Climate change and the fashion industry

“Buy less, choose well, make it last”- Vivienne Westwood

With the last five years being the hottest since temperature recording began over 200 years ago, its no secret that global warming is a vast environmental issue effecting humanity. The recent passing of Earth Day on the 22nd April 2019 revealed the stark reality of climate change and the unavoidable fact that as a species, humans have a  99.9% chance of being the cause of the problem. 

Five individual data sets tracking the Earth’s climate show that average temperatures over the first ten months of 2018 were 1.8 degrees above what they were in the late 1800’s; when large scale industries first began emitting harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. CO2 levels are up 46% since before the industrial revolution, contributing to the greenhouse gas effect mainly caused by human burning of fossil fuels. These warming effects have led to polar ice caps melting and the loss of 390billion tonnes of ice from glaciers per year, resulting in sea level rising by an inch in just the last 50 years alone.

It is clear that climate change is a growing issue that the general public want to tackle. Widespread demonstrations in protest have been seen globally in past years. More recently the work of teenage activist Greta Thunberg has caught the attention of the media and more importantly politicians as she tells them “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in the answers that will allow you to carry on as if nothing has happened”. She inspired the School Strike for Climate Change Movement which saw millions of children across six continents sacrifice days of their education in protest of the lack of direction and action to further prevent global warming.

Early strikes has been conducted in 2015 by an independent group of student who encouraged others to follow their lead and skip class on the first day of the Paris Conference to present their demands of facilitating 100% clean energy, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and helping climate refugees. With the leadership of Thunberg the movement has grown to an international status with widesread recognition.

The existance of these movements show that young, emerging generations have a deep-rooted investment in combating climate change. Therefore it is important to consider their preferences in fabric, design and message when creating new trends and concepts to ensure they appeal to a new, more conciencious consumer.

Consumer demands within fashion for more sustainable products has also been on the rise. While there is a risk that ‘sustainability’ is the new buzz word within fashion and brands slap it on their products to increase sales and give the impression of being environmentally ethical, the fact that so many high street brands as well as high end brands are creating sustainable lines proves that their is a real demand for it. 

In 2018 Burberry faced extreme backlash for burning £28.6Million worth of clothing a perfume as consumers made it clear that they were unhappy with their practice. LFW’s announcement to ban real fur received great support as people become more aware of the effect of fashion on animal species, coupled with a rise of veganism in recent years it is fair to say that consumers want more cruelty-free products in both luxury and high street markets.

Sustainable clothing is set to move from the margins to the mainstream as brands such as ASOS, ZARA and H&M continue to grow their Conscious, Eco Edit and Join Life collections with the introduction of more organic cotton and new fabrics made from recycled materials and plant matter. Packaging has been re-invented with the brand High Hope Clothing using biodegradable bags and inner-sleeves made from potatoes to allow for easy and responsible disposal into household food waste bins. While initiatives such as upcycling clothing from previous seasons is growing in popularity with brands such as Good Karma adopting the idea as well as many fashion influencers promoting the notion of capsule wardrobes and only shopping seasonally for essentials.

Statistics from Netflix show that after one month of being released David Attenborough’s Our Planet Documentary will recieve over 25 million views. These figures, as well as people’s reactions to the documentary on social media show that collectively people do care deeply about the effects of climate change and are inspired to make lifestyle changes to help prevent it. Twitter reactions to Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secret saw people vow to change their shopping habits as their eyes were opened to the catastrophic impact of unchecked cotton farming.

Charities have partnered with organisations and popular events such as festivals to help increase awareness of climate change and the impact the general public can make with just small steps. Surfers Against Sewage and the RSPB worked with Boardmasters festival to raise £120 thousand worth of donations and repurpose 20 acres of land to protect local bird species, beach cleans during the festival also saw 1.5 tonnes of waste collected by ticket holders. Airbnb also offer opportunities to participate cleaning up the historic canals of Amerstam through their experiences page.  

The popularity of these organisations and their growing reach and impact shows that people are less inclined to attend events and book trips purely for self-indulgent reasons but also want to give back to the environment and play their part in reducing environmental issues. It proves that climate change has become a widely accepted topic and a part of everyday life and that people expect to see its effects in their daily lives and therefore don’t mind incorporating charity work into their leisure activities.

Within the fashion world Vivienne Westwood is a pioneer for championing climate change issues. Her AW19/20 LFW show saw the UK director of Greenpeace, John Sauven vow to “save the arctic from motherfuckers like Shell and Putin”. In October 2018 she took to the streets with protesters in Lancashire to mock Theresa May’s dancing and oppose the government’s ruling to allow fracking to proceed on the site. In 2015 she had spearheaded a demonstration in London cradling a ‘limbless, radiation-scabbed fracked baby of the future’ to declare that “we have to stop the destruction”. Her SS16 Red Label Collection which followed turned into a protest march as models carried banners reading ‘fracking is a crime’.

Her public standing and the platform she holds has forced people to pay attention to her message and consider the impact that humans and large corporations have on our planet.  She has proved that fashion and environmental issues belong together and one is the cause of the other which must be re-assessed. Her shows tell a message and her clothing spreads awareness wherever it is worn.

I hope you enjoyed this slightly longer post on an issue which I feel strongly about and wanted to share.



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