Ethical Issues on the Runway
Rachel Parker writes about the ethical issues surrounding LFW, and how to move forward.
With its focus on getting the press and buyers lusting after new trends, London Fashion Week would rarely spring to mind as an event concerned with promoting ethical principles. While most people are aware of the issues of poor working conditions and unsustainable production methods when it comes to ‘fast-fashion’ retailers and high street brands, the reality is that exploitative and environmentally destructive practices are often equally common in the supply chains of high-end designers.
Fashion week often seems to only worsen the issue of unsustainability; the showcasing of new pieces accelerates trend turnover, leading to low-cost production and aggravating the problem of clothing in landfill sites. Yet this Fashion Week, there were brands using the catwalk to address ethical concerns and encourage us to consume clothes more consciously.
Fashion For Conservation (FFC)’s ‘Rainforest Runway’ show drew inspiration from the Amazon Rainforest, using collections by designers Rene Garza and Kalikas Armour to raise awareness about preserving the ecosystem and wildlife in this vulnerable area. The collection contrasted Garza’s draped dresses in a spectrum of birds-of-paradise colours and organic shapes against the sharp tailoring and glittering, intricate detail of Armour’s designs, expressing the unrivalled biodiversity and complexity of rainforest ecosystems, and defying any misconceptions of ethical fashion as frumpy and beige.
While the FFC show platformed an important political message, donating proceeds from drinks bought after the show to conservation charities, the collection also spotlighted principles of restoration and regeneration in the way that the clothes were produced. Garza’s collection used remnant and recycled fabrics to highlight the brand’s ethos of eliminating waste from the clothing industry. This element of the show represented a movement towards a more circular textiles economy, in which garments are reused and repurposed rather than treated as disposable.
FFC were not the only designer using the runway to showcase sustainable couture. Experimental design house VIN + OMI featured an innovative range of eco-textiles in their ready-towear collection, including plant-based leather and wools produced from recycled plastics. Meanwhile, Richard Malone continued to promote socially responsible textile production, using fabrics crafted in South India with traditional weaving methods and natural dyes to create the sweeping silhouettes and vivid colour palettes on display in his line.
In a season which saw animal rights activists from the organisation SURGE invade the runway at the Mary Katrantzou show and demonstrate outside Burberry and Christopher Kane, 90 percent of designers exhibiting at LFW confirmed to the British Fashion Council that they would not be using real animal fur within their collections. While there is still progress to be made among the remaining 10 percent, the rapid shift away from displaying animal fur on the catwalk reveals the enormous power of consumer awareness when it comes to ethics in the fashion industry. Ultimately fashion is informed by what buyers want; designers will respond to demands for responsibly produced clothes by creating lines which do not compromise on style or sustainability.
Yet, London Fashion Week also has the power to drive change from the front, by increasing the desirability of ethically sourced clothing. This is something recognised by the British Fashion Council (BFC), whose Positive Fashion scheme promotes sustainable business practices within the industry. As part of the BFC’s Fashion SWITCH to Green campaign, multiple brands have committed to transitioning to renewable energy suppliers by 2020. The BFC also encourages British designers to work with UK-based manufacturers and artisans in order to ensure ethical standards are upheld throughout the production of their clothes.
London Fashion Week’s ability to motivate change throughout the fashion industry could put British fashion at the forefront of the movement towards sustainable innovation, and revolutionise the way we consume clothes on a global level. Offering a platform to designers pioneering sustainable solutions, the event is an opportunity to promote brands whose social and environmental policies are as up to date as their clothes. With its huge power over creatives, retailers and influencers alike, London Fashion Week has a key role to play in ensuring that sustainability remains on trend.
Find Rachel Parker on social media with @rachelfrances_
Image credits: From top of article – Robert Jones; Yahya Qawasm