My Alternative LFW and the Future of Fashion Month
It’s been a week since LFW and I’ve finally found a moment to sit down and word vomit all about it. This is my first blog post in 2 months because my work and life have been truly mental, but I’m determined to get back in the swing of it because there is just so much to say as we reach the tipping point for sustainable fashion in the mainstream.
This fashion week was different to any other; both for me personally, and for the industry as a whole. While sustainability seemingly sat at the forefront of the outward facing agenda, it was very much business as usual for the majority of attendees. The UK has declared a Climate Emergency, over 60,000 people are taking part in Second Hand September and millions across the world protested the status quo in last week’s incredible Global Climate Strike - therefore fashion was forced to reflect on its impact this season. Extinction Rebellion made their views (TLDR: fashion is ecocide, boycott LFW) abundantly clear with actions across London on every day of the schedule, and even the British Fashion Council, with their #PositiveFashion showroom takeover and panel discussions, had sustainability on their minds - such refreshing news for those of us who’ve been screaming to a brick wall for years - but it was more obvious than ever before that it’s just not enough.
Having attended LFW a few times in the past, running from show to show like a madwoman and reporting back on dozens of collections (here are some examples of my show reviews last year), I too have been reflecting on the destructive levels of production and consumption promoted by these industry events. So I decided to do things differently this season and consume as much ethical fashion content and meeting as many changemakers as possible, joining the conversation on fashion’s ticking time bomb. Read on to see what I got up to and scroll to the bottom for a blast through my thoughts on the future of the fashion week format.
D A Y O N E
First up, I went to the LDC x Sabinna speed networking event. LDC (Lone Design Club) celebrates independent brands by offering them a top notch pop-up space in the heart of Covent Garden, and they hosted a brilliant breakfast with Sabinna, a contemporary conscious fashion brand creating delectable womenswear, made in Europe with sustainability at the heart. I met some great people at the event who are working and study in the sustainable fashion sphere, talked to some of LDC’s designers and had a chance to ‘speed network’ with some industry experts. A great way to kick off the week; and I particularly loved the eco-friendly goodie bags whose contents sat in a tote printed with ‘Fuck Fast Fashion’ - my new go-to conversation starter accessory.
The next stop was Pause Fashion Hub, another pop-up initiative supporting independent designers, this one dedicated to those pushing the sustainable agenda, set within the historic Freemasons Hall, coincidentally Fashion Scout’s old haunt. I was completely overwhelmed (in the best way) by the volume of incredible brands both young and established whose aim is to do fashion differently. I was asked to run an Instagram takeover on the Pause account, so I spent a couple of hours snapping some of my favourite pieces from brands like Pina Studio, Birdsong and Unaji & Co.
Next up, it was time to visit the British Fashion Council showrooms - something I am always interested to vist to discover new designers and gather new contacts and content ideas, for the first time crossing the ‘picket line’ of XR protestors rather than PETA ones - but hear me out. This season, the BFC was themed around Positive Fashion, meaning that as well as a dedicated exhibition of looks from designers like Richard Malone, Matty Bovan and Charles Jeffrey that displayed ‘Craftsmanship and Community’, ‘Diversity and Equality’ and/or ‘Sustainability’, all brands showcasing in the general showrooms had to comply in some way with these values too. I was thrilled to see so much creative upcycling and repurposing happening amongst the new designers and graduates, like Patrick McDowell and Mariah Esa, and the slow fashion, seasonless narrative being pushed by designers like Hanna Fielder. Although, as mentioned before, the BFC need to be doing a whole lot more to ensure all the brands on their schedule and in their showrooms are operating in a truly ethical and sustainable way (ie. not just splashing greenwashed labels on what is essentially still mass produced, over-consumed fashion), I have to say that it’s no mean feat that these themes have finally reached the mainstream on such a big platform, and I had some brilliant conversations with members of the press, buyers and influencers who were truly new to the topic - so this was a gentle introduction to those still operating within the fashion bubble.
