From fashion week to fashion future

The Swedish Fashion Council hit headlines this summer when it announced it was cancelling its annual fashion week due to sustainability concerns – with plans afoot to help companies reduce their environmental footprint instead.

And amid the nature and climate crisis, now the pressure is mounting on other cities to rethink their own fashion weeks – which, some fashion watchers say, continue to promote an industry responsible for staggering rates of waste, pollution and emissions.

London Fashion Week, which starts this Friday, is set to see a series of actions from civil disobedience group Extinction Rebellion to denounce the event as out of step with the urgent need for climate action.

Extinction Rebellion met with the British Fashion Council last February to call on it to use its platform to transform the fashion industry into a force of cultural change.

Extinction Rebellion protesters at London Fashion Week in February. Credit: Jamie Lowe

Textile production and consumption causes 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and projections estimate the sector could be responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050.

Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution – the campaign for transparency in the fashion industry set up in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh – said it was time to “urgently redesign [fashion weeks] and upgrade them to become hubs of what fashion needs to be, and fashion needs to be ethical and sustainable”.

And the message that fashion needs to change was even discussed by the G7 last month when it met in Biarritz. French President Emmanuel Macron coordinated a ‘Fashion Pact’ signed by 32 global fashion and textile companies with commitments on climate, biodiversity and oceans.

Some of these companies are part of a group of 90 fashion companies – 12.5% of the global fashion market – that have made 2020 commitments to go ‘circular’ – where waste is reduced to a minimum and materials are used again and again, as part of the Global Fashion Agenda. In July, an assessment of progress revealed that just 21% of the targets have been met.

This summer also saw retailer Zara launch a green charm offensive with pledges to use ‘sustainable’ fibres and recycled polyester in all its collections by 2025, and to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals for all products at every stage of the supply chain. Business of Fashion reports that on average Zara releases 500 new designs a week, 20,000 a year – that’s 450 million items produced a year according to a recent feature on the company in the magazine Grazia.

But while pacts and pledges are nice, industry insiders warn that there also needs to be a standardised approach when it comes to measuring the impact of sustainability performance.

Discussing the G7 Fashion Pact, Qiulae Wong from Common Objective – formally the Ethical Fashion Forum – told Euronews that “we must hold those taking the pledges accountable otherwise it’s meaningless.”

Today European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen – who will take up office on 1 November – announced the creation of a specific Vice-President position in her Commission in charge of a European Green Deal – with Frans Timmermans taking up the post

With the outgoing European Commission naming textiles as the next circular economy priority sector after plastic, it looks likely that Timmermans will be under pressure to ensure action to slash the industry’s environmental and climate footprint is at the heart of a European Green Deal.