The end of London fashion week was somewhat sombre on Tuesday evening. It culminated in Extinction Rebellion’s funeral march calling for the event to end in its current form, with the group criticising the clothing industry as a major offender in the climate crisis.
Extinction Rebellion kept to the drama of which fashion is so fond. Starting at Trafalgar Square, a group of about 200 people – some in funereal outfits complete with black veils – gathered around two black coffins. “RIP LFW 1983-2019” read one, while the other simply said “Our Future”. They were accompanied by a live band as they made their way up to 180 The Strand, a venue that hosted fashion week shows.
Here they laid the coffin down, with participants throwing flowers on it. A speech urging the industry to bring an end to a system where each season means new clothes was perhaps less well received.
The crowd also stopped outside the flagship store of H&M, a giant of fast fashion. Safia Minney, the founder of Fair Trade clothing company People Tree made an impassioned speech about how fashion needed to change its ways. “I’m calling on London fashion week to have the courage and the strength to change everything it does,” she said, while behind her, standing hands outstretched, several young people dressed in red robes.
The protesters were mainly young. Mohan Keryk, 17, said the action was the start of things to come: “We have to continuously be active. We need the change.” Tolmeia Gregory, 19, who described herself as an environmental activist and sustainable fashion blogger, said: “There’s a big mindset shift that needs to happen. It’s an emergency, but a lot of people aren’t there yet.”
The group maintains that it appreciates the creativity of fashion. This was certainly clear by the outfits on display – one young male protester wore a police officer’s helmet, high heels and gloves with crystals, and another had a picture hat and floor-length black cape covering their face, decorated with only sunglasses.
Earlier in the day, the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion initiative – which focuses on sustainability, diversity and human rights – hosted a panel discussion. The event was standing room only. Experts including the journalist Tamsin Blanchard, the model and environmentalist Arizona Muse, Extinction Rebellion’s Bel Jacobs and the designer Phoebe English discussed issues around the climate emergency.
The panel discussed how fast fashion was the biggest polluter, with Jacobs commenting she would “love to give the Heading for Extinction talk at Boohoo”. A rental model, growing in scope within high fashion, was mooted as an alternative option for the sector.
Eighteen months ago, English took a two-season hiatus from fashion shows to reboot. “The more you read, the more horrendous the realisation becomes. For a time I was waking up and saying: ‘Why am I doing this? What is the actual point of what I do?’” she said.
“It was an experiment – I was like: ‘I’ll try this thing, and maybe I’ll have to close down.’ But then, I found hunting for the solutions really exciting and reinvigorating.” English argued that the most important objective was “making excess unfashionable”.
The funeral is the culmination of Extinction Rebellion’s actions at London fashion week. They also staged a die-in outside one of the show venues on Friday and a swarm outside Victoria Beckham’s show on Sunday, with protesters holding placards reading “fashion = ecocide” and “the ugly truth about fashion”.
The group is targeting the fashion industry for its actual environmental impact. The United Nations has said it uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined, with a projected 63% increase in the global consumption of apparel by 2030. Extinction Rebellion says the industry also gives the impression that the world is not in a climate emergency.
“Culture is complicit in our destruction, when it should be taking responsibility for people getting their heads around this existential problem,” said Extinction Rebellion’s Sara Arnold .