By Arwa Lodhi
Every guest at the Vivienne Westwood FW 2013-14 collection runway show at the Saatchi Gallery this season found something surprising on their seat: Dame Westwood’s Climate Revolution Charter. The call to act on climate change action was written on the back of the show’s production notes. You can see the full version of Ms Westwood’s message to the world below. It may make you believe she cares about the environment, but as you’ll soon find out, Vivienne Westwood is not eco friendly in any way.
Why Vivienne Westwood is Not Eco Friendly At ALL
It was certainly a refreshing change to see such a document at Fashion Week, and we agree with much of what this designer advocates, including these important ideas:
- We have wasted the earth’s treasure and we can no longer exploit it cheaply.
- Climate crisis and economic crisis are like serpents who eat each other’s tail.
- Money is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
- Quality vs Quantity
- Buy less, choose well, make it last (we don’t want the ‘latest thing’ just for the sake of it)
- Cut out plastic whenever possible
- Consider the responsibility of having or not having children
- Tackle the need for clean energy
- Establish the Arctic Commons; save the rain forests
But there is no indication that Vivienne Westwood herself is doing anything to do these things herself; in fact, the sheer number of outfits (there were literally dozens of looks) and obviously petroleum-based materials shown on the runway seem to have already violated both her ‘cut out plastic whenever possible’ and ‘quality vs quantity’ points, proving that the Vivienne Westwood label is not eco friendly.
In addition, there are quite a few points, particularly in relation to ‘our economic system’ that Ms.Westwood makes that seem rather unstudied and naive, to say the least.
Eluxe spoke to Simon Cullen,* a PhD in Economics who heads the Economics Department of a large corporation, to get his view on some of her statements in the Climate Revolution Charter. He, like us, concludes that Dame Westwood is all talk and no action.
In short, she’s the Queen of the Greenwash.
VW: Our economic system, run for profit and waste and based primarily on the extractive industries, is the cause of climate change.
SC: Let’s be clear: whilst the climate is clearly changing, the actual causes of climate change are still debated. Most believe it is due to the increase of CO2 and other gases. To a significant extent, this is the consequence of a wide variety of human activities, from driving cars to eating meat. Arguably, the process started with the industrial revolution but has accelerated dramatically over the last decades. This increase of CO2 emissions and the greenhouse effect are primarily due to enormous numbers of livestock on the planet, the loss of rain forests, and the burning of fossil fuels by industry–all industries, including fashion.
We, the consumers, are putting ever-increasing demand on natural resources – virtually everything you use or buy comes from nature one way or another. While Ms Westwood has focuses on ‘the extractive industries,’ the truth is that after agriculture, the fashion industry, which she is a part of, is the world’s largest. Despite her attempts to make radical statements, she seems more than happy to participate in ‘the economic system, run for profit and waste.’
VW: Economists treat economics as if it is a pure science divorced from the facts of life. The result is…wilful confusion under cover of which industry wreaks havoc scot-free and ignores the human and environmental cost.
SC: Economics reflects social behaviours, values, preferences and businesses. Just how does Vivienne Westwood think that as a business woman, she is divorced from economics? Why does she believe that the fashion industry is not also guilty of ‘wreaking havoc’ on the environment?
What exactly does she propose to lessen the impact of her own business?
This seems like a lot of self-righteous drivel to me.
If one wishes to truly reduce the effects of climate change, it would seem logical to me that we curb CO2 emissions by actually using economics intelligently: for example, by following sound economic analyses and relying on market-based solutions. It will certainly be a lot more effective than distributing pamphlets.
VW: Curb the corporations, especially the extractive industries and agribusiness.
SC: I reiterate that Westwood is part of the world’s second-largest business after agriculture–fashion. If she truly wanted to ‘curb the corporations’, she would simply fold up what she’s doing and move fully into philanthropy, for example. Or at the very least, she could aim to curb her own business’s environmental damage, production, and energy consumption, but there is no evidence she’s done this in any way. I see this as a lot of talk, with very little action!
It seems to me she’s using this Climate Change Charter as more of a marketing tool than anything. There’s no logic behind anything she seems to be saying here.
VW: If we want to have a sound economy, we have to have a sound environment. What’s good for the planet is good for the economy; what’s bad for the planet is bad for the economy.
SC: In the long term, that seems to be true. But again, what exactly is she doing that’s ‘good for the planet’? From the little I know here, the answer is basically nothing. I understand she’s donated money to a climate charity, but she surely wrote much of that off on her taxes, too (and from what I understand, she’s actually had a spot of bother with regards to her correct payment of taxes, but that’s another story). Her clothing and business practices are certainly not ‘good for the planet’.
The essence of the problem is now more political and social than economic – why she chose to attack economists in this Charter just speaks of ignorance to me. Ultimately, correct information about the eco-friendliness of products has to be disseminated throughout societies, and then the choice regarding whether or not they will purchase something is for society to make.
Unfortunately, we believe Westwood is misleading society into believing that her brand is ethical and eco-friendly, when it is anything but. Besides authoring the Climate Revolution Charter, Vivienne Westwood has donated £1 million to the Cool Earth charity, which aims to prevent logging in the rain forests of the world. However, she herself is far from green, and if she wants to proclaim herself and her brand as such, she needs to do far more: her label ranks the very lowest rating for environmental sustainability on Rank a Brand, and virtually nothing about her main ranges can be classified as ethical or environmentally friendly–on the contrary, she uses many materials, such as PVC, plastics, and petrol-based polymers that are actively damaging the planet, and if you look at the labels, much of what she sells is made in China and Turkey–two countries known for their cheap sweatshop labour.
In addition, it’s ironic that someone who prides herself on ethics and activism would be caught in the midst of a tax-avoidance storm, after the publication of company accounts in 2015 revealed that her main UK business is paying £2 million a year to an off-shore account in Luxembourg. This led the Green Party, to whom she donates funds, to cancel her appearance at a series of university events titled “We are the Revolution”. In a statement, the Green Party said: “Vivienne Westwood has agreed to suspend her involvement in the Young Greens ‘We are the Revolution’ tour because of their concerns that Vivienne Westwood has non-UK companies in her operation.”
When I read that Westwood publicly denounced the documentary by British director Lorna Tucker, entitled Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist because it didn’t give enough coverage to her ‘activism’, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the director – perhaps material on that was pretty thin!
Vivienne’s Own Words
Of course, the designer should have a chance to defend herself. But when my editor asked her Vivienne directly, in 2013, if she planned on transitioning to more eco-friendly materials, she stated that she’s had the same suppliers for decades and wasn’t about to change her supply channels, because it was ‘too complicated’.
When questioned about her own brand’s lack of eco friendliness by the Guardian newspaper, she said: “I don’t feel comfortable defending my clothes. But if you’ve got the money to afford them, then buy something from me. Just don’t buy too much.” Hmm…in our opinion, even one pair of highly toxic PVC shoes, like those below, is too much.
By not being willing to change her company’s product and practices, Westwood joins the likes of BP and Shell, who talk a good deal about environmental degradation being a problem, then continue to perpetuate the practices that accelerate it.
John ‘Johnny Rotten’ of the Sex Pistols once called Westwood (and her ex-partner, Malcolm McLaren) “a pair of shysters; they would sell anything to any trend that they could grab onto”.
Unfortunately, all evidence seems to point to Westwood using the Green Movement as just another trend to sell into.
Main photo: Harrod’s
Other images: Vivienne Westwood