Five Times Climate Change and The Environment Inspired Fashion Design

The upcoming year of fashion shows look set to be charged with climate change and environmental themes. 

This year, more than ever before, we have seen that the business of fashion, at the highest levels, is responding to the push to take the very pressing issue of climate change and environmental damage seriously. 

Young, edgy designers have emerged in the last decade who are using their creative platform not just to make and show pretty or interesting clothes but also to make a statement about the world and the issues of the day. 

They have shown that fashion is a platform, and a powerful one at that, which can be harnessed for creating a conversation.

The use of fashion to make political statements has always been controversial. Critics of fashion designers tackling or making statements about issues of the day can always say that it is another cynical attempt to sell more clothes. 

However equally, fashion in its purest sense is an art form and art has always been used as a way of expressing all emotion including outrage and grief and to inspire political change.

Although the conversation about climate change has heated up, it has not been wholly ignored by fashion designers in the past, and it has been explored creatively in some amazing collections through the years.

Here are five collections that explored, in unique, interesting and beautiful ways, the issue of climate change and the environment. Each of them had their own viewpoint but importantly they made us think and and try to do things differently.

Vivienne Westwood - Spring 2018

The grand dame of activism has always been at the forefront of exploring pressing environmental and societal issues through her colourful fashion shows. 

Her Spring 2018 Menswear collection explored the issue of landfill and plastic waste by sending down the runway models in fishnets stuffed with trash cans and crushed Evian bottles strapped to their feet.

She also explored the issue of deforestation with her pieces featuring slogans reminding us to save the rainforest and her use of face painting reminiscent of wild animals. In one piece she also reminds of her core motto, to buy less but to buy well. 

Image: Show Studio

Alexander McQueen -  2010 

This maverick and genius of British fashion never shied away from provocative fashion shows. 

The beauty and savagery of his art was that it was so raw, honest and at the same time masterfully skilful.

In his last collection, Plato’s Atlantis, he explored the idea of a dystopian future where humans live under water submerged by rising sea levels. 

Mcqueen tackled the issue of environmental issues and the melting of the ice caps with a collection that was as fantastical as it was poignant. 

The inspiration behind the vibrant colours and digital print of the collection came from familiar fashion themes: the water and the underwater world.

However, it was the total merging and abstraction of those themes with a futuristic silhouette and models with hair and makeup that made them look like a human-animal hybrid which made it such a striking commentary on the possibility of a strange and alien world. 

Image: Vogue

Christopher Raeburn - 2009

This isn’t meant to be an article about British designers but the third one on this list is another Brit!

Raeburn has made his point of difference by bringing to prominence up-cycling and reusing reclaimed materials.  

He burst onto the scene with his first collection in 2009 that used discarded material from the military for his collection including kites and parachutes.

His work has shown that there are many ways to approach sustainability and to also make a creative statement. 

For instance, in 2019, as a commentary on the overconsumption of black Friday, he closed all his stores and instead opened up his lab for people to bring in clothes from any brand to repair and up-cycle. 

He continues to lead the way for slow fashion and continues to use up-cycling to explore ways we can be sustainable but still fashionable. 

Image: Vogue

Balenciaga - 2020 

Balenciaga, under the helm of boundary pushing Demna Gasvalia, has been attracting attention not just for its fashion forward design and appeal to millennials but also because he does not shy away from confronting political issues. 

In its hard hitting fashion show, the fashion house presented the collection on a flooded runway to draw attention to the rising sea levels and created an atmosphere of a dark world that we risk falling forward into unless we confront the danger of climate change

Although the collection still presented over one hundred looks, a nod to the fact that fashion as activism remains a difficult balancing act, the fashion house’s dark and somber message was clear, a collection where the theme was literally translated by showing rainwear in the form of galoshes and waterproof trench coats.

Image: Vogue

Stella McCartney - 2020

Stella has long been a proponent of sustainable and ethical fashion, especially vocal on her stance on animal rights, and with each year she advances her use of sustainable materials and practises. 

The SS20 collection is said to be her most sustainable yet - as 75% of the materials used come from eco-friendly sources including recycled polyester, Econyl and hemp. 

Her collection design was also inspired by the circle of life, which is reminiscent of one of the ideals of sustainable fashion, to achieve a completely circular, zero waste model. 

It interpreted the circle almost literally featuring circle-shaped skirts and tops with circular cutouts around the abdomen. 

Her modern yet feminine cuts showed that sustainable fashion need not be dull or ugly.

Image: Vogue

Going Forward ...

As is clear, climate change and the environment has been a theme that has been explored by forward-looking designers through collections in the past and activism through fashion is not going away any time soon. 

It will be fascinating to see what will happen now and going into the future.

Designers have taken all sorts of approaches to tackle the issue, through presenting new materials, through promoting slower fashion and less consumption, up-cycling or creating hard hitting presentations and designs that raise awareness.

Fashion and the environment have, up to now, made unlikely bedfellows but going forward, lets hope that we can use the former to actively make a difference to the later, through better practices but also through using it as an art form to stir discussion and awareness..  

As Edwina Ehrman says: Fashion reflects the times we live in, and fashion can be very persuasive. We can drive change through creativity’

What do you think of exploring climate change through fashion? Should fashion be used to inspire people to take action on social issues?