Fashion says it gives a shit, we geddit. The greenwashing chorus has reached epic proportions with the majority of brands saying how much they care about the *insert - environment/climatechange/sustainability/recycling/ethical/everything - here*.
The latest round of men’s fashion weeks and trade shows were full of it, but it all feels like tinkering. Fashion brands and companies have done most of the easy and cosmetic cost-saving measures. The difficult and expensive bits will be ignored or pushed onto the back burner unless they are forced to, and this is why legislation is so important. It creates a minimum and also a level playing field for all. It also means, as a consumer, you can be assured that these things should and would be adhered to and what the law is when it comes to these topics. It is a bit Nanny State, but unfortunately it’s the only way to make everybody change and conform. Just look at the tax on plastic bags and also the minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland, it changes behaviours, for the better. Taxes and laws force change and post-Brexit legislation needs to be green focused.
In June 2019, The Environmental Audit Committee published the Government Response to the ‘Fixing Fashion Report: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability’. The report published in February 2019 called on the Government to end the era of throwaway fashion through wide-ranging recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices. All of which were rejected.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP - she has since lost her Labour Wakefield seat to Conservative candidate Imran Khan - said at the time: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The Government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.
“The Government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill. Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”
On workers’ rights Mary Creagh said: “We presented the Government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.
“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour, however the Government hasn’t accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains.”
The report recommended a new ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers. No detail on when EPR scheme for textiles will be introduced; consultation could run as late as 2025. Ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled. Rejected. Government considers positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban. Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million. Not accepted. Government points to environmental savings made by a voluntary industry-led programme but fails to address evidence from WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) that the impact of increased volumes of clothing being sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water.
The fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels. Not accepted. Government points to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), co-ordinated by WRAP with the industry working towards targets to reduce carbon emissions, water and waste. The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not. Not accepted. Govt will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing. The report called on the Government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies. Not accepted.
The rejections go on. The report made 18 recommendations covering environmental and labour practices. Many are these are common sense and could be the catalyst for big changes. Relying on voluntary actions is slower and is harder to measure.
Somebody needs to pick up the mantle from Creagh and force this through a post-Brexit parliament. If the government won’t even accept even one penny on each item sold to make the producer more responsible for the end of life of a garment then it feels like they are deaf to all suggestions until we all start to shout. Creagh MP, told The Industry’s inaugural ‘Fashion Futures Forum’ in Nov. 2018. “Fashion is the third biggest industry in the world after cars and electronics. If it carries on the way it’s growing we just won’t have enough planetary resources.”
It’s Copenhagen Fashion Week, this week, and they are trying to make it the go-to destination for sustainable fashion. “Highly ambitious goals are required to leverage the influence and impact of Copenhagen Fashion Week” said CEO, Cecilie Thorsmark. It has launched an action plan requiring participating brands to meet minimum sustainability requirements by 2023. If the brands don’t make the environmental cut then they won’t be eligible to show. There is a list of 17 standards to meet. Some examples are pledging not to destroy unsold clothes, using at least 50% certified, organic, up-cycled or recycled textiles in all collections, using only sustainable packaging and zero-waste set designs for shows.
“All industry players – including fashion weeks – have to be accountable for their actions and be willing to change the way business is done. The timeframe for averting the devastating effects of climate change on the planet and people is less than a decade, and we’re already witnessing its catastrophic impacts today. Put simply, there can be no status quo,” said Thorsmark.
The ‘Sustainability Action Plan 2020-2022’ presents how the event will transition to becoming more sustainable, for example by reducing its climate impact by 50% and rethinking waste systems in all aspects of event production, with zero waste as the goal by 2022. Copenhagen is looking at every little detail, they say they will always 'prioritise' selecting sustainable options for supplies, including organic, vegetarian and preferably locally sourced food and snacks, sustainable beverages, no single-use plastic cutlery, straws or tableware, the most environmentally friendly buses available and electric cars. They have stopped using goodie bags and stopped producing new seasonal staff uniforms.
Copenhagen Fashion Week’s own operations have been climate compensated and they support two Verified Carbon Standard and Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance Gold Level projects through Rensti, respectively tree planting (Tist) and forest conservation (Kariba). They have offset the flights and hotel accommodation of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s invited international guests, their official opening dinner, the press busses (including the organic food and beverages served on the buses), logo stickers for cars and they run a climate-neutral website.
The Scandinavians are leaders here, but other fashion weeks will quickly follow suit. As for fashion businesses, no business wants to be wasteful, it’s a cost saving to be more efficient, but the easy stuff has been done. It’s time to get hardcore and only governments will have the power. The law is the law. When standards are defined in law then there is a understandable definite. Consumers won’t trust anything else.
