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Is Sustainability Just Another Trend within High Profile Fashion?

Events such as the Oscars and Fashion Week are influential spaces of inspiration and recently places of increasing sustainability. However, are these high-profile events doing enough to encourage sustainability within the hugely impactful fashion industry?

It is a well-known, and often repeated fact, that the fashion industry has a huge impact on the environment. The Geneva Environment Network reports that fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. While this relates to the impact of fast fashion, events such as fashion week, the Oscars and other high profile fashion events have a responsibility to encourage sustainability.

Copenhagen Fashion Week is taking the largest steps towards sustainability within the fashion week circuit. The organisers decided on eighteen requirements that the event and designers would have to adhere to which are based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The reinvention of Copenhagen Fashion Week aims to reduce negative impacts, innovate the business model, and accelerate industry change. Some of the requirements include a ban on fur, not destroying stock from previous collections and the encouragement of using upcycled materials. There is also a requirement for strong relationships with suppliers and that factories are free from child labour and provide safe working conditions.

Whilst this all sounds positive, the requirement for shows to “offset their show emissions” as of February 2023, is a contentious one. Carbon Offsetting is when companies invest in environmental projects which balance out their carbon footprint, not solving the problem of climate change in the long term but greenwashing for appearances. Through Carbon Offsetting companies don’t have to change their output, just balance it out with projects such as planting trees. Whilst carbon offsetting through reforestation can be positive, it needs to be done amongst a whole host of other sustainable efforts and not just done for PR or marketing purposes. In relations to Copenhagen Fashion Week, carbon offsetting is one of their many sustainable guidelines and therefore can have a positive impact.

However, if other larger fashion weeks such as New York, London and Paris aren’t following Copenhagen’s sustainability stance, then is it really working?

London Fashion Week is not following the example of Copenhagen Fashion Week. Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, states that rather than “setting a one-size-fits-all sustainability standard” the BFC will encourage brands to commit to voluntary initiative such as joining the UN’s Climate Challenge, for fear of alienating smaller brands. Whilst this is justified, there is an argument that by encouraging smaller brands to start with sustainability at their core then the huge impact fashion has on the environment can be tackled from the outset.

This year the Oscars came with a sustainable fashion guide for guests from RCGD Global, or the Red-Carpet Green Dress Initiative spearheaded by Suzy Amis Cameron. RCGD Global, in their own words, is “a women-led global change-making organisation bringing environmental and social sustainability to the forefront of conversation and action within the global apparel and design industry.”

By partnering with the Annual Academy Awards the organisation brings sustainability directly into the spotlight and makes it fashionable. The ‘green’ spotlight that the Academy Awards creates holds a similar impact to the showcasing of sustainability during Fashion Week. The positivity of seeing stars dressing in sustainable garments can be an inspiration to think more consciously clothing choices and the environment.

During awards season there are endless fashion reviews on YouTube, TikTok and in magazines about the fashion and outfits but what is becoming an increasing point of discussion is how sustainable these outfits are. Some of the stars that championed sustainability at the 2023 Oscars wore archival or vintage dresses, such as Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Kendall Jenner. Whereas others like Naomi Scott and Olivia Wilde wore dresses made from conscious materials.

Ultimately, the sustainability steps the Oscars and Copenhagen Fashion Week are taking can only be in the right direction by inspiring others and setting an example for other high-profile events. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to cut the impact the fashion industry has on the environment. Perhaps having similar sustainable guidelines for all events will lead the way to more climate conscious creative industries and inspire others to think more about their clothing choices.

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