8 Defining Moments in Fashion's Fight for the Planet | Savoir Flair
8 Defining Moments in Fashion's Fight for the Planet
by Mimi Droeshout 5-minute read April 28, 2024

Pivotal moments that proved that fashion isn't just runway-deep — it’s a catalyst for change. 

While renowned for creativity and style, the fashion industry is plagued by overconsumption, waste, and unsustainable practices that contribute to climate devastation and exploitation. We at Savoir Flair are profoundly aware of these issues, which is why two years ago, our editors signed a pledge to no longer buy fast fashion. We aim to lead by example, encouraging our readers to make more environmentally friendly and socially responsible choices.

Amidst these challenges, however, the fashion industry has glimmers of hope. Designers are using their platforms to advocate for environmental and social justice, and brands are making bold commitments to sustainability. These moments have not only shaped the industry but have also inspired others to take action. They serve as a powerful reminder that fashion has the capacity not just to make a statement but to enact significant change. As we continue our journey, let us draw inspiration from these trailblazers and persist in our efforts to foster a more sustainable and environmentally conscious fashion industry. Below, we're uncovering the milestones and game-changers driving the industry towards sustainability with eight groundbreaking moments in fashion that continue to inspire and propel change.


Vivienne Westwood

The Godmother of Punk and Activism

Throughout her career, legendary British designer Vivienne Westwood consistently used her platform to raise awareness about climate change and advocate for immediate action. She launched her own movement, the Climate Revolution, at the 2012 London Paralympics closing ceremony, marking a significant milestone in her fierce advocacy for environmental activism. She used her bold graphics and visionary 'Active Resistance to Propaganda' manifesto to unite charities, NGOs, and passionate individuals in challenging apathetic politicians and corporate powers. Westwood's unwavering commitment to climate action has inspired a new generation of designers to follow in her footsteps and use fashion as a vehicle for change.


Stella McCartney

The Landfill Campaign

Known for her cruelty-free and eco-friendly designs, Stella McCartney is a pioneer in sustainable fashion. In 2017, McCartney made a bold statement about overconsumption and throwaway culture by shooting her Fall 2017 campaign in a Scottish landfill, collaborating with artist Urs Fischer and photographer Harley Weir. The jarring visuals served as a powerful wake-up call, with McCartney explaining, "Our man-made constructed environments are disconnected and unaware of other life and the planet, which is why there is waste," an urgent reminder to confront overconsumption and its environmental impact head-on. Years later, the campaign still stands as one of the few instances where a major fashion brand has addressed environmental degradation in such a direct and impactful manner, cementing its status as a groundbreaking moment in sustainable fashion activism.


Fashion Revolution

The 'Who Made My Clothes?' Campaign

Since its inception in 2013 following the tragic Rana Plaza disaster, Fashion Revolution has grown into the world's largest fashion activism movement, harnessing the power of research, education, and advocacy to mobilize citizens, brands, and policymakers alike. With a diverse global community encompassing designers, academics, and business leaders, its members are united in their mission to create a more ethical, sustainable, and transparent industry. With an action-oriented approach, they aim to raise awareness about the fashion industry's pressing challenges while empowering people to make positive changes in their lives and work. Their annual 'Who Made My Clothes?' campaign encourages consumers to demand greater transparency from brands regarding their supply chains. By seeking information about the people and processes behind our clothes, Fashion Revolution has helped to expose the human and environmental costs of fast fashion and has urged brands to take responsibility for their impact.



Water<Less Initiative

Levi's launched its Water<Less initiative in 2011, aiming to reduce the amount of water used in the production of its jeans. The brand's designers took on the challenge of creating signature Levi's looks while using less water in the finishing stage, the last but most crucial step in denim production, which typically uses a lot of water. As a result, Levi's developed over 20 different Water<Less manufacturing techniques that have helped to save billions of liters of water over the years. By 2019, an impressive 69% of Levi's bottoms were made using Water<Less methods. Recognizing the growing risk of global water scarcity, Levi's invited other apparel companies to its Eureka Innovation Lab to learn how to implement these practices in their own factories. The brand then published all of its Water<Less methods publicly, encouraging collaboration and a collective shift towards more sustainable practices in the entire industry.



Don't Buy This Jacket Campaign

In 2011, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia made headlines with its bold 'Don't Buy This Jacket' campaign, published in The New York Times on Black Friday. As its name implies, the ad explicitly discouraged customers from purchasing from the brand, urging them to consider the environmental cost of their consumption habits. Instead, Patagonia presented four more sustainable alternatives: reducing the amount of gear bought, repairing existing items, reusing or reselling unneeded Patagonia gear, and recycling worn-out pieces through the brand’s own repair, resale, and recycling programs, all part of its Common Threads Initiative. This groundbreaking initiative established the brand as a pioneer in environmental advocacy, challenging the traditional consumerism model and sparking a crucial conversation about mindful consumption in the fashion industry.


The RealReal

Sustainability Calculator

The RealReal launched its Sustainability Calculator in 2018 to help customers understand the environmental impact of their fashion choices by quantifying the positive environmental impact of reselling luxury goods. Developed over a year through expert collaboration, the calculator measures the water and carbon savings from keeping handbags, fine jewelry, watches, and apparel in circulation. Since its inception in 2011 through 2022, The RealReal has achieved remarkable environmental savings, conserving over 2.8 billion liters of water and reducing carbon emissions by 52,767 metric tons across all measured categories, highlighting the substantial benefits of luxury resale to the health of our planet.


The United Nations

Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action

In 2018, the United Nations introduced the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, a groundbreaking initiative that brought together leading fashion brands, retailers, and organizations to mitigate the industry's environmental footprint. The charter outlines ambitious objectives, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. The charter marks a significant step towards a more sustainable future for fashion and serves as a rallying cry for the industry to unite and take collective action against climate change.


The Fur Free Movement

In recent years, the use of fur in fashion has faced increasing criticism, with animal rights activists calling for its complete prohibition. In a landmark move in October 2017, Gucci's then-president and CEO, Marco Bizzarri, announced the brand's decision to eliminate animal fur from all future collections. This bold decision by Gucci initiated a chain reaction, inspiring numerous other luxury labels to follow suit. Brands like Burberry and Chanel in 2018, Versace and Prada in 2019, and Saint Laurent in 2021 have since revised their policies to exclude real fur, opting instead for faux fur alternatives.

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