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With a schedule now slimmer than one of the teenage models, London Fashion Week Men’s, or LFWM, needs to find a new reason for being. We’ve done diversity, inclusiveness and sustainability, but now, thanks to the BFC, there’s an over-riding umbrella term called ‘Positive Fashion’. Designers such as Nicholas Daley, Bethany Williams, Bianca Saunders and Ahluwalia all had PW (Positive Fashion) after their names on the schedule.
Launched in 2013, the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative is “a platform designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change”.
Left - The BFC's new LFWM graphics
Positive Fashion is led by 3 strategic pillars - sustainability, equality and diversity and craftsmanship and community - it says, In a statement from the BFC, “The BFC takes the lead in setting the standards for an industry that strives to represent equality and diversity on the global stage. Championing the importance of every person in the sector as a vital and valuable part of our industry entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Supports the community of talent, skills and craftsmanship that make up our unique industry. Our initiatives are designed to develop connections and understanding between designers and manufacturers taking a holistic approach to the long term viability of the sector. We celebrate the wealth of talent and capability that is unique to British designer businesses.”
While this manifesto all sounds totally earnest and worthwhile it does reek of wishful thinking and what does it actually mean?The green movement is only going to get bigger and the fashion sector, said to contribute £32.3 Billion to the UK economy in GDP and supporting 890,000 jobs, is firmly on its naughty step. We’ve had a lot of lip service, but sadly, without government legislation, the industry will put off the difficult, and more costly, things until tomorrow.
To further ram home the point, the British Fashion Council has announced its intention to launch the Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF). “The BFC recognises that the fashion industry engages consumers daily, and whilst it is often seen as forward thinking, it also appreciates that through global supply chains the industry can have a negative impact on the planet.”
“Through the IPF, the BFC aims to create an industry blueprint by bringing together expertise from different areas to help brands in the industry navigate an often confusing to understand topic and kick-start a much-need comprehensive step-change. Informed by research, expert opinion, industry insights and the significant industry experience of individual businesses and organisations, the power of collective effort will amplify independent activity.”
It’s a lot of marketing speak, but it does have an influence if the costs aren’t too prohibitive. ‘Sustainability' has been a part of the BFC’s strategy since 2006. Their ‘Esthethica’ showcase put sustainable fashion at the heart of London Fashion Week before evolving into Positive Fashion in 2013. This is the first time I have seen it mentioned anywhere.
But, what has exactly happened over those past 7 years and how much carbon emissions, or however you want to measure it, has been saved?
Back to fashion week and many designers are thinking about how to minimise their footprint, but they’re also trying to survive very tough times. LFWM is currently very sustainable because nobody buys any of it. But jokes aside, the ambition is there and it feels like we’re in something of a technological and supply chain cul-de-sac. Patrick Grant’s premium E Tautz label was called ‘Brand New Second Hand’. In the show release he said, “As a designer I feel acute pressure to act. We need to change the message. No more fiddling while Rome burns. Big fashion can do ‘sustainable’, it can do ‘ethical’, it can do ‘conscious’. It all helps make consumers buy MORE.
“But what big fashion cannot do is small. It can’t slow down. What they will never do is tell you to ‘buy less, keep for longer, cherish, repair, pass on’. That however is exactly what we must do and what we’re asking you to do. E Tautz clothes will not change so much from season to season that you feel you need to buy something new. In fact we’re suggesting the opposite.”
Grant has worked with Astco, one of the UK’s largest clothing recyclers, to make new pieces from unwanted textiles. He’s also enlisted the Rolls-Royce of darning, the Royal School of Needlework, to give them that patched/repaired feel. What he should have done is shown last season’s samples with the repairs from actual wear and tear from being lent out to the industry. It’s fine to talk about buying less when a coat costs £1500, but when the collections are often funded by more affordable, high-street collaborations it can often sound hypocritical.
But, everything fashion does is hypocritical. The idea of replacing something while it is still perfectly useful will always put fashion into the negative fashion bracket. ‘Positive Fashion’ could easily go the way of ‘sustainability’ and become as meaningless as it sounds. Nobody is going to disagree with making fashion positive, it just needs to be explained. We want detail.
“The world is burning. Fashion plays a BIG part in this.” said Grant in his show's press release, “But as Ranieri sings in ‘Oh My Love’ ‘from nature we should learn, that all can start again’. Even Fashion.”
Not to sound too much like Scrooge, though he is part of the problem, but have you noticed how all the Christmas adverts look the same this year?
Their nostalgic Dickensian approach of snow, jingle bells, street urchins and false bonhomie is strikingly similar and just doesn’t feel particularly fresh from retailers trying to smile through the pain of the current retail environment. It feels faker than a Trump press release and disappointing and safe from marketing departments crossing everything and hoping their brands make it through to the new year.
Left - More urchins? Sainsbury's 2019
What started with wise men offering up gifts was hijacked by retailers and brands over the past century to make all their year’s profits in a few short months. Today's Christmas is, arguably, an American creation of commercialisation. It was Coca-Cola after all who changed Father Christmas from green to red to suit their branding.
