We wanted to take some time to reflect on our weekend at London Fashion Week’s Positive Fashion Exhibition, and gather our thoughts to voice why we were part of it.
As a young brand, we were so proud and honoured to be recognised by the British Fashion Council, alongside other inspiring brands leading the way in sustainability. We want to explain our decision and our opinion properly because we know there is a lot of controversy surrounding fashion weeks, especially when paired with the word sustainability.
Positive Fashion Week
So let’s start with what the Positive Fashion Exhibition is. The British Fashion Council introduced the Positive Fashion Exhibition in September 2019 at London Fashion Week to highlight brands who embody how the fashion industry can be a force for change. They say it is, ‘designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change”. The brands showcase their collections in an exhibition for three days during LFW.
This year, the exhibition was led by 3 pillars:
Environment - A focus on environmental and business governance to drive a more sustainable fashion future
People - Represents the people, from the product makers to the staff, students and models who pioneer our brands
Craftsmanship & Community - Supports the talent, skills and elements of craftsmanship that make up our unique industry and have positive impacts on local communities
You can read more about the criteria that needs to be met by the brands here.
Riley Studio Collection 04 Preview
Who were the other brands that took part?
As a curated space, with brands showcasing their stories, we were in good company. Amy Powney of Mother of Pearl launched her #FashionOurFuture campaign, created to encourage people to take a ‘pledge to love your wardrobe and your planet’. Patrick McDowell showcased his eponymous collection, whilst curating a Swap Shop with Global Fashion Exchange. To name a few - Parley For The Oceans, Stay Wild, Helen Kirkum and Joshua James Small were all showcasing pieces as well. On the official schedule, designers that we admire such as Phoebe English and Richard Malone presented their collections via shows.
Many of the Positive Fashion designers view the exhibition as a place to collaborate, share resources and exchange contacts to find solutions together. Collaboration is key to progressing in the right direction.
What’s the Problem with Fashion Weeks?
This is where it gets tricky.
During our climate crisis, there are increasing environmental concerns about the fashion industry, with Fashion Weeks accounting for one part of the larger problem. Last season, Extinction Rebellion called for the cancellation of fashion weeks around the world. Although New York, London, Paris and Milan still went ahead for the current season, Sweden cancelled their fashion week and Copenhagen introduced an extensive Sustainability Action Plan. You can read more about their plan in the article we wrote here.
For many years, it was difficult to measure the carbon footprint of fashion weeks but fashion tech company Ordre.com partnered with the Carbon Trust to try and capture data on the busiest weeks of the fashion calendar. The report, called Zero to Market, measures the carbon impact of buyers from almost three thousand retailers and five thousand designers all participating in fashion month. Over 12 months, the report concluded that the industry emits 241,000 tonnes of CO2 per year from the travel taken for wholesale buying. To put that into perspective, that’s equivalent to the annual emissions of a small country.
Alongside this, the products need to be delivered in time for the shows - often being shipped internationally, the event production is resource intensive and results in significant waste for a show lasting minutes, the lighting and electricity used is extensive and travelling to shows within one city is usually done by car.
But… for designers trying to make a positive change, LFW presents an opportunity to gain exposure and to spread awareness more widely, while interacting with industry insiders. There is no question about it, the industry needs changing rapidly, but the only way this can happen is from the inside, which requires everyone to be educated on the sustainability issues being faced by the fashion industry.
We chose to take part in the Positive Fashion Exhibition for this reason, because we’re committed to educating. We can’t all solve a problem, if we don’t fully understand what that problem is. And while we agree that fashion months need to be drastically changed for the good, we don’t believe they should be ‘cancelled’.
Although production has gone too far and the rise of fast fashion as crippled the planet both socially and environmentally, the core values of the fashion industry act as a reflection of the zeitgeist and it is a huge part of our global culture. In line with that, we can’t ignore that the fashion industry contributes over £32 billion to UK GDP, and it remains a major UK employer with over 890,000 jobs supported across the industry - making it almost as big as the financial sector. Imagine the scenario where this all collapsed.
Despite this, we believe that the only way forward is a fashion industry with sustainability at its core.
What can we do to create positive change?
We need systematic change. It is not an easy task and will require widespread collaboration but we want to lead by example, encouraging other businesses to adopt more sustainable business models. We have listed a couple of steps that could be taken to make a more positive change:
- Combine menswear and womenswear fashion weeks to limit the number of fashion month, and shows
- Develop virtual showrooms and high quality live streaming for those who don’t need to travel
- Host shows close to each other in each city, or in the same venue so that attendees don’t have to travel further around the city, often going in circles
- Use recycled, rented and repurposed production materials and ensure they are given a second life after the show
- Create in depth sustainability action plans, following Copenhagen Fashion Week, including a criteria set out for any new clothes being produced
- Use models/make up artists/hair stylists who are local instead of flying them to different cities
We’d love to hear your ideas and what you like or dislike about fashion weeks!