What Is a Fashion Week's Role in a Time of Climate Crisis?

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©. Yahya Aitabi/Extinction Rebellion

Some activists want London Fashion Week abolished, while others argue it's necessary for transforming a harmful industry.

Climate action group Extinction Rebellion is calling for London Fashion Week (LFW) to be shut down. This September, while LFW is underway, the group plans to organize a number of public protests to raise awareness about the horrific state of the fashion industry, including a funeral to mark "the death of catwalks." It staged similar protests earlier this year, calling on the fashion industry to "stop business as usual."

Members of the fashion community disagree with Extinction Rebellion's approach. Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, a UK-based charity working toward more ethical and eco-friendly clothing production, wrote an op-ed titled, "Shutting Down Fashion Weeks is Not the Answer." In it, she agrees that the fashion industry is in dire need of an overhaul, but said that eliminating an important gathering place for designers, makers, and clothes lovers would accomplish little.

She argues that Fashion Weeks are a crucial incubator for innovative startups and new designers that could transform the way the industry operates. Eliminate their opportunity for exposure and you shut down a market that is "on the brink of providing us with positive, previously unimagined, creative solutions."

"The better option," she writes, "is to urgently redesign [fashion weeks] and upgrade them to become hubs of what fashion needs to be, and fashion needs to be ethical and sustainable. Cancelling feels like giving up."

She makes the valid point that big brands – the most harmful in the industry – would hardly be affected by fashion weeks being cancelled. "It will not interfere in any way or prevent them from doing business. For them, LFW is show time, their shows are expensively beamed online anyway. No amount of street blockages and delaying press and buyers will interfere with their business models."

Fashion weeks need to be rethought, of course. There should be more rigorous standards for brands and designers allowed to participate. Minimum standards for production ethics and environmental responsibility could be established. De Castro suggests having a no-plastic blanket ban onsite, backstage, in bars and at parties. (I can't help but wonder about her thoughts on polyester being spun plastic, and whether it should be eliminated from fashion weeks, too, or be required to have 100 percent recycled content. Now that would be revolutionary.)

Even non-fashion followers like myself realize that we cannot stop wearing clothes, and that everything we put on (unless we've made it ourselves) has relied on a designer and garment factory and retailer somewhere in the world. We are not going to do away with these things altogether, so improving them should be our priority.

That's why I am eager to get my hands on Elizabeth Cline's latest book, The Conscious Closet, which is a how-to guide to shopping sustainably. Those are the kinds of workshops that London Fashion Week would do well to host, educating the greater public on how to build and maintain a wardrobe that makes us feel as good as it makes us look.