Ready-to-wake: Should fashion weeks be cancelled?

Upcycled kitten heels by Ancuta Sarca at London Fashion Week

“Wake me up when September ends” are words I’ve heard from editors doing the four fashion capitals in less than four weeks.  

Our eyes are closed to the emergency according to Extinction Rebellion, the movement making non-violent resistance to demand action on climate change. The activists illustrated this with a ‘die-in’ outside the main venue for London Fashion Week, calling for it to be cancelled.  Yet inside, the British Fashion Council (BFC) staged showrooms fully dedicated to ‘Positive Fashion’ and sustainable design.  Of course, a small group of designers aren’t going to shift the wasteful speedy system, but it was a sea change on the press releases previously put out by the BFC, boasting stats like 32,000 miles driven between shows by a fleet of Mercedes-Benz, 20,000 cups of espresso consumed [almost entirely in single-use cups]…The carbon footprint of London Fashion Week was no doubt similar this season, but the tone changed.  

I saw sustainable designer Phoebe English join Extinction Rebellion and others on a panel discussion hosted by the BFC in London.  Gabriela Hearst claimed to host the first carbon neutral catwalk show in New York. Gucci declared its show in Milan and operations, including its global supply chain 100% carbon neutral. Stella McCartney hosted a round-table chat with activists on the eve before her show in Paris. 

These moves and commitments sound positive, but skeptics might say brands are just paying for carbon offsets or that Stella McCartney’s show—claimed to be her most sustainable to date, with over 75% of the ready-to-wear made from environmentally-friendly materials—still falls short, by containing some non-organic cotton.  Still, more problematic, is the sheer volume because speed matters, not just on the high street, but more than ever in the luxury market too. 

When you really take all this in, fashion can feel hopeless.  As former fashion editor, now Extinction Rebellion activist, Bel Jacobs acknowledged on the panel at London Fashion Week: 

“The fashion industry which markets, produces, consumes, disposes at an ever increasing rate. This is not an industry under threat and it’s set to rise by 63% in 10 years time… when you are part of Extinction Rebellion, grief is a large part.” 

The discussion heralded the benefit of slowing down and even stopping, with Phoebe English sharing how she halted production for three seasons to find more sustainable ways of creating and shifting the label away from virgin resources. 

Stockholm fashion week is usually prelude to fashion month, but this year the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled it to give them time to remodel, reach sustainability goals and set a new standard.  Maybe they’ll create something that the global fashion community will demand as much as Scandinavian influencers? 

Many industries are complicit in climate change, and fashion straddles many of them, including mining and agriculture. However, zeroing in on fashion first might be a clever move by campaigners, because collectively and creatively, I believe it has the ability to change and wake others to follow.

Cameron Saul, co-founder of the sustainable British brand, Bottletop also spoke on the BFC’s panel and showcased their #TOGETHERBAND campaign for change.

It is clear that fashion needs to change, not only for the planet, but also to save itself because somehow it feels off right now. What do you think fashion weeks could be if they should be?

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

“we could be the ones to change it all” – Sustainable steps at London Fashion Week

Paolo Carzana, the boy behind this quote and the collection below titled The Boy You Stole was one emerging talent presented in the season that put sustainability top of mind at LFW.  

The British Fashion Council’s announcement that London Fashion Week would be entirely fur-free was just one step, but caring for animals can quickly lead to more environmental awareness if fashion graduate Paolo Carzana’s vegan journey is anything to go by.  At first Paolo went vegan becasue of caring for animals, but now he does it for the environment too and works with planet-friendly fabrics like Pinatex. There is a myriad of aspects in the production of both real leather and leather alternatives that can cause harm to animals, people and the environment, but Pinatex (a textile made from reclaimed pineapple leaves that would otherwise be wasted) arguably ticks multiple sustainability choices at once.  

