Extinction Rebellion Has a Powerful Message for Insiders at London Fashion Week

Helen Lock

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN's Global Goal 13 calls for urgent action to combat the climate crisis. We need governments and businesses to lead on that action, driving behavioural change to help save the planet. From microplastics washing off our clothes and into the oceans, to the carbon-emitting, water-polluting global production of garments, the fashion industry has a huge environmental impact and huge potential to change. Join us by taking action here

A group of activists from the direct action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been carrying out five days of action against the devastating impact of the fashion industry on the environment at London Fashion Week, which began on Sept. 13.

Wearing white dresses and covered in fake blood, five activists glued themselves on Friday to the front entrance of the conference centre where the glitzy bi-annual trade show was held. The group said it wants the fashion industry to “tell the truth” about its carbon footprint and damaging production practices. 

Image: Gareth Morris

From fast fashion and the constant consumption needed to keep up with ever-changing trends, to the ecological damage of clothes production, there are lots of ways fashion and our relationship with it needs to change.

But significant change isn't yet in sight. The industry is set to grow by 63% by 2030, Extinction Rebellion say in their statement, meaning its impact will only increase.

Currently, the global footwear and apparel industry accounts for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions — basically equivalent to the carbon emissions of the whole of Europe. 

On top of that many of us are under-using or not even wearing the clothes we buy — it’s estimated that $500 billion in value is lost each year through the underuse and lack of recycling of clothes. And the UK is the capital of fast fashion in Europe: we buy more clothes per person than any other European country.    

Image: Gareth Morris

Other environmental protestors meanwhile took part in a “die-in”, pouring fake blood on the floor to create their own "red carpet" — which they lay down on wearing T-shirts labelled “Repair, Rewear, Rebel.”

The message — to the industry insiders entering the venue, and influencers hoping to be papped outside — was to take notice of this environmental impact and how, if nothing changes, it will continue contributing to the devastation of the planet. 

Ahead of the event, Extinction Rebellion has called for the hosts of the trade show, the British Fashion Council, to follow in the footsteps of Stockholm by cancelling fashion week, and instead looking for ways the annual event can be transformed into a “platform relevant for this day and age.”

The XR letter suggested, as an example, that the council instead host an assembly focused on how companies can address the challenge and become sustainable.

Image: Gareth Morris

Sara Arnold, a former fashion student-turned activist, told the Guardian: "The fashion industry has a huge voice and it should be using it. When a fire alarm goes off, someone needs to stand up and leave the room, otherwise no one thinks the alarm is real. We need fashion to be that person.” 

In response to the action, Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said she didn’t think cancelling London Fashion Week was the answer.

She said they could, however, “use the platform of London Fashion Week to communicate not just to the industry, but to the wider public, that not all businesses are equal, that those that support a better future, are committed to change, are those that should be supported.

Image: Gareth Morris

There are plenty of things fashion bosses ought to be looking at improving: from their supply chains right through to the materials used for the finished product.

Garment production is extremely water intensive, and run-off from textile dyeing poisons water supplies with toxic chemicals. Day-to-day when we wash polyester items (the most popular clothing material) in the washing machine, fibres wash off and contribute to the build of microplastics in the oceans.  

Elsewhere during the five days, Extinction Rebellion have been holding talks about the fashion industry around London; advertising the Boycott Fashion campaign; and ended on Tuesday with a symbolic funeral procession through the centre of the capital. 

The XR letter to the British Fashion Council outlined a simple message: "We are not shutting down London Fashion Week, we are not ending fashion or creativity, we are not asking for Fashion Weeks to be banned, we are not ending catwalks forever, we are not stopping business, we are not punishing small sustainable brands… But a dead planet will."