This isn’t about taking Christmas back to its meaning, whatever that is, it’s about reflecting contemporary times and stripping the crap out of Christmas, which sits alongside Halloween and Valentine’s as commercial ‘Festivals of Crap’ with our overindulgence reflected in the bulging brown bin the days after.
Christmas needs a reboot to take it from Victoriana fake-fest to a simpler and more sustainable pagan and friends and family focussed festival to get us through the longest nights.
“Most of Christmas ads look almost identical because agencies and brands start from the almost same brief: ‘Lets create a piece of heart-warming storytelling that people will share online, so avoid pushing a specific product. Make it pretty’. says Marcio Delgado – Influencer Marketing Campaign Manager and Producer, www.marciodelgado.com
"On paper, for the purpose of approving production budgets months before Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ climbs back the charts – again – it seems the perfect deal. However, when customers start being bombarded by similar content, exhaustively promoted within their social media feeds and favourite TV shows, it all starts to look too much of the same.” says Delgado.
Lesley Stonier, brand storytelling and marketing strategist. Founder of We Mean Business, London - helping women and entrepreneurs find their authentic voice and share their story with confidence, says, “I think for the last 5 or so years we’ve seen John Lewis and even more recently Lidl/Aldi do very well from a certain style and format of ad. I believe the briefs the ad agencies are receiving from these companies and their competitors now will be something like, I want what they are doing, but make it ours.
Right - More snow? John Lewis 2019.
“It just all feels very same-y and therefore it becomes difficult to distinguish who the retailers actually are. There’s no stand out brand this year. The ads all blur into one Christmassy mass with no distinction. Food, kids, 18th century nostalgia, it’s difficult to tell them apart now.” says Stonier.
Stephanie Melodia, marketing specialist, founder of startup marketing agency, Bloom says, “Persuasion is at the root of successful advertising, and the mechanism to this is by appealing to people’s emotions. As a nation that has become less religious and traditional over time, Christmastime no longer bears the same connotations as before. Instead, the “Dickensian nostalgia” plays to the magic and joy one can only achieve over the holidays - whether its spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts, enjoying good food & drink, or all of the above! It’s worth noting the generations that the Dickensian style will appeal to have quite a vast age range, from the grandparents to the millennials, (thanks to Mr. Dickens' literary genius in itself, as well as the modern remixes, like The Muppet Christmas Carol - for example).
What can brands do to differentiate themselves more and make their marketing campaigns feel more contemporary? “Firstly, they could focus on what their unique perspective is on Christmas. Although I think that’s where the challenge ultimately lies. When it comes to retail, we now have promotions for Christmas starting 2 wks before Black Friday so it’s very hard to differentiate except via price.” says Stonier.
“John Lewis, for example, could have led the pack by taking a more sustainable approach to Christmas. Encouraging less packaging waste for example. Or a supermarket encouraging less food waste. That would be a different approach and that would have much greater stand out because you’re changing the story people expect to hear, and giving them something different to mull over, giving them a reason to choose to do something different and make that choice with you.” she says.
“Behavioural changes, especially at a large scale, take a long time to kick in (whilst there is still lots of impactful work happening at the moment!)” says Melodia. “Hardwired social traditions like exchanging gifts at Christmastime won’t go away any time soon, but people are definitely thinking a lot more about how and what they buy than before. Retailers need to have sustainability at the heart of their businesses (if they don’t already) and beware of the PR risk in greenwashing while doing so.” she says.
Left - Tesco's 2019 Christmas table
Will this type of Christmas survive Extinction Rebellion and people rethinking over consumption?
“I think shoppers will always shop on price discounts. But it doesn’t drive loyalty so the retailers are just creating a vicious cycle that is then difficult to extract yourself from.
“There’s a risk to a different approach, but I’m surprised no one has capitalised on the consumer demand for more sustainable approach to life, and taken Christmas, the season of excess as the time to put a stake in the ground.” says Stonier.
What will Christmas look like in the future for brands and retailers?
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can see us ironically returning to a simpler, less extravagant time, much like the Dickensian era. Where gifts are made rather than bought, and that we focus on the meaning and act of giving rather then needing, wanting and buying.” says Stonier. “The reality is there is very little we “need” now days in first world countries. We’re saturated. So what comes next? People search for meaning and purpose, and brands are doing good in the world, will be leading our hearts, minds and wallets in the future.” she says.
“We’ve already moved so far away from the religious and familial traditions from a mere century ago, the rate of change is only accelerating faster and faster. I believe people coming together and enjoying shared experiences will be the core festive factor that will remain for the foreseeable future, with the consumerist side of the holidays on the down.” says Melodia.
These Christmas ads are looking as done as the designer Christmas tree. This isn't about taking out the fun and the coming together of Christmas, it's about a fresher approach that is more reflective of where we are right now as consumers. The Christmas future looks simpler and less wasteful. ’Please, sir, no more!’.
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