In this moving interview with XR Boycott Fashion and XR Fashion Action, Safia explores the response of the fashion industry to the “diabolical wake up call” of the Climate and Ecological emergency facing us today.
Below, you will find the transcription of the podcast. If you would rather listen, the links are below:
Talking to Safia are:
Bel Jacobs, member of XR Boycott Fashion team, former fashion editor for Metro, sustainable fashion writer and speaker, climate change and animal rights activist.
Alice Wilby, member of XR Boycott Fashion team , stylist and sustainable fashion consultant and activist focussing on climate emergency.
Sara Arnold, member of XR Boycott Fashion team, founder of fashion Rental Company, Higher Studio.
Hannah Standen, XR Fashion Action and campaigner focusing on sustainable fashion.
I’m Safia Minney . Welcome to the Ethical Agenda Podcast.
Safia: I’m so delighted to have these 4 powerhouse activists, sustainable fashionistas, journalists and media makers with me on the Ethical Agenda podcast this morning.
Bel : My name is Bel Jacobs, I’m a member of XR Boycott Fashion team, former fashion editor for Metro, sustainable fashion writer and speaker, climate change and animal rights activist.
Hannah: I am Hannah Standen I’m a XR Fashion Action and campaigner focussing on sustainable fashion.
Alice: My name’s Alice Wilby, I’m a member of XR Boycott Fashion team , also a stylist and sustainable fashion consultant and activist focussing on climate emergency.
Sara: Sara Arnold, I’m also on the XR Boycott Fashion team, and I’m also founder of fashion Rental Company, Higher Studio.
Safia: We have seen some huge moves over the last 8 months. We have seen the Swedish Fashion Council cancel the Stockholm fashion week; I would love (later) to read the statement that the CEO gave when she committed to that. The backdrop is that we are facing a climate and an ecological emergency and every industry has to respond. We are here to talk about fashion’s response and particularly what happens next week at London Fashion Week. I‘ve got members here from XR Fashion Action and also Boycott Fashion. It’s going to be a very interesting debate today. Lovely that Bel, Sara, Alice and Hannah have joined me here today.
So we’re currently consuming 100 billion garments a year, that’s about, just over 11 garments for everybody on the planet today, but we know that’s vastly skewed to consumers in the so-called developed world. We’re consuming fashion and paying little more than the price of a lunch for it in many cases. We have a huge level of pollution of micro fibres, more than 40% of microfibres that pollute 83% of our tap water in every region of the world now comes from the fashion industry and it’s generating about 7% of total global emissions and set by 2030 to generate 25% of global emissions. Now clearly something has to change quickly. I think it’s incredibly interesting and exciting that XR have asked the curators of London Fashion week, the British Fashion Council, to really rethink everything they do and stop London Fashion Week this September 2019. Alice can you tell me what’s happened and what response you have had from the British Fashion Council.
Alice: We’ve had a very positive response from the British Fashion Council (BFC) overall and they understand the position we are in. Unfortunately they are running a business and we have pushed with a very big ask, which was the cancellation of London Fashion Week, to be replaced with a platform to tell the truth about the ecological crisis we are in and to provide space for People’s Assemblies so that the people can come together and have a clear conversation about what we feel as an industry we can do to combat the climate crisis that we are in.
Safia: Extinction Rebellion, I know this isn’t the first London Fashion Week. (LFW) I understand Sara you were there for the last LFW and you did make it quite clear that you wanted a new response from LFW. What did you do in February?
Sara: So in February we wrote to the BFC and asked that they use their influence to make this crisis known. Culture has a responsibility in a time of crisis to reflect the situation we are in. We are in this mad place in an absolute emergency and yet if you were plonked into the middle of LFW you’d think that everything was just fine, there’s people celebrating excess and consumption.
Safia: That’s far from the truth isn’t it. We are looking at maybe, 18 months at most to really change significantly the way that industry responds. When you talk about that misrepresentation of the reality of the situation – you know, it wasn’t long ago you’d have Mercedes running people around and celebrities sitting front row on huge tickets 40, 50 thousand pounds, so we need a completely different approach is what you’re saying . What did you do in February.?
Sara: In February we swarmed Roads, which is XR talk for blocking roads, to slow down the traffic. As you said, people are driving around in these sponsored Mercedes fashion week cars, so we were slowing them down so it took longer to get from one venue to the next. It’s really about when you stop people in their flow from one place to another they have to pay attention.
