On an international level, fashion weeks have started to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. There have been calls for fashion weeks to be scrapped in favour of climate protests. Some fashion weeks have been cancelled, others have changed their mantra to suit this new eco-conscious trend while others still strut forth as if nothing is wrong. But there is so much wrong with this industry.

The easy solution would be to advocate an end to the current fashion industry

Fashion weeks are merely the tip of the iceberg:  A very visible tip, the tip that sells the rest of the spectacle, the tip that glamorises one of the most polluting industries in the world, the tip that hides exploitation of natural as well as human resources. This is an easy statement to make and the easy solution would be to advocate an end to the current fashion industry. For many this is unthinkable and, as matters are at the moment, impractical. The fashion industry generates income for a vast number of the world’s population and until a new system replaces the capitalist system, it is how matters will continue.

The clothing industry needs to become sustainable

In order to ensure we have a planet left for humans to appreciate designers’ creations, the industry needs to change its spots. The clothing industry needs to become sustainable. Fashion weeks, as the current face of this industry, need to do more to make this a reality if they wish to stay relevant.

First Step: Make Goals

The first step would be to identify achievable goals and make sure that all designers represented by fashion weeks change their business models accordingly. Designers need to tell the same story and should be involved in establishing and enforcing these goals. This would be much akin to herding cats.

Second Step: Collaborate

The second step would be to encourage collaborations across fields. By connecting different industries, solutions could be developed, such as new fabrics created from recycled waste products. Versatility should become key to design so we can limit the quantity of clothing required. We need to develop finishes for garments that will reduce how much they need to be washed, will increase their longevity and keep them out of landfills bit longer. There will be many more solutions to the unthinkable multitude of problems when we put our minds to it. Shaldon Kopman once referred to designers as problem solvers. We need to employ our problem-solving skills if we wish to survive.

Step Three: Join the call for change

Step three would be to join the call for change. The more people who become involved, the faster the message will be spread and the faster change will happen. Influencers, media, buyers and fashion week attendees need to all be supporting the industry they celebrate and from which they feed. Instead of wearing a set colour to fashion week we need to make sure they wear the designers’ clothing that they have come to support. Consumers need to be educated about what they are wearing, where it comes from and why it matters.

Step Four: Create new platforms

Next would be to establish new platforms for showcasing this new mindset. To re-brand a runway as suddenly sustainable is near impossible. The concept of the runway show reduces a creative team’s work to mere minutes of entertainment, leaving the audience hungry for their next fix. It perpetuates the problem and we need to start conceiving and implementing solutions. New types of platforms need to be more accessible, relatable and would need to be cohesive to the story — this can be done in contrast (as Stella McCartney has done) or in synergy with the eco-friendly ethos.

This shift in the fashion week mentality would not need to be tied down to bi-annual events but could be a multifaceted continuous story, told in many different voices on a number of different platforms the whole year round. Fashion week as an event could become a recap of what has been done in the past six months represented through film, photography, performance or exhibitions. This would elevate fashion to art through collaboration creating something that is considered and relevant instead of a conveyor belt of fodder for the fickle fashionistas to pick though.

Many local designers don’t have the capacity, mentally, creatively or financially, to create more than one collection a year. But if this could be broken down into smaller projects running throughout the year, released when the designer is happy with the final product, it would be much more manageable. Smaller more curated collections would also fit in to the “buy less, choose well” philosophy of climate activist Vivienne Westwood.

A vital addition to fashion week would be hosting discussions, seminars and dialogues around what fashion week, designers and other industry players are doing and what they would like to achieve. By collectively brainstorming problems and sharing resources solutions to industry wide problems would be easier to solve. In the past there have been inspiring talks during SA Fashion Week. I suggest we establish an incentivised platform to monitor and follow up on the ideas generated though these lectures. This could inspire designers to continue these discussions throughout the year, developing them into tangible products and solutions.

This is a colossal and daunting vision but one that I truly believe is vital to the sustainability of this industry. An industry that excites and inspires me, one that allows me to turn my creativity into something functional, into something that can positively contribute to my muse’s life.