement; I would highly recommend reading an article published a couple of days ago in the Guardian by Steve Melia: ‘How I Went From Government Adviser to Convicted Climate Protester’.
1643 / the reign of louis xiv
Fashion as we know it today – a creatively open, constantly reinvented art form which sees itself influenced by the world’s most popular and powerful public figures – rose to prominence under France’s reign of Louis XIV in the 1700s. With a passion for the finer things in life ( and an eye for where the coin is at ) , King Louis wanted to put France on the map as the inventor and exporter of everything luxury, with a particular emphasis on fashion and jewellery. In fact, during his time on the throne, around a third of Parisian wage-earners gained jobs in the clothing and textile trades.
Now it’s time for a fun new segment I’m introducing featuring my boyfriend: Dan’s Fun History Graduate Facts!
‘Ya boy Louis knew how to cut shapes on the dance floor. He was a ballet enthusiast with a passion for fashion.’
1858 / the construction of haute couture houses
Fast forward to 1858, Englishman Charles Frederick Worth founded the first ever haute couture ( meaning ‘high fashion’ ) house for his luxury fashion label, WORTH, in Paris. This house is known as the House of Worth, who soon established himself as the ‘father of haute couture’. This snazzy way of working caught on, with many other brands following suit to build their own fashion houses. At the time, these ‘houses’ were pretty much a brand’s HQ. In these spaces the designer would hold private events wherein which their highest status clients were invited to sip champagne as models filed in, showcasing the atelier’s designs for the upcoming season. And so the fashion show was born.
1903 / the rise of press week
Ever-inspired by the elegance and flair of everything Parisian ( I mean, who isn’t?! ) , America wanted in on the défilés de mode ( that’s France’s way of saying ‘fashion shows’. I know, they somehow manage to make everything more glamorous ) . 1903 saw the first fashion show in the USA and, four decades after, fashion super-publicist Eleanor Lambert wanted to kick things up a notch, pushing for each designer’s showcase to take place in a cohesive and collaborative time frame. This was known as ‘Press Week’, which became the perfect opportunity for editors, journalists, buyers and manufacturers to discover new and emerging American designers.
1984 / london fashion week is born
These events continued to grow in prominence and popularity in fashion capitals across the world throughout the rest of the century and began to take place biannually, as divided by seasons: Spring / Summer, and Autumn / Winter. In 1984 the British Fashion Council founded London Fashion Week – the UK’s official take on the tradition, as created for and by style industry insiders.
I thought I’d quote some key members of the British Fashion Council for their definition of London Fashion Week and its purpose.
Dame Natalie Massenet, chairman of the British Fashion Council and founder of the luxury online shopping platform NET-A-PORTER:
‘Putting a spotlight on creative businesses through events like London Fashion Week is essential. Encouraging creatives to be creative entrepreneurs and to innovate is a must for future success.’
Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council and marketing expert Caroline Rush CBE:
‘London Fashion Week is about presenting our designers. London is known for its creative talent and for its modern designers from Christopher Kane, Erdem, Roksanda, Simone Rocha and J.W. Anderson to the global brands such as Burberry, Mulberry and Anya Hindmarch.’
Sarah Mower MBE, fashion journalist, fashion critic and trustee of the British Fashion Council Education Foundation:
‘British Fashion education is the top in the world, the absolute gold-standard. The fact is that it is excellence of fashion education which has put our country in pole position. Without it London Fashion Week would be robbed of 3 out of 4 of the talents and entrepreneurs it has today. The British Fashion Council Education Foundation aims to do our best to keep the doors to fashion education open. It aims to attract the best talent into the industry and ensure the future success of British fashion and the influence of its designers.’
London Fashion Week is a sought-after space for every element of the fashion industry to collaborate and collide. As a dynamic hybrid of trade show-meets-fashion show, it’s renowned as one of the ‘Big Four’ fashion weeks, alongside its counterparts in New York, Paris and Milan. By the British Fashion Council’s definition:
London Fashion Week takes place twice a year in February and September, showcasing over 250 designers to a global audience of influential media and retailers. It is estimated that orders of over £100m are placed during LFW each season.
LFW gives emerging designers the opportunity to showcase their work in front of iconic and internationally respected fashion industry figures, setting them up for many more future design opportunities, career progressions and, sometimes, world-wide acclaim.