Safia: So they are probably quite irritated in the beginning, but things have changed a lot haven’t they in the last 6 months. We have 80% of people in the UK suffering some level of climate anxiety and awareness that is quite extreme actually we have 200 councils that have declared a climate emergency and the UK parliament has declared a climate emergency but the action hasn’t yet followed has it?
Sara: Yes so last fashion week was a kind of warning and this fashion week we have upped the ask. We’ve asked for a cancellation. We’ve already given the warning, now we’re asking for a cancellation. If we carry on into next season then we are producing clothes, those orders that will be placed during fashion week next season will be produced in 2021 and we have been told that we have until the end of next year to completely change our course, so what are we doing if we carry on as usual into next season? and that is why we’ve asked.
Safia: So there’s a real urgency to this clearly, but London has always been this cultural centre, this creative centre. When we look at LFW we see it comes from the 80s it’s a very old model, it probably is in need of a huge reinvention, and it sits very much in a capitalist model where we thought we could go on creating and plundering the earth’s resources and building an industry on slavery and clearly that isn’t sustainable is it? So we have to think of the new cultural way of making this message come out of London Fashion week. Hannah, what will you do in terms of the protests, what’s planned for LFW?
Hannah: So we’ve got something on almost every day of LFW. We’re doing something called the “Ugly Truth” we’re basically taking the idea of advertising in fashion and slogans and we’ve created our own set of slogans which we’ll be putting on to t shirts and rebel corporate attire. So we’ve got a few slogans such as “no fashion on a dead planet’ “Fashion=ecocide” and “Don’t buy cool shit make shit cool”
We will have people running around and swarming and making some noise and calling attention to these ugly truths in the fashion industry at certain shows and after parties.
Safia: These slogans, are these being block printed or printed onto existing garments rather than making new garments? How exactly are you going to communicate those messages?
Hannah: So we got a donation of a lot of T-shirts from charity stores and we’ve been block printing for the past few weeks. We’re also going to be at the North London Uprising doing block printing and everything is reused and recycled.
Safia: Bel, I’d love to ask you to tell me just how bad the situation is. It’s a tricky thing isn’t it. These are fashion brands and fashion designers – you’ve had a long career in the fashion industry and now we’re really talking about stopping what we’ve been doing for these last decades. I can see that you’ve really covered the evolution of the fashion industry and now you’re looking at it through a totally different lens. How serious is it?
Bel: Well I think Sara really summed up just how little time we have left to bring the planet into a situation where it’s not just catastrophic for our children and our grandchildren but habitable. I think fashion’s role in that has just been … When I was at Metro there was a great sense of unease, the level of press releases and product that was coming my way, it was a complete flood of stuff. So I was there in the early 2000s. It was just ridiculous, you got the sense things were simply being produced in order to create profit and there was no creative connection or psychological connection to the people who were wearing them, it was just imposed upon them. It became really grotesque and I did feel I had to step away from that whole system while I was there. You could feel it individually, that it was excessive, it was like being fed 10 chocolate cakes and then what you crave at the end is a stick of celery. I remember pouring trays of cosmetics into boxes; we didn’t know what to do with the stuff that was sent to me as freebies. So it’s really serious, fashion’s role is too great. One of the things I’ll go back to however, is you said, we are a creative centre and definitely with our campaign we are asking for that creativity to continue to flourish and to identify London as this amazing imaginative centre but to take that creativity in a different direction. So instead of producing constantly, to use our creativity to repurpose what we already have. There are solutions out there, it’s not our place to talk about them, but it is phenomenally urgent, we need to get on with it.
Safia: So really using the creativity of designers, influencers, media makers, for the protection of nature and of people. But what happens to the workers? That’s the other elephant in the room, apart from the huge volume of stuff that barely gets worn and thrown away that is the price of a lunch. We have economies in Bangladesh in Cambodia where a significant portion of the GDP is actually upheld by the fashion industry. What about those workers? because clearly they haven’t made the problem. Their carbon footprint for the year may be less than one tonne when ours is 13 tonnes per year, so clearly they are not the bad guys are they? How can we square that circle?
