Extinction Rebellion Calls on Fashion Industry to Transform Itself

Environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion has released an open letter to the fashion industry, urging it to address the culture of overconsumption and destruction. Its release coincides with Paris Fashion Week, which runs from September 28 to October 6 this year. 

The open letter takes the form of a video, and it uses film footage of shoppers, luxury brand storefronts, and burning apparel set into pictures of deforested land. The narrator, climate activist Tori Tsui, reads aloud quotes from the industry’s own leaders who have, interestingly, spoken out during the COVID-19 pandemic against fashion’s outsized environmental footprint.

The quotes come from Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele (who said Gucci would reduce its number of annual shows), Stella McCartney, Louis Vitton’s menswear designer Virgil Abloh, Paul Dillinger of Levi Strauss & Co, and Caroline Rush, head of the British Fashion Council (which has called for a reset in light of lockdown), among others. While some of those quoted have long been pioneers in working toward more sustainable fashion, the words still reveal that 2020 has been a turning point for many leaders in the industry, forcing them to rethink the status quo and imagine new ways of doing things – words are empty without action. Extinction Rebellion doesn’t want the momentum to be lost.

Furthermore, what industry leaders say does not reflect changes further along the consumption chain, where shoppers continue to be afflicted by a hunger to buy. This is, in large part, driven by the industry’s expert marketing and creation of fashion “seasons” in which new looks must be acquired and shown off for short periods of times. Fashion consumption is expected to grow by 63% over the next ten years. 

Quote from designer Marc Jacobs.
Extinction Rebellion/Fashion Act Now 

From a press release about the letter,

“The Global Fashion Agenda recently reported that on its current path, the fashion industry will miss its 2030 emissions targets by 50%. Despite talks of circularity, the fashion industry is almost totally reliant on virgin resources, with less than 1% of clothing recycled into new. The fashion industry is reliant on fossil fuels with 60% of clothing made from plastic.”

So if there is to be any kind of meaningful, lasting change, fashion industry leaders need to hear their own words echoed back at them as a reminder of what they wanted to do when times were hard. They need to hear their colleagues’ words to know that they’re not alone, that there is widespread support for transformation, and that it’s desperately needed as quickly as possible. 

In the words of Sara Arnold, part of the Fashion Act Now team that released the letter, “We want people to remember what was said during this time of reflection. This is a call for the industry, one meant to be so in touch with zeitgeist, to use their creativity to galvanize fashion’s full potential to save life on Earth.”

Fashion Act Now plans to host a global summit next year at which to discuss the new and improved fashion industry. It proposes:

  • Challenging the economic models that rely on competition and growth and go against the needs of people and planet
  • Presenting irrefutable science to the fashion industry: “Carbon emissions targets set by brands and governments are chronically inadequate, potentially contributing to the deaths of millions, even billions.”
  • Pressuring governments to pass legislation preventing exploitative practices and pollution in fashion so that the problems can no longer be ignored
  • Using activists and whistleblowers to hold companies accountable
  • Welcoming garment and supply chain workers to a broader dialogue so that their needs can be met

You can watch the open letter video here.

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