Rebels with a cause: Band of protesters raising awareness about climate crisis in unique ways


A file photo of activists in red robes, from the climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion, marching in London (Bloomberg Image)A file photo of activists in red robes, from the climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion, marching in London (Bloomberg Image)

Sustainability is an omnipresent phenomenon on runways and streets today. From New York, Milan and London to Paris and India, fashion designers are increasingly becoming conscious of how damaging fast fashion is to the environment. And slowly, they are moving over borrowed references and use of certain colours to focus exclusively on making sustainability a norm.

Sadly, though, not all have been able to achieve the same. Therefore, some eco-friendly warriors stress on raising awareness about the climate crisis.

Recently, Extinction Rebellion (a global environmental movement) protestors stripped naked to protest fast fashion in the UK. Abbreviated as XR, the group demonstrated the environmental harms of fast fashion by glueing their hands to the windows of an H&M store in early September.

This is, however, not the first time that XR has taken such action. The movement started with the aim of using non-violent civil disobedience to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss and the risk of social and ecological collapse. It was established in the UK in May 2018, with about 100 academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018. XR was launched by Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook along with other activists from the campaign group Rising Up!

In 2019, the protesters also disrupted the London Fashion Week—with a ‘die-in’ performance—covered in fake blood, while other members dressed in sombre funeral attire. In another protest last year, a dozen largely naked climate change protesters disrupted a Brexit debate at the House of Commons to draw politicians’ attention to the climate and ecological crisis. They even stripped down to their underwear and painted slogans over their bodies at a march in Melbourne, Australia. Yet again, in 2019, they sprayed fake blood over the Treasury building in central London and parked an old fire engine outside the 100-year-old building with 1,800 litre of coloured water to highlight the inconsistency between the UK government’s insistence that it is a world leader in tackling climate breakdown and the vast sums it pours into fossil fuel exploration and carbon-intensive projects.

Here the cause of concern is the environmental hazard that the fashion world (one of the major polluting industries) poses, contributing to divergent forms of environmental pollution, including water, air and soil pollution. Overproduction of fashion items, use of synthetic fibres and agriculture pollution of fashion crops are just a few factors that contribute to waste pollution. Polyester is one of the most popular fibres used in fashion, but it is non-biodegradable and can never be converted to a state that is naturally found.

Fast fashion refers to quick and affordable trends available to consumers. Mass production combined with cheap labour makes clothes cheaper and allows these trends to enjoy economic success, but the amount of waste produced is massive.

If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, its share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050, according to a 2017 report from Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The foundation also reports that more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing under-utilisation and lack of recycling. For instance, the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production (at 1.2 billion tonnes annually) are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Trends point to these negative impacts rising inexorably, with the potential for catastrophic outcomes in the future.

In 2013, Levi’s launched its WasteLess range of jeans, composed of a minimum 20% post-consumer recycled content from an average of eight plastic bottles. Even though the WasteLess range is no longer marketed, Levi’s has continued to offer sustainable fashion with its current Wellthread collection, featuring the first ever commercialised use of cottonised hemp and fully recyclable nylon board shorts.

The environmental impact of clothing production has long been criticised. What fashion brands need to do is make the supply chain carbon neutral and use recycled or sustainable materials.

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