Often regarded as an industry that turns a blind eye to sustainability issues, in recent years the fashion world has begun to change. With an increasing demand for fast fashion, however, it’s no wonder the industry that’s responsible for over 50 million tonnes of polyester annually has a bad name. Is this well deserved though? Or is fashion, in fact, the key to change?
It’s hard to define what platform fashion takes within society. Though often dismissed by novices as a superficial irrelevant subject, fashion plays a much more important role in our lives than we might think. In recent years, Chanel used its Spring/ Summer 2015 runway to stage a feminist protest with models proudly marching down the runway smiling and carrying huge adorned with powerful feminist slogans. Elsewhere, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collections for Dior have sparked revolutionm with the iconic “We should all be feminists” t-shirts being a favoured item by many celebrities including Rihanna and Jennifer Lawerence. More affordable versions of feminist tees have been made available on the high-street with slogans such as “The Future is Female”, “GRL PWR” or simply “FEMINIST” and have proved increasingly popular.
As well as societal issues, fashion has began to demand change both politically and environmentally, with the tireless Vivienne Westwood using her 2015 London Fashion Week Catwalk to demand an end to both austerity and climate change. With models, designs and billboards exclaiming powerful messages, the fashion industry appears to be leading the way to a more sustainable, ethical and equal life.
However, on closer inspection, how is the fashion industry directly making a difference? How far do brands take note of their own protests? Breaking fashion news, Gucci recently announced it was going fur-free as of 2018, as CEO Marco Bizzarri opened up discussions to younger Gucci interns and workers to find out what they felt Gucci’s younger cliental wanted. It’s clear that, as aware millennials, we can have an impact on the decisions of big fashion houses with Bizzari stating, “Young kids are more intelligent and aware than us”. However the thought that most fashion houses are still using fur (such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Dior, Burberry and Fendi, to name just a few) and the concept of going fur-free is breaking news, seems outdated. With Dior creating great societal demands for change, wouldn’t it be hugely effective if the brand could do this as well as focusing on changes within the brand itself following the path of Gucci?
Vivienne Westwood is a brand and character who has frequently displayed concerns for the environment, from her punk designs of the 70s and 80s right up to present day all calling for an end to fracking, climate change and austerity.
Off the catwalk, Westwood herself has attending many campaigning events, such as thr Easter Sunday protest of 2008 for nuclear disarmament at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire and even featured in a PETA video encouraging vegetarianism for World Water Day. On the surface, this all seems to be leading to an incredible positive outcome for us and the environment. But isn’t Westwood, and many other brands, missing something? Something they could all change with no need for protest on the runway but a psychical, tangible and revolutionary change from the brands themselves? Perhaps they could end the usage of leather.
This is an argument often forgot about, neglected by the protesters who flock to fashion weeks across the globe in protest often against fur. The usage of leather dips under the radar when we think of sustainability in fashion. British designer, life-long vegetarian and advocate of sustainable fashion Stella McCartney, in a video for PETA, is urging designers and consumers to become more aware of the leather industry so that we can make “informed decisions” about purchasing the products ourselves. In the video, McCartney reveals not only the cruel horrors of the brutal leather industry whereby animals are quite literally skinned alive, but also the consequences of the leather industry on the environment. Toxic chemicals are sprayed onto animal skins leading to run off entering ecosystems and food chains, which can lead to harmful cancers in local people. Moreover, just as with cattle farming for food production,huge amounts of water are used to produce a single leather product.
Despite this, Westwood continues to display an array of leather goods such as handbags and shoes on her sustainability driven runways. McCartney has even held talks amongst fashion designers, which Westwood attended, encouraging the end to the use of leather and clearing up any misconceptions about faux leather with her audience. Moreover, McCartney undoubtedly proves that fashion without leather or fur is entirely possible and what’s more entirely credible, for example her iconic Falabella bag which has become a go-to accessory for Sienna Miller, Kate Hudson and Kesha. With Westwood’s constant and keen pursuit of sustainability and other designers such as Chanel, Gucci and Dior keen to bring about some iconic change, perhaps they could start at home and protest in tune with their own houses’ example.