On October 5th, Louis Vuitton’s Paris Fashion Week Show was stormed by an Extinction Rebellion activist. Bearing a large white sign with the words “Overconsumption = Extinction” branded across the front in bold, black lettering. The climate activist walked the length of the runway between other models, posed for photos, and was then swiftly removed by security guards.
The activist’s stunt quickly went viral on social media platforms and has triggered the age-old conversation about the ‘appropriate’ way to protest, as well as a conversation about whether the blame for overconsumption should be put on the upper class and luxury fashion.
Regardless, the climate activists are right. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, and the impact it is having on our planet is undeniable. Currently, between 80 and 100 billion pieces of new clothing are produced every year globally. This is a 400% increase from that of two decades ago. In 2018, H&M reported that it had 4.3 billion dollars of unsold clothing in its inventory. To make matters worse, it is estimated that a truck-load of used clothing is burned or buried in landfill every single second.
However, the frequent scapegoats of fashion’s environmental crisis are often made out to be fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Boohoo, Shein, and so on. While this blame is almost always deserved, given the colossal impact these brands have on the environment as well as the blatant disregard they have for sustainability, they are by no means the only culprits.
High fashion brands (as Burberry admitted in 2015) often burn huge amounts of their leftover stock to maintain brand exclusivity. In 2017, Burberry allegedly destroyed $37.8 million worth of clothing. Other luxury houses like Richemont (which owns Cartier and Montblanc), Louis Vuitton, and Chanel are also known to frequently destroy products in order to maintain high demand and exclusivity for their products.
But more to the point, what does this have to do with overconsumption? And, are luxury fashion houses and fashion show attendees to blame for promoting it? In regards to the latter, there is definitely an argument to be made. The composition of who attends fashion shows has changed in recent years, featuring fewer and fewer editors and journalists and more and more influencers and social media stars. From a marketing and PR perspective, this is a logical move to maximise the exposure of each show.
However, there is a serious lack of transparency between fashion show attendees and their audiences. What the public is rarely made aware of is that most influencers are either dressed for shows, given looks to rent, or sent free PR packages containing clothes or items to don ahead of the event. This custom is consistent for influencers on the day-to-day as well, and the lack of awareness that their audience has of this practice is where the problems start to occur. For example, people who follow fashion and lifestyle influencers tend to be young, impressionable girls who start to subconsciously assume that they need as many clothes as influencers have, and that they need to be constantly buying and never outfit-repeating to keep up with the times. To a large extent, social media platforms like Instagram and Tiktok where algorithms boost posts featuring new outfits and new looks are to blame as they only encourage influencers to keep posting different trends, ideas, shapes, colours. Thus, the cycle of overconsumption is bred and perpetuated.
Moreover, whether Extinction Rebellion’s sign and protest was aimed directly at Louis Vuitton as a nod to the brand’s practice of burning clothes and causing huge amounts of waste and carbon emissions, or whether it was intended for the fashion show attendees, the fact remains that their argument is a poignant one. We are over-consuming at a rate that has turned climate change into a climate crisis. We are suffocating the earth with the overproduction of clothes. We are polluting with every second that passes, and it is time that we were all made to face up to those truths, even if it does make everyone a little uncomfortable sometimes.