Extinction Rebellion At London Fashion Week - Should We Boycott Fashion?
This past week, thousands gathered to protest at London Fashion Week. And this year, it wasn’t just PETA taking to the streets. Hordes of protesters aligned with Extinction Rebellion united to protest the fashion industry as one of the single biggest global contributors to climate change. So what message were Extinction Rebellion trying to send, and did it work?
Wait back up, who are Extinction Rebellion?
Extinction Rebellion (abbreviated XR) is an international activist movement that uses “non-violent civil disobedience” in efforts to compel the government to act on climate change. XR quickly made headlines on October 31st 2018 when they assembled on Parliament Square. They announced “a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government”. They followed this with sit-ins across five major bridges that span the Thames. While the environmental movement initially received mixed feedback, today they are gaining respect and a global following for their climate activism.
Why Did Extinction Rebellion Boycott Fashion Week?
Extinction Rebellion is calling out the fashion industry as one of the biggest contributors to overconsumption, irresponsible production, and global warming. While fast fashion retailers are often the worst contributors, designers exhibiting at Fashion Week are often considered as a barometer for the future of fashion. Thus, targeting fashion week hit at the heart of the industry, and the need for system-wide change.
XR organised several “die in’s” throughout fashion week that culminated in a Funeral Procession on September 17th. The last day of London Fashion Week. The funeral was a symbolic representation of those who have already lost their lives from the crisis. Also, those who will lose their lives in the future if we do not change our course.
Who Was There?
The protestors were mainly young, but interspersed with some stalwarts of the activist movement. Several notable figures of the scene including People Tree founder and ethical fashion advocate Safia Minney attended. As well as ex-fashion columnist turned activist Bel Jacobs. Both gave powerful speeches in between bursts of the macabre jazz funeral march played by a large band leading the parade.
Minney spared no one as she spoke outside H&M’s London flagship store. She called out governments, brands and the public for not embracing sustainable and ethical alternatives quickly enough. Telling the crowd “We need to reinvent our fashion system! So that we have true value-added. So that people can earn a living wage. And so that the environment…used in our fashion is used with respect and with dignity. We cannot continue producing and consuming 100 billion garments every year.”
Bel Jacobs focused on the climate crisis with a stark warning. “This is an emergency. The Amazon is burning, the Arctic is melting. Both are crucial tipping points that bring us right to the cliff edge of runaway climate and ecological breakdown.”
While the environmental crisis was centre stage, it was clear that fashion was still firmly on the agenda. Many were sporting avant-garde outfits that could have seamlessly transitioned from protest to catwalk. And despite strong calls to boycott the status quo of fashion, Jacobs made it clear that their aim was not “shutting down London Fashion Week” or “ending fashion or creativity” but rather mitigating the extreme negative impacts of the current fashion industry on our environment. Because as Jacobs so simply put, “there is no fashion on a dead planet”.
Our Take on the Extinction Rebellion Protests at LWF
We love fashion, but we certainly don’t love the fashion industry as it stands today. So while we would feel a bit hypocritical saying “boycott fashion”, we whole-heartedly support the activism of Extinction Rebellion, and the awareness that they have raised regarding the unsustainable status quo of the fashion industry today. We also have to commend London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council for embracing change (albeit not quickly enough) by launching their Positive Fashion Designer Exhibition showcasing designers committed to the three pillars of: Sustainability, Equality & Diversity, and Craftsmanship & Community.
Perhaps if the government had been more hands-on in their regulation of fashion giants, it wouldn’t be up to us to lead the change. But for now, it is largely in our hands as consumers to shape the fashion industry. We can do this by showing the fashion community that we value sustainability and ethics as much as style and design. We can vote with our wallets by supporting companies that value our planet. Together we can lead a new chapter for the fashion industry.