The global pandemic has—by necessity—ushered in a new era of phygital fashion shows, with major brands including Prada, Givenchy and Balenciaga all eschewing the traditional show format by presenting films or other alternatives (such as Loewe’s show in a box). There were also notable absences from the schedule, including Gucci, which will now be showing two seasonless collections a year, and Saint Laurent, which took itself off the fashion calendar in April and will be showing according to its own timetable.
The slimmed-down schedule, combined with travel restrictions, has meant far fewer editors and buyers have flown around the world for fashion month this season, instead joining the FROW from the comfort of their own homes. Considering that the travel to New York, London, Milan and Paris during ready-to-wear fashion month contributes a staggering 241,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year, according to one report, it’s undoubtedly been a greener season all round than previously.
The big question now is whether this new way of approaching fashion month will lead to long-term change going forward? That’s yet to be seen, but with a new report by McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda suggesting fashion is far from making the reduction in CO2 emissions needed, it’s clear that the industry is still not doing enough. Climate activists have called upon fashion to act now — with one Extinction Rebellion member going as far as gatecrashing the Dior catwalk in Paris in September while holding a large banner that read, “We’re all fashion victims.”
Of course, we already have designers such as Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst and Marine Serre leading the way when it comes to sustainable practices, with other major fashion brands also now taking action to reduce their impact on the planet. Here, we round up seven key sustainability moments that happened during fashion month that you need to know about now.1. Balenciaga says it’s using nearly 100 per cent sustainable materials
Following an apocalyptic show featuring a submerged runway for AW20, this season Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia focused on looking at the environmental impact of his garments. According to the show notes, “93.5 per cent of the plain materials in this collection are either certified sustainable or upcycled” while “100 per cent of the print bases have sustainable certifications.” An impressive feat, which Gvasalia told Vogue was achieved “quite easily, with the exception of the fibres that are in some of the existing fabrics.”2. Stella McCartney assesses its environmental impact
A long-time pioneer of sustainable fashion, Stella McCartney doubled down on her commitment to transparency by unveiling a detailed Eco-Impact Report ahead of her SS21 show. It revealed that 27,210 tonnes of carbon was emitted by the brand in 2019, while the company’s cost on society — the economic damage caused by its harmful practices — is estimated to be €8.21m, meaning there is undoubtedly room for improvement, despite the label’s admirable green credentials.
Moving forward, the company will be focused on mapping out its supply chain, avoiding high-impact materials, and restoring natural environments. McCartney is also launching a new A-Z guide to the brand, which she describes as a “manifesto of sorts” to “hold ourselves accountable for our values.”3. Chanel continues its sustainability mission
As part of Chanel’s new climate strategy Mission 1.5°—its commitment to tackling climate change in line with the targets set out by the Paris Agreement—the fashion house pledged $35m towards providing solar income for 30,000 low-income residents in California this September. The move came as Chanel also raised €600m as part of a sustainability bond (a loan made from investors), which will allow the luxury brand to continue investing in its green initiatives.4. Gucci partners with The RealReal
© Courtesy Gucci x The Real Real
While Gucci decided not to show this fashion month, the Italian house has followed in the footsteps of Stella McCartney and Burberry in partnering with luxury consignment website The RealReal in a sign of how seriously luxury brands are now taking resale—an important development to ensure that clothes get a second life instead of ending up in landfill. A new Gucci e-shop on The RealReal will feature secondhand items from sellers, along with unsold pieces from the brand itself, with the resale platform pledging to plant a tree for every item sold.5. Upcycled patchwork coats at Marni
Expanding upon AW20’s patchworking concept, Marni’s Francesco Risso took things one step further this season by creating 25 coats using outerwear from previous seasons. The coats, which were painted with words from Risso’s friends, show the creative ways in which designers are making use of deadstock — a huge problem that’s only been made worse by stores worldwide shuttering earlier this year as a result of the pandemic. Historically, deadstock has been burned or thrown away to preserve the value of designer garments, a shocking practice that has since been banned in France.6. Eco-friendly jeans at Balmain
Producing denim can be highly damaging to the environment—one pair of jeans can use up to 10,850 litres of water to produce, and often involves harmful chemicals in the process. In response, Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing explained how he used sustainable denim this season (although the fashion house is yet to share the details of the material’s exact eco-credentials). The designer also used recycled Swarovski crystals as embellishment in another effort to be more planet-friendly.7. Marques’Almeida launches a sustainability manifesto
Rather than creating a new collection for SS21, London-based brand Marques'Almeida instead decided to launch a sustainability manifesto, which includes commitments to use only certified raw materials, such as Better Cotton Initiative cotton, and only recycled petroleum-based fabrics. “We wanted to talk about the change that needs to happen,” the brand’s co-founder Marta Marques told Vogue of the decision not to show this season. “We can’t keep filling fashion weeks with endless product.”
With an increasing number of brands rejecting the traditional way of doing things this season, it’s fair to say that fashion is taking steps in the right direction when it comes to tackling its enormous environmental impact. While there’s still undoubtedly a long way to go, let’s hope that some of the changes we’ve seen in SS21 will lead to real progress across the whole industry, moving forward into next season and beyond.Also read:
“If fashion doesn’t bring joy, then what’s the point?”: Marni’s Francesco Risso on fostering a global community in a time of crisis
Nicolas Ghesquière shares his hopes for the future of the fashion industry
Gabriela Hearst on making her Paris debut, and why she’s continuing to push the boundaries for SS21