I recently answered a poll on social media that first asked if I cared about climate change. I ticked yes. The next question asked if I had ever attended an Extinction Rebellion protest. I immediately ticked no.
This isn’t because I’m not available to attend protests, or that I’m lazy, and don’t care. If anything, as someone who’s self-employed, works in left-wing circles, and has the privilege of being educated in what’s happening to the Earth and having a flexible work schedule, I’m probably the kind of person who should be attending these kinds of marches. Yet, even with all the ways that should make it easier for me to stand up and talk about climate change, I’m also still another brown body marching—and that isn’t exactly as welcomed as my climate protesting peers.
Extinction Rebellion has become a household name. The grassroots organisation has raised millions in donations, money that goes towards funding volunteers, whether that’s feeding protesters lunch or keeping the platform running. Those who are a part of Extinction Rebellion have altered traffic and excelled in their aim to disrupt urban spaces in order to wake everyone up: the ice-caps aren’t just melting, polar bears aren’t just struggling, the Earth is dying.
But so are brown and black bodies when we speak up. So much of Extinction Rebellion is about gaining attention, and I can’t help but wonder what would happen to people of colour if they tried the same tactics; what would the response be, or has been, when we’ve tried to push the same messages.
There’s also an issue with class when it comes to protesting for anything. You need time in order to march for your rights or demand change. The Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that 35.7 per cent of ethnic minorities were more likely to live in poverty compared with 17.2 per cent of white people. The ethnic pay gap within ethnic minority communities reflects that Bangladeshi, Pakistani and black people are paid the lowest with Bangladeshi people doing the worst.
When working in menial, manual, and zero contract jobs, where there is barely any movement to take a sick day, never mind shout for the Amazon rainforest, a large number of ethnic minorities in Britain are only able to think about the basics before they can prioritise protesting. Look around the next Extinction Rebellion protest and ask yourself, does this represent London, the UK, and, more importantly, all those who inhabit the world?
‘What will the world look like for future generations?’ is a great point that is asked consistently to encourage people to join the movement. But as climate change activist Muna Suleiman pointed out during The Amaliah Podcast on What Has Race and Religion Got To Do With The Climate Crisis?, “There’s an inherent assumption that people at present are not affected by the climate crisis, which we know is not true. It’s through the lens of trying to tweak around the edges and not provide the system changes we need.”
Countries like Bangladesh, who have the most ‘green factories’ and do not produce nearly as much waste as the global north, is said to be the Venice of South Asia, in other words, sinking, and not so slowly. It seems like we’ve forgotten about the brown and black bodies around the world who are already the most sustainable with the little they have, and yet are being affected the most by climate change.
Extinction Rebellion is aware of this white privilege in its collective, and told Screen Shot that “Extinction Rebellion still has work to do to ensure that the movement is welcoming and inclusive to all. Structural oppression is present throughout society and we are no exception to that. Important work is happening on this, both within the movement and with the assistance of allies outside of Extinction Rebellion. We ask that allies continue to work with and challenge us in this area.” The movement has also created initiatives within the group, such as XR Connecting Communities and Extinction Rebellion Liberation.
Although Extinction Rebellion acknowledges this lack of diversity, it fails to see how the work accomplished by people of colour (whether it is within Extinction Rebellion or not) stays, almost always, unnoticed to the majority who makes up the marches.
In regard to Greta Thunberg, we’ve listened to her cries, seen her on billboards, and, most importantly, taken her seriously. But we also need to remember the other young women of colour who are speaking out for the communities that are most affected. Autumn Peltier. Artemisa Xakriabá. Isra Hirsi. Ridhima Pandey. Say their names and look up their work.
In our quest to save the planet, we also need to curb the snobbery found within climate change initiatives, as well as the denial of class or race issues that are deeply entangled with it. The western revolution towards climate change has only happened in the past thirty years. Our recyclability is fairly new. Moon cups, reusable coffee cups, and solutions out of throwaway culture are all new. Brown and black people, especially working-class black and brown people, have been the most resourceful when it comes to using what we have—so let’s not pretend that marching for climate change is based on this sole revolution by white people when black and brown countries have been tackling the issue for centuries.