Sara: Obviously we care deeply about what happens to the workers. Many of them are on the front lines of this crisis. We’ve been emitting all the carbon and doing most of the consumption and the global south are going to be the first affected, they are feeling the effects right now. What we need is a transition of jobs. We can’t just carry on business as usual so that we protect those workers, we provide their livelihoods but ultimately send them to their deaths. We need complete change. That’s why Extinction Rebellion are wanting a Citizens Assembly that will decide on issues of climate justice and this is exactly what that is. So we aren’t here to provide the exact solutions, we are provoking change and that change will come about through government and we would absolutely want to see workers protected.
Safia: Some might call that irresponsible, when we are looking at the economically disadvantaged in the so called developing world, however we are already seeing a huge impact to many of those communities. There are examples where by using hand skills, by using carbon neutral fibres that are organically grown with little water resource like organic cotton when it’s a mixed cropped product alongside organic foods that are consumed by that very family in the community. There are ways that are carbon neutral, but sadly these organic cotton farmers, these hand weavers of which there are more than 10 million in Bangladesh and India, have no platform so that they can negotiate for their 1 tonne of CO2 that they save per year per hand loom or the 1.5 tonnes of CO2 that are sequestered in every acre of land that a farmer farms organically in the developing world. So I think we need to find a new maths, a new mechanism, so that we really are supporting the most disadvantaged people in the developing world.
So clearly we have new economic model that we need to debate and that’s where the call the BFC to start the Citizens Assembly to really bring people from the industry, yourselves included, to debate the future of fashion, it’s such a compelling idea. This is not only about the extinction of the human species is it Bel. This is also about biodiversity and habitat loss. If we look at what’s happened in the Amazon over the last year, 75 thousand fires and many of these not just because of meat production, this is also driven by the leather industry which is feeding into the fashion industry right from the luxury fashion brands to fast fashion. What about the other sentient beings?
Bel: I’m going to read this if that’s ok. “Up to 1 million plant and animal species face extinction within decades within our lifetimes. Because of human activities, the loss of species and habitat poses as much of a danger to the earth as climate change does.” I’m going to quote David Attenborough “this isn’t just about losing the wonders of nature, with the loss of even the smallest organisms we destabalize and ultimately risk the collapsing of the world’s ecosystems and networks of support for the whole of life on earth.” Every time I read that kind of statement I think about the unbelievable suffering that underpins all of our work. The reason why any of us are in this is because, human suffering, animal suffering, is on a scale that is impossible to hold in our heads what’s going to be happening. There are so many horrific things to say about the fires in the Amazon right now but in a way they are the most diabolical of wakeup calls, we are seeing the earth burning in front of us in a way never managed to witness before in this environment. Here on our newscreens there are animals running from fires, corpses of alligators on logs because they have nowhere to run and that’s without even considering there are indigenous tribes with whom no one can make contact now because they are the midst of the fire struggling to protect their land. One of the reasons that the Brazilian fires are also a wake up call, is we starting finally, as we lose these people, to understand they are the true custodians of nature. Their connection to the planet is beyond anything that anyone in this room can express. This is their livelihoods, their lives, their history, cultures, their people, their children and future generations and we are losing them right now. I’m sorry. It is so urgent Saf.
Safia: It is so urgent, thank you very much for your moving contribution. When we realise we have this incredibly short window to change our thinking to shift the thinking and the practice of our business leaders, to really show the kind of leadership and set the agenda for legislation so that politicians will follow. And let’s not pretend that that is the order of things today because we know that business is setting the agenda and those corporate interests are the things that have got us into this huge mess. There are words that come to mind and we need to be conscious of the shock, despair and terror, of the denial and the depression and anxiety that many of us feel when we think about what’s happening to this beautiful earth that sustains us and the miracle of life that we enjoy when we go out for a stroll and we see just how nature is sustaining us and the food basket that we are so reliant on.
I’d like to ask Alice who’s been a stylist for a long time and has really helped to try to bring the message out and engage people in a new way of doing fashion. What could it look like? We’ve had Christopher Rayburn, Bethany Williams, Vinanomi, some really exciting brands that have tried to encapsulate and promote a new way of talking about fashion. What will some of the new roles look like in the fashion industry? Will they be a little bit like you? Will they be an activist as well as a stylist? How will those roles look in the future?