Fashion week is when the industry’s biggest players reveal their collections for the following season.
It’s sort of like the official ‘trend announcement’ – we find out what we’re going to see everywhere, from style publications to Instagram ‘Explore’ pages.
Members of the press report the themes and moments running through each exhibition, whilst high street brands begin working away immediately to replicate the work of the artists for the world of fast fashion, as quickly and cheaply as possible.
So, if London Fashion week is a big celebration and appreciation of the best of we as a country have to offer the world of couture and creative arts, why do Extinction Rebellion want to shut it down?
Extinction Rebellion has created its own XR Boycott Fashion team, which is headed by the founder of fashion rental platform Higher Studio. Around two weeks ago, the group sent a letter to the British Fashion Council.
Dear Caroline Rush and the BFC,
We have alerted you to the crisis. We have been grateful for your willingness to know the truth and explore possibilities for change. Yet, the status quo remains. It is our duty as citizens, to say enough is enough. Business as usual means the end of life. Our children’s future is at stake.
We beg you to cancel London Fashion Week in respect to this crisis. We ask that if the industry convene, this is for crisis talks and as a platform to declare emergency and face the truth following the footsteps of The Tate and Culture Declares.
With all due respect to the sustainability initiatives of the BFC, we, Extinction Rebellion, cannot stand by this parade of excess whilst the natural world is being taken from beneath our feet. We must consider how fashion can be reborn as a cultural medium with a regenerative effect on all people, planet, animals and generations to come. How can the influence of fashion be used to tell the world to stop consuming that which they don’t need and demand systemic change?
London Fashion Week sets a global precedent. It creates the desire that results in the consumption of fast fashion and beyond. Fashion should be a cultural signifier of our times, and yet the industry still adheres to an archaic system of seasonal fashion, adding pressure to relentlessly create new fashion from new materials. The embodied emissions, as well as damaging cultural resonance of fashion weeks, is not something the planet can afford.
In the wake of the world wars, countries worked together to marshal resources for the good of all people. In the context of war, ostentatious dress was culturally frowned upon, but brilliant new aesthetics were born as a result. This is not the end of the world, nor the end of creativity but the need to radically transform.
Climate and ecological breakdown will wreak economic and social havoc. The BFC has a responsibility to prepare the industry to adapt for what is to come to protect lives. But if the BFC is the first major fashion week to put an end to a harmful system, this is an opportunity to be the vanguard of the industry. We call on the British fashion industry to lead the way and do what’s right.
The cancellation of Stockholm Fashion Week demonstrates change is possible. Jennie Rosén, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council says, ‘We need to put the past to rest and stimulate the development of a platform that is relevant for today’s fashion industry (and) focus on creating tools and platforms in order to support and prepare the industry for the future.’
We have disruptive actions planned during LFW and we will be ending LFW with a funeral finale which will soberly pay respect to the legacy of LFW and put it to rest forevermore. We must pause and reflect on the lives being lost. We sincerely call on you to do the same.
There is no longer time for incremental change. The UN Secretary General warned us that humanity faces a ‘direct existential threat’ if we do not change course by 2020. We are now less than one season away and the radical action needed to avoid runaway climate breakdown and ecological collapse has not yet begun. With every day of inaction, the risk grows and so does the death toll, bringing us closer to extinction. Death and destruction from ecocide is happening now. We cannot rely on politicians alone. We need culture to lead change.
We do not take our demand lightly. We understand the growth-seeking economic systems that drive the fashion industry. We recognise that there are millions of people around the world who depend on fashion for their livelihoods. But we will not significantly mitigate this crisis without total systemic transformation. We must find a way to do what is necessary, not to do what we can within current systems. The planet is crumbling under our weight and the people already paying the highest price are those workers who are being exploited for profit but who have done the least damage.
It is time for the BFC to bring the industry back to the drawing board. For the sake of humanity and all life on earth, we must tell the truth and act now.
We are supported by Maria Chenoweth, CEO of Traid and Safia Minney, MBE, Founder, People Tree, Author, Adviser & Campaigner. Their powerful statements are below.
As always, we are happy to discuss the contents of this letter at your nearest convenience and work out a route forward.
