London Fashion Week kicked off this weekend and saw the biggest stars from the world of fashion descend onto the capital to celebrate the bold, exciting – and sometimes bonkers – offerings from old and new designers around the globe.
However, just days earlier, angry protestors had taken to the cobbles of Somerset House to stage a naked demonstration against the event.
With just placards to protect their modesty the group angrily denounce the culture of fast fashion and the trend of over-consumption they felt was driven by the fashion industry.
Organised by secondhand e-commerce site Gumtree, the protest called on the country’s biggest fashion houses to reconsider the practice of cyclical and seasonal fashion trends and instead, give second-hand items and sustainably sourced brands a bigger space.
New stats also found that almost half of Brits felt fashion week was an outdated concept amidst the environmental crisis, not to mention the cost of living crisis that has seen many households curb their spending habits.
But has fashion week really become so last season? Or is there a way to celebrate the innovation and creativity of British talent without this constant need for the new?
‘I admire and respect the craftsmanship and creativity of London Fashion Week,’ insists Hannah Rouch, Chief Marketing Officer at Gumtree. ‘But while fashion has always set trends, it also encouraged us to go back to our wardrobes, reimagine items and restyle them – perhaps only seeing us buy a few new pieces per year that would work within our existing wardrobe.
We can’t deny that we are buying more than ever and our once considered purchases have become more instant,’ she adds.
Consumer spending on clothing in the UK has rapidly increased in recent years, hitting an all-time high in 2022 at approximately 62.2 billion British pounds.
Fashion by its very definition is about the most current. Unlike style, which can be deemed as timeless, fashion celebrates the new and the fresh. And the culture of FW across all the major cities has seen brands show collections for spring/summer and autumn/winter and even some for pre-spring and pre-autumn.
It’s a cycle that’s reflected in how we literally consume the contents of our wardrobes. Rcecent research showed that the average Brit is said to throw away 72 items of clothing per year, while households are spending hundreds on items they’d never even worn.
However, some of the biggest fashion houses are taking note and have started to take a stand. Gucci announced in 2020 that they would be reducing their five annual runway shows to two and adopting a season-less approach to their designs in a bid to reduce waste and encourage timeless pieces that can be worn for longevity.
Stella McCartney has also long set standards for sustainability, turning her textile waste into new materials for new designs and focusing on clothing that is ‘circular’ in nature and not cyclical.
But it’s not just luxury labels that have an influence on today’s fashion. In the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, Runway boss Miranda Priestly discussed the ‘trickle down effect’ of fashion, which is when clothing trends go from the runway and high fashion and eventually find their way to the high street and discount stores.
Fast fashion has bridged that gap quicker than ever before. In fact, the rise of dupe culture has seen bargain brands rip off designer pieces in record time to appeal to their customer base.
In 2019, Kim Kardashian slammed Fashion Nova when an exact copy of her vintage Mugler dress ended up on their site just 24 hours after she was photographed in it.
The meteoric rise of fast fashion has caused clothing to become mass-produced for budget prices – all at the detriment of our planet. It’s been estimated that more than two tonnes of clothing are purchased in the UK every minute, which is more than any other country in Europe. This amount produces nearly 50 tonnes of carbon emissions, which is the equivalent to driving 162,000 miles in a car. Around 300,000 tonnes of used clothes, mostly unworn, are burned or buried in landfill each year.
Something also motivating this need for the new is social media. While fashion week in London has existed for decades, it’s fair to say that social media has caused the average person to feel more visible and therefore the desire to present themselves in a certain way.
Jennifer Walderdorff, fashion analyst, sustainable fashion expert and author of Look at the Labels, tells Metro: ‘I wasn’t an over-consumer in my teens or early twenties. The culture and behaviour has certainly shifted with social media. You may have once been able to wear the same top or jeans but we’re photographed more and more and feel the need to wear something new each time.’
Hannah Rouch adds: ‘The last five to ten years has really seen high street brands jumping on trends and that, layered with social media and the digital call to consume have trapped us in this cycle of overconsumption and a need to keep up’.
TikTok has arguably become one of the social media platforms hyper fixated on consumption, with a wealth of influencers often urging their followers to buy the hottest products and TikTok Shop allowing them to purchase within the app. It’s no surprise that the hashtag ‘TikTok made me buy it’ has 7.4 billion views, while ‘fashion haul’, referring to an influencer showcasing their latest shopping splurge, has 1.7 billion.
One of the biggest driving forces of fast fashion is the cheap prices, especially in the current cost of living crisis. By 2021, it was found that almost half of Brits wanted to live more sustainably but felt it was too expensive.
That’s why Jennifer Walderdorff feels the fashion industry needs to do more to celebrate second-hand items.
‘The average person doesn’t have millions in their bank to spend on constant new items,’ she explains.
‘Of course, if there’s a want or desire for a brand new item, we shouldn’t deny ourselves. But there are plenty of different ways to purchase new items that aren’t costly and are also more sustainable in practice. Lean on friends to share or do clothes swaps, go to your local charity shops or look at second-hand sites like Vinted or eBay. New goods is just one avenue to a new wardrobe.’
London Fashion Week has made changes towards sustainability and second-hand showcases. Its opening show in February this year saw Bay Garnet dress stars in secondhand items from Oxfam’s warehouse. But for many, it still feels like a drop in the ocean.
‘I adore the fashion industry and I think it’s vital to still find a way to celebrate the incredible talent that comes out of this country,’ Hannah says. ‘But the industry also needs to use their incredible platform to speak out against buying habits. They can’t be blind to the overconsumption and the fast fashion that exists and I think it’s important to acknowledge that our buying habits have changed.
‘The British Fashion Council is made up of so many inspiring voices and they have a real ability to make change. We could see designers showcasing one new piece and styling it against vintage pieces from their archive. The fashion industry brings in a great deal of money for our economy, not to mention the platform it offers to young designers. But in terms of our buying habits, I think it’s time they use their voice to take a stand and encourage us all down a new and more sustainable path.’
Sign up to our guide to what’s on in London, trusted reviews, brilliant offers and competitions. London’s best bits in your inbox