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Is Boycotting LFW in the Name of Sustainability the Way Forward?

It’s undeniable that the climate emergency is high on everybody’s list of concerns with every media outlet declaring the forbidding facts about the rapid rate we are hurling towards environmental catastrophe.[/tw

With socio-political movements such as Extinction Rebellion taking the stance to Boycott Fashion Week, I explored if designers at LFW were taking heed to the current concerns and if London Fashion Week really is the destructive platform protesters claim it to be.

SHOPYTE

One brand visibly partaking in the conversation is Shopyte. The brand create clothing for women who value quality, femininity and sustainability – the conscientious modern-day woman. With sustainability at the core of the SS20 collection, they pronounce to be dismissing the contemporary culture of trends in favour of timeless pieces that not only support ethical fashion but build a community for the conscious consumers purchasing them.

The brand’s accessory of the season consisted of silk facemasks with diamanté straps making the daunting prospect of what could be essential aids to help us survive the predicted climate of the not-so-far future, the must have of the season. Although, whilst the brand evidently proclaims sustainability, the style of the garments were profoundly minimalist which begs the question, does the conscious consumer have to evade trends altogether?

ROBERTS | WOOD

A brand that has only recently entered my radar is ROBERTS | WOOD after seeing the custom-made gothic wedding dress of my dreams feature on the Instagram Story of former Refinery 29 Creative Director, Lydia Pang. Founded by Katie Roberts-Wood, ROBERTS | WOOD is a design studio focusing on an innovative approach to textiles and construction.

For SS20, ROBERTS | WOODS created a concept around ideas of self-image, girlhood, womanhood and identity. The brand takes a more subtle approach to underlining their dedication to sustainable fashion by highlighting the unique production methods, developed by the studio, with an emphasis on sustainable and thoughtful design.

A new approach to embroidery has been developed by repurposing the digital embroidery machine as a tool for the construction of the entire garment rather than to simply embellish them. Discarded scraps and offcuts from previous seasons have been re-engineered for SS20 pieces to represent Roberts-Wood’s dedication to a circular approach in her practice. The result, a breath-taking collection that carries a strong narrative within each piece whilst considering the desperate need to re-engineer a long-standing practice to help prevent environmental and ecological collapse.

Robert Woods 2020 collection, photography by Jan Stasiuk

TOGA

A brand that threw all caution to the wind in terms of proclaiming its ­­dedication to sustainability in fashion was TOGA. The press release for the SS20 collection claimed they “wanted to invest more time in producing unnecessary things and see what would come out of the process as making fashion, itself is an unnecessary thing, is essentially an indulgence.”

A bold statement in the light of recent events and in a time where many brands declare their environmental policies or at least, tweak their PR to make it seem like they are taking action in the face of climate emergency.

Admittedly, the clothes were desirable and the catwalk, taking place inside the Royal Institute of Architecture, provided an escapism that fashion is renowned for from the reality of everyday life. For 20 minutes, the anxiety of hearing Greta’s forewarnings echo about the alarming speed in which the climate is heading for disaster didn’t matter – all that mattered was how to get my hands on that well-structure blazer with a silk scarf flowing from the breast pocket without having to extend my overdraft and compromise my weekly shop for the next year.

An Interview with Kaitlyn

GARMENT DESIGNER & MANAGER FOR BLUE RINSE

It was post-Toga I concluded that seeing the runways and reading the press releases just wasn’t enough to shed some real light on fashion’s role in the current climate. Instead, I decided to turn to someone championing the cause and that person was Kaitlyn Bullen, garment designer and brand manager for Blue Rinse – an independent vintage clothing company based in Leeds with shops in the north of England, 28 concessions within Arcadia stores, busy pop-up events, a web store and large wholesale department.

Kaitlyn participated in a panel discussion called The Sustainability Debate hosted by Global Fashion Marketplace during London Fashion Week. Chloe: Firstly, can you explain why you are championing sustainability in fashion?

Kaitlyn: My views on sustainability have been shaped by the culture of Blue Rinse – it has always been built into the brand DNA, both from an economic and ethical point of view. Reducing, re-using and recycling just makes good business sense.

It’s interesting for me to work within this culture at Blue Rinse, but also to be exposed to other sides of the fashion industry. I’ve met buyers from high street retailers who want a product at the lowest possible price and in huge volumes. I’ve met craftspeople who hand-sew and hand-dye garments using traditional techniques. Experiencing different aspects of the fashion world has solidified my conviction in sustainability and the need to tackle this issue head on. 

C: What are your thoughts on the current situation of fashion in light of the climate emergency?

K: My thoughts are quite conflicted about this, really. I’m always caught between ideals and the reality of a situation. Ideally, brands would stop pushing this narrative of over consumption, customers would take a thoughtful approach to their purchases, and governments would introduce legislation to safeguard the environment against harmful practices in the fashion industry.

How realistic is it though, for brands to risk dips in sales, for customers to put sustainability ahead of price and emotional reasons for purchasing, and how can government regulations make real change quickly?

C: Do you think in the current climate, designers and brands recognise there is a need for change and are taking enough action?

K: I think most people recognise that there is a need for change and the conversation in the current climate reflects this. Brands and designers are reflecting this more and more in their levels of transparency, supply chains, recycling efforts, and conversations­ they are having with their customers about their environmental impact.

However, I am also wary of creating a culture of blame around brands and designers. These don’t exist in a vacuum – brands have grown as a result of consumer demands, and the current climate is one that we have all created together.

I think brands need to take very fast steps towards sustainability, and consumers and governments need to put pressure on them to do so, but with a realistic understanding of the damage that can be done in other regards if this moves too quickly. 

C: Should we be boycotting platforms and events such as London Fashion Week in the name of sustainability?

K: I can understand why there would be calls to boycott London Fashion week, but I actually think it provides a useful and high-profile platform to have open discussions about the climate emergency and the state of the fashion industry. Instead of boycotting, I would call for a change in the format – less of a focus on seasonal collections which speed up the pace of fashion, and more emphasis on the amazing craftsmanship and artistic visions of the designers, which Fashion Week highlights so well.

C: What actions would you like to see the fashion industry take towards becoming more sustainable?

K: I think the first step is changing the conversation around clothing and fashion. Instead of seeing clothes as a commodity, we should be emphasising the emotional connection we have to garments and the brands that produced them. We shop emotionally and our clothing choices are driven by desires that are to do with power, belonging, and associations. If the fashion industry recognises these customer impulses and responds to them responsibly, then there could be a real shift away from over consumption, and towards thoughtful purchasing. This might be a real optimistic view, but it is one I would like to see!

C: Is there some advice you’d like to give for the conscious consumer and designers in terms of championing sustainability in fashion? 

K: Be conscious and thoughtful, but also realistic. It’s quite a privilege to be able to shop sustainably – not everyone has the time, money or products available to them. If we can do what we can and think a little more carefully about the choices, we make within the existing framework of our lives than we can make change.

I agree with Kaitlyn in that we need to be realistic about the changes the fashion industry can make and the timeframe in which these changes can be made. Shifting the conversation from ephemeral trends to longevity in our garments is a good start, but we also need to ensure brands aren’t just using sustainability as a buzz word to appear more conscientious to the consumer.

Redefining the processes of design and production in ways like brands such as ROBERTS | WOOD while keeping the conversation transparent with consumers and an openness on which ways the aim to continually improve seems the next logical step forward.

Personally, I don’t believe boycotting London Fashion Week is the answer. Instead the fashion industry should utilise these platforms to showcase the designers pioneering sustainability through innovative ways and encourage both designers and consumers to take it into consideration when it comes to our choices in fashion.

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