Should we cancel London Fashion Week?



London Fashion Week is just around the corner and the question I find myself returning to is should we just cancel the whole thing? Similar questions have been raised by Extinction Rebellion who previously asked the British Fashion Council to reconsider hosting the event. In its place, XR proposed an industry-wide assembly which would deliberate on solutions and the future of fashion. The five day-long protests culminated in a symbolic funeral which grieved and reflected on the lives lost in the climate crisis.


XR were likely spurred on by the news that the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled its 28th Stockholm Fashion Week. Organisers shut down the 2019 event to remodel future fashion weeks as more forward-thinking and responsible. More recently, the chief executive of Copenhagen Fashion Week announced ambitious sustainability goals in the hopes of transforming the event into a platform for advocacy. Maybe LFW could learn a thing or two from its Scandinavian neighbours.


As of late, I have an extremely love-hate relationship with fashion. On the one hand, I admire fashion as a craft, as an art form, as a vehicle of expression, as a platform for identity, as a form of employment, as a practice as old as time. On the other hand, I can no longer ignore the rampant labour exploitation and environmental degradation which fashion too often depends on to exist. It’s exactly this love-hate relationship which makes makes me feel impossibly conflicted, so allow me to spill my thoughts on this page and pray for some sort of epiphany.


I’m very, very aware that we’re running out of time. The climate crisis requires radical, rapid, widespread change which the government and corporations are all too reluctant to direct. What may seem rather drastic to some then seems entirely logical to those who believe this emergency necessitates systemic change. And who better to target than the cultural powerhouse which defines the entire fashion calendar?!


Yes, LFW annually secures more that £90m in global media coverage and generates more than £100m worth of orders of new clothes, so there is a lot at stake. The ramifications would certainly be felt industry-wide. But isn’t that the whole point? Are there not much larger things at stake here? The disruption of such a high-profile event has the power to shift the conversation to where it needs to be.

The conversation seems to have gone stale, diverting too much attention to conscious consumerism. What this dialogue needs is more industry voices and greater accountability. So far, the BFC have demonstrated a rather tokenistic approach to sustainability. Lucy Siegle sums this up brilliantly: ‘for many years, LFW ran Estethica, a dedicated wing of the show profiling sustainable fashion. But these designers and initiatives are the exception, not the norm. Elsewhere, the 60 catwalks over six days perpetuate business as usual. This means studiously avoiding talking about the central problem: volume’.


Others would argue that this wrongly points the finger at luxury fashion when fast fashion is the real culprit. It’s true that fast fashion is called just that for a reason as it endeavours to churn out 52 microseasons (!) a year. Surely it's not LFW's fault that within moments, high street retailers have translated runway looks into affordable, albeit stolen, collections (Forever 21, I am looking at you). But when LFW leads the way in dictating fashions trends, they too have something to answer for.

Though, targeting LFW endangers the livelihood of thousands of people, from journalists to artisans. These same artisans - the obvious example being Stella McCartney - can be real forces of change. Here is where my inner-conflict really kicks in. LFW should be championed for nurturing up-and-coming talent, for fostering endless ingenuity and creativity and for displaying the latest innovations from cutting-edge pioneers.


Lucy Siegle believes, however, that the current system does not adequately serve the next generation of design talent. The costs involved to rent showrooms and attract buyers are extortionate (not to mention the thousands paid in fashion degrees). And then there's the exploitation of models, many of which are unpaid. Both will likely 'go home financially worse off than when they arrived.'


While I deeply care for the future of young designers, that future is in jeopardy. I honestly believe in the ability of fashion to redesign its future but I recognise that this change needs to happen now. Cancelling London Fashion Week entirely does not afford this opportunity but neither does its business as usual approach. Taking inspiration from Copenhagen, London Fashion Week needs to dramatically remodel itself as a platform for sustainability awareness and innovation. In other words, they need to lead by example. This would include showcasing sustainable development, encouraging greater transparency, hosting thoughtful round table discussions and implementing measurable, industry-wide goals. The trickle-down effect would be profound.


The likelihood of such a transformation, however, remains up for debate. Sadly, they may act too little too late. Drastic action may be the only means of provoking such change - but I'm not convinced that the notorious XR demonstrations would persuade the industry otherwise.


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©2020 by Melissa Watt.