Amidst an environmental crisis, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion is calling for the cancellation of London Fashion Week. But what would cancelling London Fashion Week really achieve, and how would it affect independent designers not participating in mass production?
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters impacting our planet right now, and it is not looking good. There is an endless cycle of clothes ending up in landfills annually (over a million tonnes of which are from the U.K. alone), the industry produces around 10 percent of the global greenhouse emissions, and chemical dyes polluting water produce about 20 percent of water waste yearly. This industry is predicted to grow by 63 percent by 2030, and the textile industry is expected to produce 25 percent of all carbon emissions by 2050.
The Swedish Fashion Council cancelled the upcoming Stockholm Fashion Week, and Extinction Rebellion demands the British Fashion Council do the same. By planning creative disruptive actions throughout the event, with a funeral commemorating the loss of life due to climate change, the organisation hopes to bring our awareness to just how harmful the fashion industry is. A number of companies within the industry are also taking a stand to boycott LFW in various ways—London-based fashion magazine Bricks, as an example, decided not to cover LFW this year.
Here is the thing, though, London Fashion Week is a platform that showcases a number of independent and emerging talent, many of whom don’t even have the means to mass-produce if they wanted to (then we would be having an entirely different conversation). Many designers each year advocate awareness for sustainability and choose to use recycled fabrics and environmentally friendly textiles. That is not to say that LFW only supports independent designers, with big companies like Burberry participating who are far from being sustainable, but the real evil is the fast fashion industry.
It is, of course, important to note that without high end fashion, fast fashion would never exist in the first place. Emerging in the 90s, fast fashion promotes rapid and mass production of cheap clothing to meet the most recent fashion trends. These fashion trends are inspired by high end fashion designers and most independent designers, and it is understandable why people choose to purchase fast fashion. In the real world, who can actually afford to splash out hundreds or thousands of pounds per clothing item? It is so unrealistic and exclusive. Plus, in the age of Instagram culture, where everybody feels they have to show off how stylish they are to their followers, overconsumption is inevitable.
By all means, this needs to change. We do engage in constant, mindless consumption, and so many of us already have more clothing than we need. But fast fashion brands don’t showcase their work during LFW—independent designers do. So is it fair to punish them by taking away their platform? Fashion is a form of art, and LFW is equivalent to Frieze Art Fair or the Venice Biennale of fashion. Many designers showcasing at LFW have worked incredibly hard to get where they are, and we simply cannot take this away from them.
Don’t get me wrong, the fashion industry does need to be regulated, ASAP. In an interview with Screen Shot, Fashion Revolution’s founder and creative director Orsola de Castro claims she is “against” canceling fashion week, saying that we need to “redesign them rather than shutting them down.” De Castro believes that, “As far as being disruptive, we need to be constructive at the same time.”
Taking into consideration how much power and energy are invested in the production of these shows: the number of flights needed to transport models, editors, influencers, buyers, and garments, greener alternatives must be found. Designers showcasing twice a year is certainly excessive, and it would be better have all fashion weeks take place once a year maximum. Recycling previous collections into their new season should also be a must—yes, many independent designers already use recycled materials, but this can be elevated.
Fashion Open Studio is also a great alternative to this, which is a week of presentations, talks, openings, and workshops shining a light on emerging designers. “We need to use Fashion Week as a place to discuss conspicuous consumption, to discuss innovation, to discuss new parameters,” says de Castro—and rightfully so. Re-showcasing work from previous seasons would also be incredibly beneficial. The second hand fashion market is set to grow bigger than the high end and luxury ones by 2022, which is great news and could help support emerging talent instead of forcing them to keep up with the pressures of creating new work and being relevant.
Let’s all start investing into second hand and thrift shopping as our go-to option. Let’s push Instagram Influencers and celebrities to promote second hand clothing over brand partnerships with fast fashion brands. We could even go as far as demanding a new law that would prohibit the promotion of fast fashion brands or brands who use unethical resources when creating clothing. We need to reconsider how we, as consumers, view fashion once and for all, and start appreciating high end fashion as an art form rather than try and replicate it. But, please, let’s not punish emerging talented artists who have worked through blood and sweat to be able to express themselves through fashion.