London Fashion Week starts to favour green

The UK fashion industry is worth £32bn a year but also carries a huge environmental impact. At London Fashion Week groups try to raise awareness and solutions to the environmental challenge.

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This year's London Fashion Week, which concluded on Tuesday, will probably not be best remembered for the dazzling autumn and winter collections on display but, rather, the growing global concerns over the need to create a sustainable, environmentally-friendly industry.

Calls for a focus on fashion sustainable increase

The Global Recycling Foundation (GRF) called on fashion week organisers to launch initiatives to promote firms pioneering more sustainable business models, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an advocate of a 'circular economy' to design out waste and pollution, estimated clothing under-utilisation and waste cost the global economy £400 billion a year, with textile production creating 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.Environmentalists chanting "There’s no fashion on a dead planet" took to the streets outside fashion show venues and even blocked cars en route to Victoria Beckham’s show at Tate Britain.The BBC in collaboration with Mother of Pearl and the British Fashion Council launched the #SustainableMe media campaign to place sustainable fashion at the heart of London Fashion Week and raise consumer awareness of the environmental impacts of fashion and consumption.Caroline Rush, CEO, British Fashion Council said, “At the British Fashion Council we recognise that now more than ever is a time to highlight the importance of pursuing Positive Fashion in the industry and keep it at the top of everyone’s agenda to drive change."

Politicans recommend a sales fee to fund dealing with waste clothing

Even MPs got in on the act with the House of Commons' environmental audit committee issuing a report saying clothing brands and retailers should pay a penny on every garment they sell to fund a £35 million annual recycling scheme.The committee said it was concerned that the clothing trade consumed vast volumes of fresh water and created chemical and plastic pollution. The MPs also condemned the use of child and forced labour in the manufacture of clothes across parts of the world.Additionally, a report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) looked at the economic factors influencing ‘fibre to fibre’ recycling – turning used and discarded fabrics back into new clothes.WRAP estimated that around £140 million-worth of clothing was sent to UK landfill sites every year in the UK alone, driven by a growing demand for new clothes which, in 2016, saw about 1.13 million tonnes of clothing purchased - up 200,000 tonnes from 2012.Peter Maddox, director of WRAP, says, "Only housing, transport and food have greater environmental impacts than clothing. With rising global demand, we urgently need to secure new sources of materials and find new markets for used clothing. Fibre-to-fibre recycling offers a potential solution – but one that has not been properly investigated."

Some global brands are taking a lead on sustainability issues

Clothing manufacturers and retailers are beginning to take action. Marks & Spencer has introduced a scheme to enable customers to return used items, while it along with John Lewis and Stella McCartney have started to look in detail at the environmental impact of their supply chains.The GRF has also commended firms such as Adidas, which will use only recycled polyester in all shoes and clothing by 2024; and Bottletop, which collaborated with Mulberry to launch a luxury bag made entirely from up-cycled materials.Additionally, Patagonia now uses used soft drink bottles, manufacturing waste and worn-out garments for polyester fibres to produce “eco-friendly” clothing.But it was not just environmental concerns that dominated London Fashion Week, which attracted some 250 internationally-renowned designers to showcase their work, primarily to retailers.

Discussions continue as to the impact of Brexit on the industry

Inevitably, perhaps, there were fears over what Brexit would mean to an industry worth about £32 billion to the UK economy and supports about 890,000 jobs. Most of these concerns centred on a possible economic downturn and a loss of consumer confidence, while a report from the British Fashion Council and Oxford Economics highlighted the skills gap within the fashion industry in areas such as manufacturing and business management.But Alistair Green, chief strategy officer at Studio Blvd, whose clients include River Island, Sweaty Betty, Ben Sherman, COS and Carolina Herrera fragrances, remains optimistic about the future for the industry.“The headlines make good reading,” he says. “The UK, despite Brexit and tough economic conditions caused by a reduction in overall consumer spending, still houses a thriving fashion and creative economy.”And as for thoughts that Brexit might result in British designers turning to less flamboyant clothes, Vogue commented, "The belief that drab and cautious clothes are the last thing anyone wants in dark times has worked to make London attractive on the world stage in the past."But, then again, this is not the past — much as nationalistic Brexiteers would love to revert to their own (white) fantasy of it."The truth is that the prime strength of London fashion now is its diversity. Quite apart from all the designers of European origin who are British entrepreneurs, voices from British black and South Asian communities are now stepping up to lead a generational shift in creativity."Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online DirectorySubscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all of the international assignments and global mobility news.