On an international level fashion weeks have started to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. There have been calls for fashion weeks to be scrapped in favour of climate protests. Some fashion weeks have caved, others have changes their mantra to suit this new eco-conscious trend and others still strut forth as if nothing is wrong.
But there is so much wrong with this industry - fashion weeks are merely the tip of the iceberg. A very visible tip. The tip that sells the rest of the spectacle - The tip that glamorizes one of the biggest polluting industries in the world - The tip that hides exploitation of natural as well as human resources.
Fashion week has thus become unfashionable.
That is an easy statement to make and the easy solution is then to advocate for an end to fashion and to the entire fashion industry as it stands today. For many this is unthinkable, and, as matters are at the moment, impractical. The fashion industry generates income for a vast amount of the world’s population and until a replacement for the capitalistic system has been established it is how matters need to continue.
In order to ensure we have a planet left filled with humans to appreciate designers’ creations, the industry needs to change its spots. The clothing industry needs to become sustainable. Fashion week, as the current face of this industry, needs to do more to make this a reality if they wish to stay relevant.
The first step would be to identifying achievable goals and making sure that all designers represented by fashion week change their business models accordingly. All the designers need to be telling the same story and thus all designers would need to be involved in establishing and enforcing these goals. This would be much akin to herding cats
The second would be to encourage collaborations across fields. Through connecting different industries, new solutions could be developed. This includes new fabrics created for recycled waste products and versatile pieces being designed for specific industries to limit the quantity of clothing required. Developing finishes for garments that can reduce the amount they need to be washed or increasing their longevity, keeping them out of landfills just a bit longer. Shaldon Kopman once referred to himself and all designers not just as designers but as outstanding problem solvers. I find this a very valid outlook and a skill that we need to employ if we wish to survive.
The more voices that get involved will also spread the message exponentially faster. Partnering with loud voices would be step three. Influencers, media, buyers and fashion week attendees need to all be supporting the industry they celebrate and feed from. Instead of wearing a set colour to fashion week we need to make sure they wear the designers’ clothing that they have come to support. Consumers need to be educated about what they are wearing, where it comes from and why it matters.
Next would be establishing new platforms on which to showcase this new mindset. To re-brand a runway as suddenly sustainable is near impossible. The whole identity of a catwalk-centred show consists of models with perfectly unattainable bodies flashing past, reducing a team of creatives’ works to mere minutes, leaving the audience hungry for their next fix. It perpetuates the problem and we need to start conceiving and implementing solutions. The type of platforms would need to be more accessible, relatable and would need to be cohesive to the story — this can be done in synergy with the eco-friendly ethos or in contrast (as Stella McCartney has done)
This shift in the fashion week mentality would not need to be tied down to bi-annual event. It could be a multifaceted continuous story being retold in many different voices on a number of different platforms the whole year round.
Fashion week as an event could become a recap of what has been done in the past six months, represented through film, photography, performance or exhibitions. This would elevate fashion to art through collaboration with other creatives creating something that is considered and relevant instead of a conveyor belt of fodder for the fickle fashionistas to pick through.
Many local designers don’t have the capacity, mentally, creatively or financially, to create more than one collection a year. But if this could be broken down into smaller projects running throughout the year, released when the designer is happy with the final product, it would be much more manageable. Smaller, more curated collections would also fit in to the “buy less, choose well” philosophy of climate activist Vivienne Westwood.
A vital addition to fashion week would be hosting discussions, seminars and starting dialogues around what fashion week, designers and other industry players are doing and what they would like to achieve. By collectively brainstorming problems and sharing resources solutions to industry wide problems would be easier to solve.
In the past there have been some really inspiring talks during SA Fashion Week. Establishing an incentivised platform on which we could monitor and follow up on the ideas generated though these lectures could inspire designers to continue these discussions throughout the year, developing them into tangible products and solutions.
This is a colossal and daunting vision but one that I truly believe in as vital to the sustainability of this industry. An industry that excites and inspires me, one allows me turn my creativity into something functional, into something that can positively contribute to my muse's life.
Isabelle Lotter; clothing designer with a passion for sharing ideas