Should Fashion Week Be Cancelled?

Extinction Rebellion are calling for the event to be replaced with a ‘people’s assembly’ to declare a climate emergency

BY Kadish Morris in Culture Digest | 13 AUG 19

Photograph courtesy: Mark Ramsay, Flickr Creative Commons

Conversations about sustainability bookend every fashion week. This year, environmental activists Extinction Rebellion are calling for the biannual events to be cancelled. Writing to the British Council, the group has asked that the upcoming London edition be called off and replaced with a ‘people’s assembly of industry professionals and designers as a platform to declare a climate and ecological emergency.’ The ‘Big Four’, Paris, Milan, London and New York, have been holding catwalk shows since 1945; these parades have become highly covered cultural affairs, despite the fact that they contribute to the climate crisis. Last year Burberry, Britain’s largest luxury goods label, drew fire when an annual report revealed that it had burned GBP£28.6 million worth of clothes, accessories and perfume in 2017 to maintain ‘brand value’; though the brand pledged to put an immediate end to the practice, this was seen by many as further proof that seasonal fashion is an irrational venture that needs to be reformatted. 

Caroline Rush, CEO of BFC has responded to the demands to end the event, saying: ‘We are facing a climate change emergency and all need to act.’ But Extinction Rebellion denounce the fashion industry’s lack of urgency in cleaning up its wasteful act and plan to cause ‘disruptions’ during the five-day spectacle, to provoke meaningful action. It wouldn’t be the first time fashion week takes a rain check. The Swedish Fashion Council recently cancelled Stockholm Fashion Week while they etch out new sustainability standards. 

An explanation as to why fast fashion has been so slow to react to its ecological impact could be because we are still buying into it — the event garners GBP£90 million in global media coverage and generates more than GBP £100 million worth of orders of new clothes each year. But perhaps a environmentally-friendly future is going to be designer-led. Fashion designer Phoebe English, who has come out in support of Extinction Rebellion said: ‘Fashion is in a new era. Whether it likes it or not. We must start working together towards solutions and reject damaging practices at an unprecedented speed.’

Writing on Facebook, the activist group has asked the public to ‘Join us for a funeral for LFW on the 17th of September, which will pay respect to its legacy and put it to rest forevermore. This will be a time to pause and reflect on the lives already being lost and that will be lost as a result of climate and ecological breakdown.’ Whether or not they are successful in their mission to shut down September’s glossy event, what is clear is that the protests against business as usual are getting louder and may push the industry a step closer to transformation.

Kadish Morris is editorial assistant and staff writer of frieze, based in London, UK.