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by Jade Newman

London Fashion Week: A platform for anarchistic art

London is a globally renowned hub for creative clothing and edgy eccentricity and so provides the ideal setting for the biannual fashion week. The UK fashion industry is a blooming business sector with its current value to the UK economy of £26 billion[1] UK fashion is undoubtedly intertwined with British cultural identity and the catwalk shows provide society with styling splendour and enable the most exceptional artistic talent to showcase their work on an influential stage. Fashion does however have a more sinister side and the digital age has shed light on the ethical and environmental issues underpinning certain brand’s and designer’s glamorously-staged smoke-screen personas.

Here we applaud the inventive and intelligent protests representing human, animal and environmental exploitation at London Fashion Week. 

Unpaid internships 

2013 & 2014, Somerset House, London – National campaign group Intern Aware teamed up with students from the University of the Arts and Kings College London to present the ‘Devil pays Nada’ (2013) and ‘Paying interns is so in this year’ (2014) initiatives. These unmissable statement phrases were plastered across banners and t-shirts and the simple words carried a significant meaning which addressed modern day slave labour and the lack of career opportunities within fashion for those from a low socio-economic background. Tote bags were also handed out and filled with a variety of materials advocating fair paid internships and information on working rights and the National Minimum Wage. These efforts gained much media attention and several arts universities have since refused to advertise and advocate unpaid positions. [2] [3]

Animal and environmental concern

UK based animal rights charity PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are famed for their eye catching and artistically showcased ‘fresh, relevant, and colourful protests and use shock, humour, sex, and more to reach a populace that’s bombarded with paid advertising from wealthy fashion houses, which are selling wares that often harm animals and the environment’ – (Kirsty Henderson – PETA Senior Campaign Coordinator). PETA’s anti fur, leather, wool, chemical and exotic skin demonstrations have utilised fashion to visually convey their cause powerfully, provocatively and peacefully.

2012 – ‘Here’s the rest of your fur coat’, Bond Street, London– This assertively shocking spectacle allows the gory reality of animal suffering to sink into the fashion crowds’ conscience. Many animals experience a distressing lifestyle of cramped conditions before being beaten, gassed, electrocuted or skinned alive for their fur. The models red lipstick, black lace dresses and gloves add an element of chic to the visuals but still allow the bloody animals to be the striking focal point. Prestigious designers including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Vivienne Westwood no longer condone the use of fur in their collections and PETA’s relentless efforts have resulted in ‘95% of British women refusing to wear fur’. (Kirsty Henderson – PETA Senior Campaign Coordinator). [6]

2015 – ‘Don’t pull the wool over your eyes’ – Somerset House, London – Vegan menswear models presented an equally emotive message with the use of blindfolds and a tortured lamb to lay bare the brutal essence of wool production to the public. There is much animal abuse amongst the shearing sheds of Australia and USA. Horrific acts take place which include ‘punching sensitive sheep, slamming them into the floor, stamping on their heads and even killing them for their wool’ (Mimi Bekhechi, PETA Director). Lambs are also abused within the UK with painful procedures and poor nutrition. There are many wool alternatives including rayon, woven metal and soya silk [4]. Italian clothing brand Benetton bowed to PETA’s spirited strength and ‘banned angora from approximately 6,000 stores worldwide. It joined more than 100 other major brands – including Calvin Klein, Topshop, Gap Inc, H&M, and Zara – that have dropped the cruelly produced material’. (Kirsty Henderson – PETA Senior Campaign Coordinator).

2016 –‘Fur is Toxic’- Brewer Street, London –Scantily clad PETA ambassadors utilised a risqué less-is-more approach to highlight further fur hazards. A German study discovered that chemicals used in the treatment of fur can not only harm the environment but formaldehyde (a carcinogen) and ethoxylates can be absorbed through the skin and are known to disrupt hormone production. The demonstration’s hazard signs, tape crosses and gas masks amplify the palpably poisonous point. PETA’s vast exposure of these findings aid the planet and its population through the prevention of fur in adult and children’s wear. [5]

2016 – ‘Vegan Fashion Revolution’ Brewer Street, London – Honouring London’s 40 years of punk, models are clad in the rebellious era’s iconic dress. Sequins, tartan, spikes and fishnets make for a glamorously daring delight. PETA’s smart slogans and riotous representation is used as a forthright form of revelation as all the clothing is 100% vegan with no leather, wool or fur use. The models’ clothing is also listed on the PETA website with links to effortlessly imitate the looks. Many cows are ‘in illegal slaughterhouses where their throats are slit without any prior stunning’ (Anne C, PETA author) and so leather substitutes need to be encouraged alongside wool and fur. Veganism is very much on-trend as there is a growing rise of meat-free eaters nationwide with a 350% increase from 2006 to 2016. [6]

The London Fashion Week protests are still thriving without the need for physical violence or societal segregation. The beauty lies in the fact that the artistic and peaceful parades can still act as a catalyst for change and stem from a positive place of love and not fear.