Climate before catwalk

Environmentalists need to take on London Fashion Week.


Extinction Rebellion has blocked bridges in London to raise awareness about the damage of our roads, and protested at BP and Shell to show the impact of these major corporates on our environment. 

I was very happy to learn that the group has decided that their next target will be one close to my heart. 

Extinction Rebellion have now announced plans to focus attention on London Fashion Week. Along with others, I have spent years campaigning to raise the public's awareness of the fashion industry's environmental failings - so I welcome this move. 

Severe damage 

There are no shortage of events in London that would have provided fair game in the fight for carbon neutrality. 

Last month Tobacco Docks was home to “Meatopia” - London’s biggest meat festival - which would have been a great place to highlight the environmental and health issues of a society overconsuming meat.

Next next month those who enjoy buying and selling bullets, battleships, bombs and tanks will be gathering in ExCeL for the annual Arms Fair. An industry which by definition ends lives and ruins habitats around the world, and which I for one would love to see shut down permanently.

But I am glad that people are starting to understand that the damage caused by the fashion industry is also severe, and - frustratingly - could be improved if there was the corporate and political will.

The more you research the fashion and beauty industry, and the more you scratch below the surface, the uglier it gets.

Overconsumption and exploitation

The industry that London Fashion Week celebrates has overconsumption and exploitation at its core.

The world of fashion relies on using advertising and peer pressure to make people feel the need to buy new clothes, shoes, and accessories frequently as the style changes, in order to keep up with the latest trends.

Although this is ethically repugnant, from a capitalist business perspective it is working. The global apparel market is valued at 3 trillion dollars, accounting for 2% of global GDP

The fashion brand Burberry made headlines last summer when they burnt £28million of excess stock in order to protect the exclusivity of its brand. 

Budget clothing stores such as Primark have come under serious fire for selling £2 t-shirts, and online retailer Boohoo made headlines this summer with their £1 bikini. Both raise questions about the ethics of the supply chain and whether a fashion tax may be ultimately needed.

Grotesquely wasteful

Online retailers have also seen backlash to wasteful buying practises, such as encouraging buyers to buy the same item in several different sizes and then return the unwanted ones for free after trying at home.  Many returned items aren’t worth the bother of returning to stock. They just get thrown in the landfill.

To the credit of designers, London Fashion Week is a celebration of art and innovation, but it is also a celebration of a grotesquely wasteful industry. It will only change if pressure is put on it from consumers, politicians and a threat of legislation and regulation.

We are in a climate emergency - the time is up for massively carbon-intensive and polluting industries to stick on a pair of designer sunglasses and look the other way. We have to make them  face up to what hyper-consumerism is doing to our planet.

I’ll be joining protestors at London Fashion Week to call on brands, influencers and designers to take the climate emergency seriously and commit to making a change in their industry. 

This Author 

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party. 

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