Beneath the vegan fabrics and vegetable dyes, Paolo’s graduate collection (pictured below) was also a comment that the government controls us like puppets with models swamped by clothes and freaky figures that shadowed over them on the catwalk.

Multiple tabs with Celine reviews from Paris Fashion Week were shadowing over this post as I tried to focus on writing about my delights from LFW… Hedi Slimane just showed his first collection – after stepping into Phoebe Philo’s furry sandals – as Artistic Director of the French fashion house Celine.  I allowed myself to digress because it turns out Hedi Slimane and the next designer that caught my eye in London both count Lady Gaga among their fans…

Cassandra Verity Green manipulated plastic waste to create bags that explore early existence with the digital world to comment on today’s excess and create future artefacts in handbags designed to be treasured.

The question on many lips right now is what did Hedi’s Celine give us to treasure? See the collection on NOW Fashion to decide for yourself.

He rebelled against the current move towards inclusiveness and cast very young, mainly white models, yet opened up the new menswear line to women with sizes that will cater to their bodies too. It is impossible to ignore Hedi’s power to make big changes with a CV that notes transforming the image of male sex appeal through skinny tailoring at Dior Homme almost 20 years ago to the recent shift in Saint Laurent.  But right now, with such a deviation from feminist design it is hard to appreciate the change at Celine as it feels like a step backward.  

On a positive note –  here are some other favourites under London Fashion Week’s Positive Fashion initiative that are definitely pushing the path for change forward. 

Paradise Row 

E.L.V Denim

Davy J 

Wires  

Last fashion week I was doing my Six Items Challenge for Labour Behind the Label so this time I was free to step out in anything. Above, wearing a vintage Bay Trading dress and vintage Daks jacket, ’80s Persol glasses from Spex in the City, boots from my days working at Gucci & bag by Muuñ.

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

 

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 7 and 8

I saw the Queen yesterday (the day I wore jeans).  More on that later as I didn’t have the energy to write last night.

This morning my friend made me chuckle with a link to an Inc. article – Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day

You see by wearing the same thing, or roughly the same thing, they increase productivity by reducing their daily decisions.  Take the likes of Dr. Dre (only wears Nike Air Force 1) Obama (only wears grey or blue suits) and Steve Jobs, who became known for his black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance combo.  The entrepreneur/author of the article, Craig Bloem rarely strays from Levi’s 513 and Lululemon jackets himself.  I am, by total coincidence doing my American techie look in Patagonia and pre-loved Levis.

Here’s how Craig Bloem’s advice stacks-up for successful women and what I’ve learnt from the Six Items Challenge so far.  Intertwined with looks from the Richard Quinn show that the Queen (and I) attended. 

“You’ll waste less time.

I hate wasting time. Having a regular uniform makes it quick and easy to get dressed. Rather than deliberating for five or even ten minutes, I can grab my outfit, throw it on, and get started on the more important things on my to-do list.

A go-to outfit also saves loads of time shopping. You know what you’re looking for and can get right to your favorite store. Or better yet, if you know your size, style, and color, you can order everything online — without the annoyance of sending back returns.”

…Or the environmental impact of all those online shopping shipments.  Okay, I’m with him there and I’ve definitely saved time which is great on early mornings during a crazy-busy work schedule.  I don’t miss it yet, but the deliberating can also bring delight when you’re enjoying a try-on session for five, ten, or even 30 minutes.

“2. You’ll save brainpower.

As Obama said in an interview with Vanity Fair, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

When you wear the same thing, you’re one step closer to avoiding the distraction of trivia. It takes no thought to get dressed in the morning. You can channel all that decision-making power directly into growing your business.”

It definitely depends what your business is.  I am sure Queen Elizabeth examined her skirt suit before the surprise stop at London Fashion Week.  However, it is true that many fashion icons have go-to shapes, styles and colours that they return to again and again – just like American Vogue Editor, Anna Wintour who was wearing her signature colourful prints, neutral boots – most likely Manolo and big sunglasses whilst sat next to the Queen at Richard Quinn’s show.

