Campaigners will blockade the Port of Dover on Saturday
Campaigners will blockade the Port of Dover on Saturday

Extinction Rebellion: ‘Why we're targeting London Fashion Week'

'We do not have time to chat about incremental change with high street labels'

Olivia Petter
Thursday 12 September 2019 12:57

As the fashion industry gears up for London Fashion Week and designers prepare to show their new collections to the world, one group is calling for the event to be cancelled.

This summer, environmental activists Extinction Rebellion announced their plea to the British Fashion Council (BFC): scrap London Fashion Week in favour of a summit to address the climate crisis attended by industry professionals.

Given the ecological consequences of fast fashion and the impact London Fashion Week has on consumption, the organisation says a boycott is the only way forward to help save our planet.

Despite their good intentions, critics have argued that Extinction Rebellion should be targetting the high street as opposed to the city’s luxury designers, considering that the former are the ones selling the cheap, throwaway garments that end up in landfill.

“We do not have time to chat about incremental change with high street labels,” says Extinction Rebellion’s Bel Jacobs, adding that the dialogue with fast fashion brands is “difficult and complex”.

“London Fashion Week is a symbolic moment in the fashion calendar and a platform that could reach millions, alerting them to the true urgency of the climate crisis.”

Jacobs went on to explain that simply targeting high street shops is redundant; change needs to come from the top down.

“These brands are deeply entrenched in a destructive system,” she said, pointing to the recent Environmental Committee Audit that identified online retailers Boohoo and Missguided as two of the least sustainable fashion brands in the UK despite their soaring profits.

“This was a government panel and some brands did not reply at all,” Jacobs points out, referring to Kurt Geiger who did not even respond to the committee’s requests.

That’s not to say Extinction Rebellion hasn’t been carrying out actions at fast fashion stores around the world, it has, says member of the organisation’s Boycott Fashion group Alice Wilby.

“But we also believe that in times of crisis, culture must lead the way,” she says. “The London fashion scene has long been a place of innovation and dynamic creative problem solving. It also sets a global precedent and there is nothing more pressing, globally than the climate emergency.”

Wilby clarifies that Extinction Rebellion does not want to put an end to the fashion altogether, but is “simply calling for a response that is appropriate to the climate crisis we are in”.

In order to get their message across, the activists will be taking part in several protests – which they call “swarms” – during the five-day event. These will take place outside key shows and close to the BFC’s main show space at 180 Strand.

The protests will culminate in an “RIP London Fashion Week Funeral March” on Tuesday 17 September, which will begin in Trafalgar Square at 6pm.

“We call on all citizens, including the industry itself, to demand an end to London Fashion Week,” the event’s description reads on Facebook. “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.”

Extinction Rebellion claims that the BFC is fully aware of its plans to disrupt the week and that it has already had a “warm and positive” meeting with them.

“They made it clear that they see London Fashion Week as a platform for cultural expression – and if culture was expressing itself through concern for environmental breakdown, then that was a valid part of the narrative,” Jacobs says.

“But, obviously, we’d like to see so much more from them. As a race, we are – quite literally – facing the End of Days. In that context, no amount of conversation can be enough.”

The Independent has contacted the BFC for comment.

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