Last but not least, before it was time for pints and pizza in Dalston with some friends, I popped by the Sinéad O'Dwyer presentation in the BFC space, which was brilliant. The designer works with 3D silicone moulds of diverse female bodies, creating avant garde swimwear that brings light to the gendered idea of the ‘perfect body’. Models posed alongside a hypnotising film by Steph Wilson; the whole event a refreshing artistic interlude to a week packed with commercial buzz.
D A Y T W O
My Sunday started off with a delightful vegan breakfast sitting opposite Besma Whayeb who I was thrilled to finally meet after being ‘internet friends’ for months. Besma is the incredibly talented ethical lifestyle blogger behind Curiously Conscious, and she also runs Ethical Influencers, the thriving network of content creators working towards a better world, which I’m a proud member of. We chatted about everything from being a digital freelancer to the London fashion bubble, brand and bloggers we’ve got our eyes and loads more.
Next up was another vegan food-centric meeting, lunch with my good pal and regular collaborator Ellie Morag to chat life and careers, then a little photoshoot featuring my third hand outfit of the day, squeezed amongst her hundreds of dazzling street style snaps across London Fashion Week.
I then popped along to the new Fashion Scout HQ at Victoria House for the Harem London presentation. Harem is a brand using traditional Turkish techniques in an East London studio, offering cross-cultural craftsmanship in slow, simple garments. The event was an invitation into the sister designing duo’s world, with Persian rugs decorating the stark white floor, red roses, dates and pomegranate infused gin circulating the guests and minimally styled models reading dog eared books and lounging on said rugs while the fashion crowd bustled by.
Last but certainly not least, I shot to the other side of the city to an impressive WeWork campus for the Prince’s Trust Fashion Futures show. On the roster of young designers being supported by the programme was Aurelie Fontan, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate I met through Fashion Revolution. Aurelie’s work is incredible, with futuristic garments woven from 100% recycled or waste leather, and experimenting with biofabrication (that’s fabrics grown in science labs - magic). She’s one to watch, that’s for sure.
D A Y T H R E E
On the Monday, I attended Supriya Lele’s debut runway show in the BFC showspace. I was excited to see this collection after completely falling in love with the designer’s SS19 presentation last year, and it was truly poetic. The multi-layered nylons, inky, shadowy sheer fabrics and drawstrings that played with subversive dimensions were dazzling. I love her uber-modern approach to ideas drawn from her Indian and British heritage.
Next up were two brilliant conversations - the Helsinki Fashion Week symposium at London’s Finnish Institute was a panel discussion featuring insights from women I hugely admire in the ethical fashion industry, on the topic of creativity’s role in sustainability. Chaired by Evelyn Mora, the famously eco-friendly fashion week’s founder, we heard from Charlotte Turner of Eco Age, fashion journalist Bel Jacobs, Extinction Rebellion activist and Higher Studio founder Sara Arnold, and Dr. Amy-Twigger Holroyd from the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion. My biggest takeaway was the idea that creativity in fashion shouldn’t just mean designing ‘things’ but instead designing solutions to the industry’s problems.
London Design Festival runs alongside London Fashion Week, so I went along to the V&A for an LDF talk by the brilliant Claire Bergkamp, Sustainability & Innovation Director at Stella McCartney. She spoke brilliantly about the issues Stella is trying to solve as a brand, it was a great insight into the luxury side of sustainable fashion, which is refreshing when my little bubble tends to focus blindly on high street brands, letting high-end off the hook. Later she was joined by Georgia Parker, the Innovation Manager at Fashion for Good, and responded really impressively to difficult questions (one of which may have been from me about how the mass-produced fashion system can never truly be sustainable….)
There was also an all day conference at the aforementioned Pause Fashion Hub with talks and panels featuring Patrick Duffy from Global Fashion Exchange, Jeanine Ballone from Fashion For Development, Sophie Slater from Birdsong, Mike Barry from Marks & Spencer and ethical fashion bloggers like Livia van Heerde and Beatrice Turner.
D A Y F O U R
On the final day of LFW, I popped into the Fashion Scout space again to check out the designer exhibition, with some really interesting pieces from independent and ethical brands. I also followed a live stream of the British Fashion Council’s panel discussion with the likes of Tamsin Blanchard and Phoebe English discussing how the fashion industry must must value people and planet over profits as it builds new climate-friendly business models.
