LONDON — Having blockaded printing plants in the U.K. earlier this month, stopping 1.5 million national newspapers from reaching the news agents and people’s homes across the country, the climate change activists at Extinction Rebellion are now asking the press for help in plugging their message during Paris Fashion Week.
On Tuesday, the group known as XR released an open letter, via video, asking members of the industry to “transform our culture of consumption and destruction.” The video uses past, sustainability-related quotes from the likes of Stella McCartney, Virgil Abloh and Alessandro Michele, among other industry figures.
XR said the video is part of a new campaign called Fashion Act Now, which wants the industry to work harder and faster to mitigate climate and ecological breakdown. The letter calls for the “cancellation of the fashion week format, and its culture of newness and excess, which has no place in this environmental emergency.”
But the traditional “format” has already been canceled. COVID-19 certainly made sure of that, with fashion houses reeling from the impact of the pandemic — downsizing collections, laying off workers and, in some cases, closing up shop.
Only a handful of runway shows have taken place so far, with many designers opting for one-to-one meetings, digital, video or virtual presentations. Few are flying to the fashion capitals, front rows are sparse and there are no more carbon-pumping exhibitions, dinners or parties — at least for now.
In the midst of it all, major luxury houses have been raising hundreds of millions of pounds and euros, privately, and on the public markets, as they race toward their ambitious green, carbon-zapping goals. Smaller designers are relying on deadstock, or dialing down the size, scale and frequency of their collections in a bid to reduce their impact on the planet.
Still, Tuesday’s video letter argues that the fashion industry remains one of the most “polluting and wasteful industries, and is almost totally reliant on virgin resources.”
To drive home XR’s point — and ensure the group grabs as many headlines as possible — a woman got up at the end of the Dior spring 2021 show and unfurled a yellow banner painted with the words: “We Are All Fashion Victims.” In a corner of the flag was the extinction symbol used by environmental protesters, including climate action group Extinction Rebellion, which last year disrupted London Fashion Week with a series of demonstrations.
But the stunt was a non-event, with even LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executives wondering whether the crasher was part of the show.
It was just a few weeks ago, on the weekend of Sept. 5 and 6, that this same group expressed its contempt for a free press. In doing so, XR managed to unite bitter rivals — Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer — against it. Both politicians blasted XR’s tactics, and defended freedom of expression in a democratic society.
“A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.”
Police made 80 arrests on the weekend of the blockade, which was meant to be an anti-capitalist cry and a complaint that newspapers are ignoring the gravity of climate change.
The British newspapers were, not surprisingly, incensed, with The Times of London — one of the newspapers affected, alongside The Financial Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail — saying: “There was goodwill when XR held its first protests in London two years ago, despite the disruption, but the group has become an example of how to lose friends and not influence people.”
(Most of the blocked newspapers were never delivered, and had to be recycled while organizations unlocked their web sites to give readers access to the news).
Following the XR protest earlier this month, The Mail lashed out, pointing to the fantastical factoid the group had been circulating for months — that climate change “will kill billions of people…in the next 10 to 20 years.” One of the group’s top p.r.’s, Zion Lights, repeated it on national TV, and was practically laughed out of the studio after she was eventually forced to admit there was zero scientific evidence to back those numbers up.
All Lights could say was: “Unfortunately, alarmist language works.” She has since quit XR, and begun campaigning for nuclear power in a bid to tackle climate change.
“Laughable is certainly one way to describe Extinction Rebellion, or at least their declaration that [this month’s] neo-fascist blockade of newspaper print works was part of a campaign to ‘free the truth’,” the Mail added in the same story.
On Tuesday, asked how XR could be blockading the printing plants one minute and then calling on the press for support the next, an XR spokesperson said that group, full-heartedly “believes in a free press, and that our lack of freedom of press is hindering the reporting on the biggest crisis our species has ever faced.”
The spokesperson added that it was “hyperbolic” to believe its actions earlier this month had a significant effect on people’s ability to access unbiased news, and make informed decisions.
“We have sparked a much-needed debate about freedom of press and the role of all press in giving this crisis the attention it should rightly have, and also the role of the press in hindering progress. Much of the press is responsible for promoting unsustainable consumption that contributes to this disaster — unsustainable food, fashion, exotic holidays and much more — and upholding support for the systems that are wrecking our planet,” the spokesperson said.
That’s certainly not a way to make media friends, and influence the influencers.