“3. You’ll always feel good in what you’re wearing.

If you choose your clothes for comfort, they’ll always feel good. If you choose them for style, you’ll always think they look good on you (even if others disagree). Either way, you’ll feel good about what you’re wearing. It’s an automatic confidence boost.

I constantly get made fun of by my friends and family for wearing the same thing, but it works. See if it could work for you.”

I don’t normally document my outfits, but I have to say it’s quite useful to see if an outfit is working the way you thought it was in the mirror.  If it’s true that on average we make 35,000 decisions a day then saving brain power with less sartorial decisions might be worth a try.

I don’t think you have to wear the same thing every day, but knowing your wardrobe, knowing go-to combinations and actually wearing everything in your wardrobe could arguably be the uniform for success.

Lady in lavender – the back of Fashion icon Erin O’Connor MBE

©Photographs Reclaimed Woman

 

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 6

Wore my M-24 backpack made of used truck tarpaulin to the Designer Showrooms today.  Fashion week has a growing number of sustainable brands and stands – one being The Sustainable Angle, a not for profit organisation dedicated to projects that promote sustainable practices throughout the fashion supply chain.  In collaboration with model Arizona Muse, they showcased how fashion sustainable materials can be.

The gold dress and skirt were designed by Arizona herself with Georgie Macintyre and produced in Piñatex – a pineapple leather made from the leaf fibre.

All designs in their exhibition were realised in responsibly produced sustainable materials like this organic cotton smiley sweatshirt by Edeline Lee and the Tencel pieces below by Felder + Felder.

Other innovations included silk that doesn’t require killing silk worms in the process and bio-degradable sequins – a sparkling case for the fact that sustainability is not a passing trend, but an urgent call for action in fashion.

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©Photograph Reclaimed Woman

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 5

I met a fashion journalist from Spain the other day and we joked that even if it means crossing the road, stopping to soak up every moment of sunshine is essential to make it through the grey months in London.

Fashion week might be all about autumn winter collections, but at this moment my mind was on summer hols to Seville.

I probably wouldn’t have worn a scarf in my hair if I hadn’t been doing the Six Items Challenge, which is definitely demanding I think outside of the box with accessories, and this morning sent me deeper into my shoe box of silk scarves.

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©Photograph Reclaimed Woman

 

Six Items Challenge : Day 4

My days are all messed up.  It’s the second day of fashion week, but it is in fact the weekend, so Saturday feels like Tuesday, but it’s also masquerading  as Thursday – on this, the forth day of my challenge.

Despite setting my alarm for 7am on a Saturday, I knew exactly what I was wearing so I felt good this morning; the kind of good where your street feels like a catwalk.  Casually strutting off to the showrooms, little did I know a day of wardrobe malfunctions would follow.  First my tights laddered less than 30 minutes in, then I bent over and a designer politely informed me that this raincoat I’m wearing as a dress has a rather high vent.   So I’m down to five (appropriate) items to get me through the next six weeks…at least I’m prepared with a rainproof option if March brings spring showers.

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Six Items Challenge : Day 3

It may be day three of my challenge for Labour Behind the Label, but it really only got challenging today on the first day of London Fashion Week.

For some reason it felt like my first day at school.  Perhaps it’s because when you’re a kid you get away with wearing your favourite green dress again and again, but as adults, and particularly women, we are encouraged to reinvent ourselves on the regular.   Perhaps it felt like school because this task is teaching me about my approach to fashion and encouraging me to question: “What do I want my wardrobe to be when I graduate in six weeks time?”

I chose both the ’50s dress from Gabriele Vintage (pictured above) and the Gap raincoat that doubles as a dress as my 5th and 6th items – editing out another dress instead.  The rules state that you are allowed one coat on top of your six items, so mine is this pre-loved Celine jacket from Vestiaire Collective. Boots are from my local Trinity Hospice.

