Luxury fashion cannot blame the climate crisis on the high street alone

Shortening the fashion industry’s global catwalk calendar would be a trendsetting statement of intent that shows the couture houses are ready to take responsibility for their environmental impact.

FashionOpinionThe wider fashion industry’s push for sustainability and confronting climate change has generally targeted problems with mass consumption, but demonising fast fashion and the high street feels a little too convenient. It also feels a little snobbish.

While the CEOs of high street retailers face growing calls to answer charges of corporate misconduct relating to their brands’ environmental impact, few in the industry really want to talk about the big fashion houses.

Think about it, all the luxury fashion players benefit from the democratisation of designer styles. Their brand appeal has been generated in large part by mega-mall culture and retail populism, with luxe label outlet stores and mid-market licensing deals a huge pull for shoppers.

The merry-go-round of collections and cycles, of short seasons dictated by the high-end houses, is what keeps the industry going. It’s a structure that feeds directly into the mainstream. The pressure to consume new products that come with the tightest of use-by dates – whether they’re labelled Prada or Primark – drives everything.

Slowing the cycles down, breaking up the seasons and introducing a more regulated system of supply and demand would be a huge step towards putting the brakes on fashion’s eco damage and moving towards a circular economy.

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The number of fashion weeks staged around the world is ridiculous. It’s not just the womenswear and menswear weeks, held in New York, London, Milan and Paris twice a year, but haute couture weeks, resort and bridal shows, as well as the two annual Pitti Uomo trade fairs held in Florence. The list goes on.

Trimming just some of that back would be a great example for other industries to follow. The fashion industry’s creativity, energy and vitality wouldn’t have to be compromised. On the contrary, it would be rebooted and given a new sense of purpose.

Plenty of designers are to be applauded for tackling head-on the climate crisis, for leading the way when it comes to embracing a carbon-neutral environment. In December last year, Stella McCartney launched the UN Sustainable Fashion Industry Charter for Climate, with the aim of achieving zero net emissions across the fashion industry by 2050.

As secretariat for the all-party parliamentary group for textiles and fashion, Tamara Cincik, CEO of Fashion Roundtable, is doing excellent work raising awareness of issues around sustainability, trying to bridge the wide gap between industry and government policy.  

Earlier this week Fashion Roundtable published a manifesto for change in the fashion industry ahead of the UK general election on 12 December. The organisation is pushing for the implementation of a sustainable fashion framework and tax incentives for businesses using tech to transition to sustainable business models.

But that huge contradiction at the heart of the industry remains. If fashion really wants to make a change, rather than just knocking consumers for paying £5 for a T-shirt – and what if that’s all they can afford? – it’s time to seriously think about getting its own hallowed houses in order and take a pair of shears to the long and winding calendar of catwalk shows.