An audience with: Vivienne Westwood on being a sustainability leader, social revolution and climate change

Vivienne Westwood at the University of Cumbria

(above) Vivienne Westwood speaking at the University of Cumbria, Ambleside Campus on Tuesday 20th June 2017. Source: credit The University of Cumbria

Have you ever thought about where your wardrobe comes from? Do you ever question what might have been sacrificed in exchange for your latest look? Such are the questions we commonly ask ourselves where sustainability, fashion and the environment are concerned. What about the even bigger question though? Yet more important is the behaviour of industry leaders and consumers which drives these patterns of production and purchase. This abstract view of industry, born of literature as early as 1928 in E.M. Forsters novel ‘The Machine Stops’ has entered ever more into the limelight in recent years. At the forefront of this debate is Dame Vivienne Westwood, who has set about rallying her glamorous comrades to do all in their power to stop climate change.

CHO Fashion & Lifestyle caught a piece of the action last Tuesday night as the idyllic Lake District location of Amblesides University of Cumbria campus took to the world stage. The designer and activist Westwood herself gave a free lecture on the topic of leadership for sustainability, social revolution, and climate change.

Dame Westwood vs. Evil

The lecture, animatedly delivered by Dame Westwood that evening gave an abstract but enlightening perspective of our times and the challenge the fashion industry faces in the eyes of the environment and our planet. She took to the front of the lecture theatre and instead of opting for the lectern, decided to perch upon a table at the front of the room. Switching between leaning forwards on her wrists on the table and looking down her reading glasses to her page of notes, she outlined the importance of reading, knowledge and action in the context of society and environment to her listeners. Westwood gave the impression of a person so confident and so cultured in the foundations of what she is preaching, that she can sit and give a very personal account of her experience of our society and the threat that industry poses to our world.

(above) Vivienne’s social channels, including her social media are an outlet for her vibrant campaign artwork. Source: Instagram

Vivienne spoke from the heart, quoting Taoist Chinese poetry to paraphrase our relationship with the Earth as it should be, before moving on to critique how Western society and politics quite often falsely focus on the needs of one centric force, rather than the ‘bigger picture’. Condemning Trump, austerity and the ‘rotten financial system’. Using the NASA +5 degrees map as a foundation, Dame Westwood urged the assembly to switch to green energy, she stressed to listeners that ‘it’s up to you’ and underlined the effectiveness of ‘people power’.

Collaborating activism with art, Westwood is taking stakeholder engagement to an entirely new level. Working with charity Greenpeace, she documents all her activities and progress on her website; Climate Revolution and has released a clothing range, the sales of which specifically support Greenpeace’s cause.

In addition to online T-Shirt sales, Westwood has created a visual campaign to ‘Save the Arctic’ which until 26th July, has taken over London Waterloo station. The photographic campaign aims to draw a sharp focus on the protection of the Arctic and features a series of 60 portraits of celebrities such as Tom Hiddleston, Kate Moss and George Clooney wearing the recognizable ‘Save the Arctic’ T-shirt.

This project comes after Westwood recently announced her decision to refocus her brand from growth towards good, using her well-known brand and name to further efforts towards conservation and social change.

The fashion industry, the climate and CHO

Our love of past-paced trends creates a demand for new looks each season and has driven the rise and rise of the fast fashion industry. Actually, if you’re buying more, you want each item of clothing to cost less, no? Shoppers these days want more, they want it at a lower price and they want it now. As a result, high street retailers focus on churning out ‘flavour of the week’ pieces for minimum cost at minimum price. These items are designed to be bought, worn and forgotten about. So where does this cause problems for the planet? It quite simply comes down to; more products, use more materials, the production process creates pollution and once forgotten about these products become waste. The need for materials to make this clothing at minimum cost can often mean that the raw materials are sourced with only profits, rather than environment or the people making them, in mind.

Valuing our possessions: the true meaning of materialism

To conclude her lecture, Vivienne asked of her audience to consider what influences them.

So what’s the solution? ‘Quality not quantity.’ Here we emphasize the benefits of buying high quality items of clothing, as opposed to lots of cheap gear. The antithesis to fast fashion is of course ‘slow fashion’. Slow fashion encourages the less frequent and more considered purchase of high quality, more slowly produced and more resilient fashion pieces.

At CHO, we promote slow fashion by retailing high quality brands. Barbour jackets and Fjallraven Kankens are perfect examples of products which are often bought once, worn forever and even passed down through generations. This attitude to production and use holds materials to a greater value and leaves minimum waste. By offering high quality, ‘once in a lifetime’ products, CHO encourages customers to consider their purchases. When you know you are buying quality, you are more likely to spend time choosing the right coat, because you know it will be with you for a long time. Or, as Dame Westwood put it in a recent interview with newspaper The Observer: ‘Buy well and make it last’.

(below) The versatile Kanken from Fjallraven, a favourite amongst hipsters and hikers alike. Source: Instagram

At her University of Cumbria lecture, Vivienne Westwood urged the audience, the consumer, to consider society as a whole, rather than the one or few people taking all the profits at the end of the day. A perfect example of a brand pioneering this manner of operations is shoe brand TOMS, who were new for SS17 at CHO. A high street frontrunner, TOMS have made social responsibility a key pillar of their business model, pioneered by their ‘1 for 1 policy’ in which for every pair of shoes TOMS sell, they provide one to a child or young person in need: TOMS now work with over 100 partners in the developing world to both enrich lives by providing further aspects of health and social aid to those in need across the globe. Striving towards social change, other manufacturers look to TOMS to lead the way in conscious marketing as trailblazers like Westwood pave the way by increasing the awareness of the consumer.

The movement ahead…

(above) Dame Westwood advocates reading and scholarliness and has formed the organisation ‘intellectuals unite’. Source: Instagram

At the University of Cumbria, Vivienne announced she will be speaking on behalf of her organisation, ‘Intellectuals Unite’ otherwise known as ‘IOU’ at the South Bank in London on upcoming dates this Summer. To which she has also attached the tagline ‘reading matters’, a further emphasis on her endorsement on literature and study. Finally, after a very close and personal talk, Vivienne gave up the floor to questions before appearing at the small venue for drinks and canapes.

CHO Fashion & Lifestyle would like thank Dame Vivienne Westwood for her time and company, as well as the University of Cumbria for inviting them to the event.

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