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©Photograph Reclaimed Woman

 

My fashion fast to fight fast fashion

I have pledged to only wear six items of clothing for six weeks – starting just before London Fashion Week

 

If it takes a collective to make a fashion, it takes collective action to end fashion abuse.

The Six Items Challenge is a campaign created by Labour Behind the Label to raise money for a not-for-profit workers’ cooperative that supports garment workers to improve their working conditions.   

 

Labour Behind the Label do not advocate boycotting brands as this can have a negative impact on workers, but they do want fashion consumption to slow down to ease the constant pressure to produce more.  The Six Items Challenge is designed to highlight the speed of fashion, where it is common for brands to change their stock every four to six weeks.  The event takes place from 14th February till 29th March 2018 – covering Valentines Day, London Fashion Week, and Lent. Ethics are an increasingly fashionable issue, but no matter what fashion means to you, these dates resonate for many of us and encourage reflection on a consumer society.

We often know nothing about a garment’s origin, however a garment has many stories sewn into it throughout an often complex chain of activities.  From secret labels protesting unpaid labour stitched into clothing by workers at the Bravo Tekstil factory in Istanbul to less visible stories of people fuelling the fashion industry earning poverty wages, each item has its own story.  A small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of my Six Items Challenge and will no doubt help me appreciate the abundance in my life.  
 

It is easier than you think, as the Six Items Challenge allows for an unlimited number of shoes and accessories, socks, underwear and pyjamas.  Good news for shoe people, aka me, but bad news for those looking for an excuse to let the new year gym membership lapse, aka me, as the challenge even allows performance clothes to maintain a fitness regime.  The rules also permit me to pick one coat as an extra item because it is winter.  Those that are good with a sewing machine, aka not me, can make the most of even more choices through customisation.  I personally welcome the freedom from too many choices and that common feeling of a wardrobe full of clothes, yet nothing to wear.

So, which six items will substitute for an entire wardrobe?  My diary events during the 6 weeks and advice from capsule wardrobe advocators are running through my mind. Even Caroline Rector behind the blog Unfancy allowed herself 37 items during a 3 month capsule experiment to curb her shopping habit.  Sadly strategising ways to maximise my outfit options, I realise that if I choose a suit (which counts for 2 items) I will not, shock horror have enough combinations to avoid repeating an outfit during the five days of London Fashion Week.  That is, unless I go shirtless under my suit and stick to dresses and jumpsuits for my remaining 4 items. 

Okay, enough about my trivial dilemma, when this challenge supports the belief that no-one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap t-shirt.  

Founded in 2001, Labour Behind the Label is the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.  Researching and lobbying in support of workers, it campaigns for people across the world that face the daily grind without basic human rights – ranging from the lack of a living wage to working in fear for their life. Labour Behind the Label is instrumental in pushing UK retailers to sign agreements such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which ensures Rana Plaza victims receive long-term compensation. Beyond the fatalities that make headlines, it campaigns against the systemic exploitation in fashion. 

It is not too late to join the fashion fast, and whether you are taking part or supporting, Labour Behind the Label encourages all of us to think about the story we want our clothes to tell.  How we consume shapes our connection with clothes and with faster, cheaper fashion it is unsurprising that garments have lost their value.   Disposable fashion not only puts pressure on manufacturing and the planet, but also on the consumer to constantly change their look.

Before the emergence of trendy teen shops in the sixties and seventies, people often made their own clothes. My mum still describes the genuine pleasure she got from, one – her going out top, two – her jeans, three – her maxi dress, four – the cheesecloth shirt she found at Kensington market, five – her brown velvet jacket, and six – the silk blouse hand-me-down from her mother.

This is of course a new time, and six items is very different in the age of Instagram, but if garment workers had as many eyes on their stories, it would surely bring about a lasting change in fashion.

 

Sign up for your own Six Items Challenge  before 14th February 2018

© Photographs Reclaimed Woman and courtesy of Labour Behind the Labour