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What Is The ENVIRONMENTAL Cost of Fashion Week?

February 03, 2020

Fashion shows are not known to be the greatest examples of moderation and sustainability. A fleeting fifteen minute show in London or Paris in a spectacular venue is likely to involve thousands of international flights, tons of plastic, invitations, flowers, decor and flashing lights. Yet in the wake of the climate crisis, could 2020 be the dawn of an eco-revolution in the fashion industry?

First of all, consider the extensive carbon footprint generated by the shows organized across major cities. When it comes to assessing the carbon footprint of a fashion show, “there just aren’t any resources”, said Maxime Bédat, founder of The New Standard Institute.

There are reportedly 40 fashion weeks taking place all over the world each year, and when you consider that 125,000 people attended the last New York Fashion Week that means if just a quarter of attendees took international flights they would produce over 28,000 metric tons of carbon.

Shows require clothes and that means hundreds of garments are manufactured solely for the purpose of promotion. Yes, some may end up in press sales but is all this extra production necessary? In fact, just how necessary are fashion weeks in the digital era?

Secondly, multiple catwalk shows not only perpetuate the idea that it’s all business as usual but encourage overconsumption patterns fuelling fast fashion culture. There is huge pressure within the system overall to create always new garments, new styles, new prints.

The shows themselves pose one of the biggest issues in cutting back on the current models of production by only celebrating clothes when they are new. In addition to the logistics and resources that go into the actual shows, the social impacts are swept under the carpet. Designers and models are often disillusioned with the current system. And this is where the heart of the problem lies; fashion has a deep rooted resistance to change and systematic change is what’s needed to move towards sustainability.

There is hope on the horizon: the Swedish Fashion Council shut down last year’s 28th Stockholm fashion week until a time where it can truly be sustainable. Around the same time, French President Emmanuel Macron presented a ‘Fashion Pact’ at the G7 Summit. It outlines three sustainability goals in the form of reworking supply chains, using organic materials and promoting upcycling, and is supported by some of the top luxury fashion houses. The same fashion houses, however, are also still staging  excessive shows between two to six times each year.

Vegan Fashion Week in Los Angeles is leading the way by supporting local designers to reduce the level of transportation needed. Founder Emmanuelle Rienda is not allowing vendors to bring extra lighting, as they are trying to use less electricity. They also rent all of the furniture so people aren’t transporting it to the event, and trying to keep it minimal. Also, they claim to be plastic free, which is a great starting point for any event.

The prospect of cancelling fashion week no doubt seems far too extreme when you consider that London Fashion Week alone garners more than £90m in global media coverage and generates more than £100m in orders each year.

To sum up, it seems that the industry  is starting to make strides in the right direction. Whether this will be enough in the face of the current climate and ecological emergency remains to be seen. All we know is that without significant effort the textile industry will account for one quarter of global carbon emissions by 2050.

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