Next and unrelated to fashion week, but I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A with one of my best friends, and oh boy it did not disappoint. A total retrospective on the bonafide mother of modern fashion, the retro pieces on show told a completely enthralling story of the boutique movement, the youthquake, the fast fashion system, the supermodel movement, the celebrity collab, the megabrand. I would love to have a conversation with Quant reflecting on it all today at age 85, she truly did it all.
Finally, before I truly collapsed in a heap, I zoomed back to the Strand for the DB Berdan presentation. A collaboration with Smiley, the OG emoji brand, the self-defined queer streetwear label showed an explosion of colour and tongue-in-cheek attitude for this season’s collection, modelled by influencers like the inimitable non-binary activist Jamie Windust on a literal drag race set. It really ended my fashion week with a celebratory bang, espresso martini in hand.
Check out my Instagram LFW stories highlight for a further behind-the-scenes peek into my very alternative fashion week.
Before fashion week, my views on the Extinction Rebellion calls to cancel London Fashion Week were clear - while I admired the efforts of XR to disrupt the fashion schedule to raise awareness of the industry’s impact on the environment and subsequent calls for immediate change, I disagreed with the concept of cancelling the platform all together for various reasons, some of which included:
Cancelling the week’s events would have minimal impact on the environment (travel, garment sampling, set design and single use plastics would be reduced) - the real culprit is mass production both in fast fashion and luxury fashion and the eye-watering levels of waste - and this would continue regardless of London Fashion Week happening or not.
It may hurt the small independent designers, none of which are to blame for the climate crisis, that rely on the platform to make a living through press and buyers.
The vast and influential platform could be used for good - imagine an LFW that was 100% zero waste, partnered with earth-positive NGOs, offset all emissions from travel, had extremely strict rules for all participating brands on carbon emissions, packaging, synthetic fibres, dyes and chemicals, manufacturing waste, living wages and fairtrade - basically a totally sustainable fashion week. To me, that would have a bigger impact, rather than eliminating the platform all together.
It seemed to me like more of a PR stunt - which is certainly no bad thing if it raises public awareness - with no genuine suggestions for solutions (XR’s general view is that they disrupt business as usual to incite demands for change, but it is not ‘up to them’ to offer policies that would create that change).
Activist efforts could be redirected elsewhere eg. directly lobbying the UK government to put sanctions on fashion retailers and manufacturers - rather than demanding something which in all honesty, will not happen anytime soon because its too big and too profitable and too important for the whole UK fashion ecosystem (which thousands of jobs on the line) - unlike Stockholm, who did cancel their fashion week, but this was a comparatively miniscule event.
Now, after reflecting on my time at LFW, I do feel a little more conflicted. While I still don’t think cancelling LFW is the best option, I understand XR’s reasoning - their actions were a display of the urgent need for radical change, showing the BFC and the wider industry that business as usual is not good enough if we’re to solve the climate crisis. Hell, listen to Greta Thunberg’s latest speech to the UN, that’s enough to send your brain into overdrive at the lack of time we really have - incremental change within an existing system isn’t fast enough to halt the 1.5 degree global warming, so perhaps it does take something more drastic to kick our asses into gear.
With key sustainable fashion industry figures like Safia Minney and Clare Press boycotting fashion month, instead protesting online and on the streets, I’ve been thinking an exhausting amount about my role in promoting consumption, no matter how ‘sustainable’ that consumption may be, and how fashion weeks may play an important role in that.
There have been some really interesting takes on the boycott, in many of the talks and panels I attended and in conversations with designers and press at the events, and across the internet.
Here’s some recommended reading, watching and listening, from both sides of the debate:
I think we can all agree that the modern fashion industry is a broken system and something has to change, urgently. Unfortunately, consumer action and even internal industry action is not enough, we need our governments to step in immediately and force businesses to change, no matter how much their profit margins shrink.
Fashion is, at its heart is a positive thing - it celebrates creativity, craftsmanship, innovation, self-expression, collaboration and personal identity. It’s the destructive systems that uphold fashion as a global industry - not an art form (an important linguistic distinction) that we need to never stop questioning.