How Fashion Week is becoming more sustainable

As the climate crisis becomes an increasingly important issue to tackle, the fashion industry is reexamining all areas of its business – including fashion shows. But is the industry capable of breaking away from its traditional runway format and embracing greener alternatives?

A sizable spectacle defined by a myriad of international flights, a plethora of designs, exorbitant single-use runway sets, and countless events attended by industry players and A-listers alike, Fashion Week at its core is unsustainable. According to Zero to Market, approximately 241,000 tons of CO2 is emitted during the four weeks of international shows – enough to power New York Times Square for 58 years, highlighting the problematic nature of Fashion Week. Although it remains a key part of the industry’s culture today, as it was the first platform that allowed designers and brands to showcase their collections in one space to buyers and press from around the world, it has grown into another beast altogether.

With luxury fashion houses hosting more and more extravagant shows in the most unique locations, the traditional concept has begun to leave an irresponsible taste in many mouths. The outbreak of COVID-19 brought Fashion Week to a screeching halt, forcing designers and brands to pause and rethink their business, especially when it comes to sustainability. But how many sought out better, greener alternatives and applied them to their collections and shows?

Photo credits: Peet Dullaert

Fashion Week returned in full force following a year of hiatus, bringing a slew of new perspectives, designs, and innovations. While many designers and brands chose to break away from traditional formats and hosted community gatherings, TV premieres, music festivals and more, urging for an immediate, emotional connection – there was not much room to explore the sustainable aspect of it all. But some Fashion Weeks and designers seemed to have taken the time to rethink their designs and show format.

One of the frontrunners for sustainability, Copenhagen Fashion Week, implemented a three-year action plan with several key goals to help make the event’s organisation more sustainable, like a zero-waste plan by 2022. The plan includes an innovative system of minimum sustainability requirements brands must adhere to show on the official schedule from 2023. While several presenting brands, including Ganni and Saks Potts, did host live shows, digitisation remained heavily emphasised. Another Fashion Week that was aware of its impact was Paris Fashion Week. The French Fashion Federation announced plans to develop tools that measure runway shows’ environmental, social, and economic impact for SP22 this September. Across the pond in London, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, UAL, launched Fashion Values, a free educational platform promoting sustainability within the industry together with Kering, IBM and Vogue Business during London Fashion Week. But none of the fashion week organisations made as many waves as the Swedish Fashion Council when it announced it would be cancelling Stockholm Fashion Week indefinitely instead of a new format that supports local brands.

Outside of the organisers of fashion week, several designers and fashion houses also made changes to their show format. Luxury fashion houses Gucci and Saint Laurent intend to present their collections on their terms, separate from the fashion week calendar. Many brands who already thought up unique and exciting ways to present their collections digitally took things further, such as Balenciaga. During Paris Fashion Week, the label hosted an incredible “red carpet” show which blurred the boundaries between fashion, celebrity and spectacle. However, aside from the digitisation and uniqueness of the show, it was also one of the most sustainable collections from the fashion house under creative director Demna Gvasalia. 95% of the materials were certified, including organic cotton, upcycled leather and recycled nylon and polyester, highlighting how sustainable materials are rapidly becoming the norm in design.

London-based designers Osman Yousefzada and Paris-based Peet Dullaert also used the pandemic to rethink their runway show format and collection. Designer Yousefzada hosted a show which took viewers on a journey into biodegradable clothing, tracing a garment’s path from nature to garment back to nature. The collection uses fabrics woven with TENCEL™ Luxe branded lyocell filament yarns, an innovative alternative to silk which is completely biodegradable. Peet Dullaert, creative director of his eponymous brand, opted for a digital launch of his collection, directly after Paris Fashion Week, in line with his sustainability strategy. The collection featured three limited edition couture dresses handcrafted with fabrics comprising of TENCEL™ Luxe filaments, embracing the fluidity of movements and contouring the silhouette of all bodies. Introduced by leading fibre manufacturer Lenzing in 2017, the TENCEL™ Luxe filament yarn which is registered with the Vegan Society has become an increasingly popular sustainable new material solution among luxury brands and designers.

Photo credits: Osman Yousefzada
Photo credits: Peet Dullaert

“TENCEL™ LUXE answers to the need of high-end fashion brands to explore versatile sustainable material alternatives,” says Vineet Singhal, Vice President of Global Business Unit Noble Fibers at Lenzing. “We are happy to see notable fashion houses providing testament that TENCEL™ LUXE is able to meet their challenging requirements through sustainability-driven innovation and circular solutions.”

Even though the Fashion Week format remains clouded with environmental concerns, it is clear it is evolving with event organisations and brands making smarter, more sustainable choices when and where possible.


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