Fashion designer and beloved non-conformist Vivienne Westwood is having a big year. Spurred by a passion for fighting for the environment, the sartorial icon is rethinking her business model and pursuing quality over quantity as a way to combat mass production and its devastating ecological effects, The Guardian reports. “I have decided not to expand anymore. In fact, I want to do the opposite. I am now more interested in quality rather than quantity.”
Westwood concedes that the fashion industry has played a critical role in contributing to current climate problems. “If everyone wore just a few beautiful things, there would not be such a climate change problem,” she said. According to the designer, Western consumption and impending environmental tragedy are intertwined “like two snakes.” She has a point—fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, tying livestock for 5th place.
In addition to raising awareness about ecocide on Twitter, Westwood has been vocal about ecological danger: ”The status quo will kill us. People don’t realize how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction. Once the global temperature goes up beyond two degrees, you can’t stop it. Current predictions are that we will see a rise of more like 4C or 6C, which would mean that everything below Paris would become uninhabitable.”
One of her first public steps towards this goal occurred at the beginning of the new year. She put on a co-ed fashion show in January 2017 to illustrate that the fashion industry can achieve more with fewer resources. The unisex pieces featured were designed to be worn for a long time (by someone anywhere on the gender spectrum)—rather than tossed after a single season. “‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’ limits the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources,” a press release about the show stated.
Westwood took things a step further last month when she made a bold statement at Zaladno’s Bread & Butter preview.
“Don’t buy anything,” she told the crowd.
“If you want to be bold, you have to make a choice,” she said. “And at least 50 percent of the people in the world have never made a choice or decision in their lives. They just follow their desire and consume: opinions, McDonald’s, whatever.”
By “anything” and “whatever,” Westwood is referring to fast fashion, an industry linked to child labor, an unhealthy reliance on crude oil, devastating pollution, obscene water usage, low wages for workers, and dangerous working conditions.
“Buying less and choosing quality means that designers can make better fashion, not just lead by marketing and commercial interests,” she said. “Fashion is part of culture, but not at the moment.”
Unfortunately, many of Westwood’s designs still use leather, one of the most ecologically costly materials. So while we’re rooting for Westwood’s mission, we’d love to see the designer incorporate sustainable vegan leather, which is actually pretty great stuff! Effecting environmental progress will require rethinking materials–in addition to quality and quantity.
Although not every fashion house is following in Vivienne Westwood’s footsteps of quality over quantity, she notes that other designers have been supportive, applauding her efforts even if they choose to continue business as usual. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, that admiration will turn into action—sooner rather than later–and that all design houses (Westwood’s included) will begin prioritizing materials that are as sustainable as they are high-quality.
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Photo: Vivienne Westwood via Instagram