Alice: It’s a really interesting question, and I’m going to answer with my own hat on rather than an XR hat, as we are not in Extinction Rebellion in the mode of giving solutions. Personally having worked in the industry for a long time. As Bel mentioned what we are witnessing now is unprecedented, it is time for a huge cultural shift and a very matter of fact answer is we are not entirely sure what the future is going to look like, what we are here and asking for is for us all to be given a best shot to come together and create something that can be as positive as possible. One thing I am sure of is fashion’s environmental foot print is huge, detrimental, the pesticides that are sprayed on cotton and the pollution we’re causing through microfibers and the degradation of the earth’s topsoil. We are wrecking our environment just to make clothes we don’t need. We have so many clothes we don’t need; To put it very frankly we have more clothes available to us now than we have time to fix climate change. So certainly I see a future where reuse, sharing, repurposing, upcycling, remaking is very key and I would call to everyone to be an activist and their own stylist and their own creator and with my XR hat on as part of the XR Boycott fashion team this is exactly what we’ve been calling to people to do with the Boycott fashion campaign. We’ve been asking and inspiring people to not buy any new clothing or material for a year. To down tools and work with what they’ve got, go back into in their wardrobes, pull everything out, do a mood board, get creative, get excited about what you already own and treasure what you have already have, reuse. I know that’s not everybody’s cup of tea but there are wonderful options out there, you can hire things that have already been made, you can swap stuff, loan with your friends, shop second hand, we have an amazing, amazing wealth of second hand clothes. As a stylist there isn’t a trend now that hasn’t already passed, we are rehashing, remaking, re-shaping and we are taking direction from amazing creative minds and there no reason why we can’t do that for ourselves. So we do not need to buy anything new at the moment and with the Boycott Fashion initiative, its been going for a couple of months now and it’s going to last all year. The majority of us have already been shopping like this anyway and we get a lot of messages from people who say they’ve been doing this for years either through a passion for the environment, for interest in sustainability or just through the sheer inability to buy new clothing. So I would encourage people if you’re wondering what you can do at the moment and you want to do something and you are feeling powerless in the face of all of this – you used the wonderful phrase earlier on, climate anxiety – we are seeing people, ourselves included, suffering from immense eco grief at what’s happening. The overwhelming situation we are in, the statistics are terrifying. Watching the Amazon burn up, it’s heart breaking, seeing what is happening to biodiversity, it’s heartbreaking, listening to David Attenborough talk and being ignored by parliament, heartbreaking. So back to engaging people, this is an outreach tool. We’re not in the business of offering solutions, the Boycott Fashion is fun, an inspiring thing, it’s a conversation starter, an outreach tool and designed to engage people in a really inspiring way and open this larger conversation about the truth of the emergency we’re in.
Safia: I love the idea that we’ve seen every trend anyway so London Fashion Week will not actually bring us anything new. And the creativity and the movement into solutions is where we need to be pushing. I’d love to finish off Hannah with your telling us how people can get involved with the protests around LFW? What does a funeral mean?
Hannah; So, how they can get involved is we’ve got links on our Facebook, we’ve got events up, we’ll be down at certain shows and after parties within the week of fashion week running from the 13th to the 17th.
Safia: Tell me Bel how can people get involved what exactly is going to happen at this funeral at the end of LFW
Bel: The London Fashion Week actions culminate in a funeral, which will take place at the end of LFW on the 17th September. The funeral is a familiar motif of the Extinction Rebellion action in that it represents a powerful aesthetic, a powerful symbolism. We have labelled it RIP London Fashion Week. It is a putting to rest London Fashion Week as it exists in its current form and we’re hoping it rises out of the ashes in a new creative way. Again it’s not for us to say what that might be, we just urge people to sign up on the Facebook page.
Alice: I’d just like to add that we’re passionate about creativity, we’re all industry insiders in this group and we really need that creativity. London is an innovative hub of the international fashion circuit and we’re calling for transformation, not the end of fashion, but a transformation and a rebirth and a reimagining of an industry that is so powerful and has such an opportunity to effect such positive change in the face of this climate emergency,
Safia: Thank you very much for joining, my lovely peers and associates. The lovely Bel, Hannah, Alice and Sara. The best of luck with all that you’re doing. I’d just like to read you a quick quote from Jenny Rosen the CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council who said:
“The Swedish fashion industry is extensive and growing, so it is crucial to support brands in their development of next-generation fashion experiences. By doing this we can adapt to new demands, reach sustainability goals and be able to set new standards for fashion.
Stepping away from the conventional fashion week model has been a difficult, but much considered, decision. We need to put the past to rest and to stimulate the development of a platform that is relevant for today’s fashion industry,”
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