With love and rage,
‘Stopping London Fashion Week sends the urgent message that fashion as know it needs to change NOW! Every fashion brand needs to put everything through the climate lens and campaign harder to tell the public to stop buying cr*p that is killing the planet and future generations.’
Safia Minney, MBE, Founder, People Tree, Author, Adviser & Campaigner
‘UK shoppers consume more clothes than any other country in Europe. We buy a staggering 38 million new garments every week. Globally, clothing production creates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year while contaminating our oceans with plastic microfibres and depleting our soil with chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Ending the fashion industry’s model of continuous growth is critical for people and planet. That’s why TRAID is supporting this call to cancel London Fashion Week.’
Maria Chenoweth, CEO of Traid
With the Swedish Fashion Council cancelling this season’s Stockholm Fashion Week in response to the announcement of a global climate crisis, perhaps it isn’t so unlikely for the BFC to follow suit.
The SFC did not decide shut down their fashion week permanently, but instead decided to reevaluate how they might be able to create a more conscious showcase in the future. Jennie Rosen, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council, explained:
The Swedish fashion industry is extensive and growing, so it is crucial to support brands in their development of next-generation fashion experiences. By doing this we can adapt to new demands, reach sustainability goals and be able to set new standards for fashion.
As an industry that is as influential as it is polluting, fashion needs to take responsibility for its actions, and take advantage of its access to make a change. It’s how we make that happen that is in question, because it’s not something that the industry’s powerful players can ignore any more – XR won’t let them.
The movement places emphasis on changing the ‘culture around consumption’. From 13th – 17th of September, the iconic Central London streets and spaces running London Fashion Week – from Somerset House to New Bond Street – are going to be disrupted. This won’t be disruption of the catwalks themselves, however, but peaceful protests through popular routes used by Fashion Week attendees, making it harder to get to each show on time.
Martina Sorghi, one of the coordinators of the Extinction Rebellion Fashion Action, explained the technique they’ll be using to shut down London Fashion Week:
Through non-violent resistance, we will disrupt the ability for business as usual to carry on, using visual, performative disruption to show the industry for what it is.
In conversation with Dazed – when asked about her response to XR’s plans, the British Fashion Council’s Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, said:
We are pleased that we live in a country where we have a right to protest peacefully, and believe that more than any other capital London has an opportunity to be a part of a cultural change around sustainable business practices that put creative product at their core.
London Fashion Week is a platform to showcase the very best creative businesses in our country. The unique DNA of London is based around creativity, innovation and cultural change, which is why we encourage the showcase of British businesses engaging in sustainable business practices.
The BFC wants to give those designers a platform to demonstrate that business can be done differently. We believe that the platform of London Fashion Week can communicate to both industry and general public, that not all businesses are equal and that those that support a better future are the ones that should be supported to be able to encourage more to adapt better business practices of positive change.
In the mean time, the British Fashion Council and Extinction Rebellion are planning to meet to ‘share their plans’.
So what are my own thoughts on this protest?
As a fashion-lover and creative, I seriously respect the amount of time, passion and effort that has gone into founding the fashion week tradition, which has been worked on by style insiders around the world for decades. This has built a cutting-edge platform with an exceptional amount of control over its own industry.
But, in the words of RuPaul, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’, and I think we know that the fashion week concept – despite its own focus on curated, limited and bespoke collections of clothing – is the one setting the tone for its high street and mid-range peers. Whilst this influence usually takes its form in the choices of style and silhouette we see the following season, London Fashion Week ( and the British Fashion Council ) need to do what’s long overdue: responsibly harness the respect, adoration and power that they’ve accumulated for their stunning exhibitions of what is pretty much wearable art.
I firmly believe that the London Fashion Week platform is an incredible one, and instead of scrapping it, we should rethink how it is utilised. If we work collaboratively and consciously, London Fashion Week has the potential be used as a tool to promote sustainability in the creative arts, rather than seen as an enemy on the mission to do so.
I stand with Extinction Rebellion’s message, but I wouldn’t choose to make the statement in this way. I know, however, that it is an extremely powerful technique, and I really do hope it brings about the change that needs to be made by the fashion industry as a whole. London Fashion Week is a good place to start.
Do you believe London Fashion Week should be shut down by Extinction Rebellion? Let me know over on the Discuss page – I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the protest!