this is why climate emergency protesters are ‘swarming’ london fashion week
Extinction Rebellion activists are blocking roads around London Fashion Week, demanding the British Fashion Council declare a ‘climate emergency’.
Courtesy of Extinction Rebellion
In response to the planned ‘swarming’ of London Fashion Week by climate emergency activists Extinction Rebellion this Sunday, the British Fashion Council told i-D on the eve of the autumn/winter 19 shows that they “are pleased that we live in a country where we have a right to protest peacefully”. Held just days after thousands of students walked out of school to join the Youth Strike 4 Climate protests across the UK (with the London protest marching on Parliament on Friday, the first day of fashion week), the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters intend to block the roads around the main catwalk venue at 180 Strand in order to disrupt “business as usual”.
“Fashion has immense power. This is a call to action to use that power for meaningful change.”
Speaking to i-D ahead of the protest, a representative for XR said, "I cannot stress enough how much this crisis is a total emergency. We are talking about the extinction of life on earth, depending on what we do now. In an emergency situation, we must question 'business as usual' and 'culture as usual'.” According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, global clothing consumption doubled over the past 15 years, while usage (wear) dropped 36%. “This is not about shaming the industry, but about waking it up to the hard truths of the crisis,” XR say, “Fashion has immense power. This is a call to action to use that power for meaningful change.”
XR claim to be the “fastest growing environmental non-violent civil disobedience movement in history”, with activities in 42 countries and hundreds of thousands of online supporters. The activist group first announced their intention to ‘swarm’ London Fashion Week in a letter delivered to the British Fashion Council on Monday 4 February (both in person and by email to chief executive Caroline Rush). A week later, with no response from the BFC, XR published the letter online and announced details of the roadblock protest. The letter, which you can read on the XR website, asked the BFC to join the Greater London Authority, Bristol City Council and others in declaring a “Climate Emergency”.
“London Fashion Week is a key driver of global trends,” XR wrote in the letter. “If the BFC could use its influential position to tell the truth about climate change, there would be a surge in popular support for climate action,” they stated, adding that, “The industry has the potential to transform itself to be a cultural and creative force that stops the trend of excessive consumption.” And on this, the BFC agree. Responding to enquiries made by i-D, the organisers of LFW said they, “believe that more than any other capital London has an opportunity to be a part of a cultural change around sustainable business practices that put creative product at their core”.
LFW’s first sustainable fashion showcase was held in 2006, and since 2013 efforts have been ramped up through the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative, which has “commissioned research [and] looked at opportunities to develop sustainable practices in the UK, particularly around upcycling, ware and manufacturing,” the BFC said. On Saturday evening during LFW – the night before the protest – the BFC hosted an event to promote “mindful consumerism” through a Positive Fashion partnership with BBC Earth (the team behind Blue Planet) and London label Mother Of Pearl – a brand well-known in the industry for its focus on sustainability and transparency, with a deeply-researched supply chain.
"More than any other capital London has an opportunity to be a part of a cultural change around sustainable business practices."
So, what more do the XR activists want? And what does it mean exactly to “declare a Climate Emergency”? Firstly, XR want to be sure that the BFC fully appreciate the gravity of the environmental crisis; then, they want to see them communicate that to all LFW attendees. Beyond this, the activists are not prescriptive: “We aren't here to provide solutions, but to wake people and organisations up to the problem,” they say. “All energy and influence should be put towards this [cause] as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.”
A day after i-D contacted the BFC for comment on the protest, XR reported that Caroline Rush had contacted them and offered to meet ahead of LFW. The BFC did not respond to i-D’s request for further comment following the meeting, but XR reported that it had been “a productive, friendly meeting” that they hope to build on: “We met Caroline Rush and we’re excited to develop a relationship with [the BFC] where they might use their platform to transform the fashion industry into a vehicle of cultural revolution in service to the planet and all life,” XR say, adding that Sunday’s roadblock protest isn’t a criticism of the BFC’s current sustainability initiatives, but it is about urging them to harness the global trendsetting power of London Fashion Week to create meaningful change.
“But until they do that, we will do our best to transform their platform through protest and disruption,” XR confirm. Plans for their roadblock protest remain unchanged. This action follows on from a bridge-blocking protest in November, when 6,000 people ‘occupied’ five bridges in London, leading to a number of arrests; and it is a precursor to XR’s upcoming International Rebellion (starting 15 April 2019), which intends to “pressure governments to take emergency action on the climate and ecological crisis”.