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Urgent change demanded at LFW eco panel

Industry insiders said the sector must take “immediate action” to make fashion more sustainable, during the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) Positive Fashion panel discussion yesterday.

Moderated by fashion journalist Tamsin Blanchard, panellists included environmentalist and model Arizona Muse; Bel Jacobs from climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion; Cameron Saul, founder of Bottletop Foundation, which provides education and training for young people; and sustainable fashion network Common Objective’s CEO, Tamsin Lejeune.

Although they agreed that this season’s London Fashion Week (on 13 to 17 September) had shown great progress towards “positive fashion”, the panel were unanimous that there is still a long way to go and that businesses must come together to help turn sustainability “from niche to norm”, Lejeune said.

She added: “Common Objective’s mission is to drive best practice and make sustainability more desirable. London Fashion Week provides a great opportunity for address the topic and raise discussions with people who share the same goals in wanting the industry to become more eco-friendly.”

Designer Phoebe English, who returned to LFW this week with her eponymous brand after three seasons out to focus on making her label more sustainable, agreed: “This is our most sustainable show yet. It has been a lot of hard work, researching, rethinking our entire business model and disregarding everything that we have done over the past eight years since we launched.

“We disregarded all of our old suppliers and started the business from scratch. We’re not in a perfect place and I don’t call Phoebe English a sustainable label – we are a label striving for best practice.

“Although my work is extremely rewarding, we are a tiny business and I can’t achieve change on my own. Without the help of the industry, fellow designers and fashion businesses, my efforts are futile.

“The government does not have the systems to pioneer the change that we need, or quick enough, and it’s not their key focus. Sustainability must be at the forefront of every designer’s mind, and together we need to spearhead change.”

Activist group Extinction Rebellion has taken the issue in its own hands and is calling on the BFC to “put an end” to Fashion Week. Jacobs claiming that it will help to “save the ecological emergency that [the planet] is in”.

Despite praising the industry’s efforts and admitting all initiatives are working, she warned they are “not fast enough”: “With the BFC’s support the entire fashion industry will sit up and listen, and we can make a real headway in becoming more sustainable. This is why [Extinction Rebellion] is calling for the end of fashion weeks and ultimately, for the end of the fashion industry as it exists today.”

True to her word, Jacobs – along with the Extinction Rebellion team and around 200 gatherers – held a “funeral march” yesterday afternoon dubbed “RIP London Fashion Week”. The aim, she said, was to “put an end to toxic waste” and transform the “destructive” culture of the global fashion industry.

Rather than terminating the twice-yearly institution, Saul – who launched the Bottletop Foundation in 2002 with his father Roger Saul (founder of luxury label Mulberry) – suggested that BFC creates a platform to support designers and brands working towards sustainability.

“It is critical that businesses come together and work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “There is a rising consciousness around the desire for sustainability and solutions, but fashion businesses need to work together and work quicker to achieve this.”

Muse concluded: “Fashion Week has turned into a capitalist concept that is designed to sell stuff. The creativity has been lost and it is a waste – financially and in terms of productivity – to hold two or four shows each year.

“Change needs to take place across the board and the whole supply chain, and it needs to take place now.”

In the BFC’s newly published white paper, Fashion and environment: an overview of fashion’s environmental impact and opportunities for action, its CEO Caroline Rush said: “The British Fashion Council exists to harness the collective power of the fashion industry to… drive sustainable growth for the sector.

“We know the industry needs to take great environmental strides, but we are encouraged by the adoption of circular business models, the emergence of new material innovations and the energy from our young designer businesses and global powerhouses to adopt policies, communicate transparency and drive change. “As an industry, fashion has the creative power to translate the story on sustainability into a consumer conversation.”

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