Do fashion shows change anything?
Before Extinction Rebellion began regularly calling out the fashion industry for dragging its feet on the climate crisis, animal rights organization PETA was the organization most likely to make an appearance on catwalks, often using controversial tactics. In 2002, protesters stormed the Victoria’s Secret fashion show after news broke that model Gisele Bundchen had recently signed a campaign deal with American fur brand Blackglama. While Gisele seemed phaseless at the time, she later said the event caused her to stop doing fur campaigns. Similarly, during the fall 2003 Dior show, another PETA protester crashed down the catwalk holding a sign that read “FUR SHAME” as the model walked the runway in a lilac fur coat.
Many big fashion brands have stopped using real fur since those early days. ‘00s, but PETA continues to protest the use of other animal-derived materials for fashion. Last week during London Fashion Week, protesters took to the Millennium Bridge dressed as birds with red paint dripping down their chests to urge designers to stop using real feathers.
“PETA’s protests draw public attention,” says PETA Director Elisa Allen. “They often encourage discussion, debate and change. After PETA’s campaigns, London Fashion Week has shown fur-free runways year after year. This fashion week, we call on designers and fashion lovers to avoid feathers and choose vegan materials instead.
High-profile protests grab the headlines, but Allen adds that PETA also engages with the fashion industry behind the scenes.
“We show them the investigations into the trade in exotic skins, for example,” she says. “If that doesn’t grab their attention, we can use loud, colorful protests that they can’t help but notice.
PETA’s protests often symbolically appeal to the fashion industry as a whole, but they also acknowledge that some designers shared their anti-fur views even before it was fashionable to do so, citing Stella McCartney, Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood. A new generation of contemporary designers is also shaking up the industry. Designers such as Bethany Williams, Priya Ahluwalia and Phoebe English are known for their activism, whether that means working directly with charities, amplifying the voices of marginalized communities or sharing information about sustainability.
“I think working with activists, charities and organizations that have the data and the research and the people who support it is really, really important,” says Matthew Needham. “There have been shows in the past that have taken protest as an aesthetic or marketing tool to show that they are one with activists, but that has to be more than an aesthetic point. Work with organizations and incorporate the theme into the message and purpose of the clothing. »
As with all activism, it’s as much about what happens behind the scenes as it is about who is shouting the loudest. Pitting individuals against each other could make for an enticing tabloid headline. But in reality, it will take activists and designers working together to create a better future for fashion.