Even if Vetements sends its edgy, pseudo-ironic collections hurtling down the runway at breakneck speed, please don’t call it fast fashion.
Continuing to trumpet the environmental perils of a world clogged with cheap, disposal clothing, the indie brand plans to fill the main windows of Harrods with piles of donated clothes that are to be upcycled in aid of NSPCC, a children’s charity in the U.K.
Slated to run from Feb. 8 to March 2, the display kicks off a year during which Vetements chief executive officer Guram Gvasalia plans to use the brand as a vehicle to promote sustainability and encourage consumers to buy less.
He told WWD the company is “taking the concept to local communities worldwide” and planning to mount 50 different installations this year.
“Overproduction and market oversaturation is one of the biggest environmental problems of today,” according to Gvasalia, who runs the company, now headquartered in Zurich, with his designing brother Demna. “Brands are overselling in a constant pursuit of growth, artificially inflating their numbers and reporting high demands while in reality overstocking retailers and their own stores.” He estimated that 30 percent of merchandise produced by fashion brands is never sold and ends up in landfill.
Passersby, along with store employees, are invited to donate their “pre-loved” clothes.
“The project with Harrods is phenomenal due to the fact that 4,000 Harrods employees are donating their personal clothes for the installation, clothes they probably don’t need or want anymore,” Gvasalia said. “We tried to approach brands to help us fill windows with their dead stock to make a point, [but] no one seemed to be willing to admit that they purposely keep producing more than they can sell.”
Last year, Vetements mounted similar displays of discarded clothing at Maxfield in Los Angeles and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York — prompting some to question the brand for pontificating on the ills of excess consumerism while shilling expensive sweatshirts, jeans and bomber jackets.
Asked how he reconciles the plea to buy less with the ambitions of his company, Gvasalia countered that, “Vetements’ ambition has never been to sell as much as possible.
“We like the idea of slowing down. We like the idea of slow fashion to buy less, buy quality and buy long-term,” he said. “The main purpose of making those installations is to raise awareness and to remind the general public about the issue of overproduction and over-consumption, to make brands feel guilty for hyper-saturating the market and damaging the planet, and hopefully to start proper and honest conversations regarding those issues.”
He described Vetements, which ignited a global trend for street-inspired fashions, as “a very small player in comparison to giant conglomerates of the industry.”
“The main problem is those big brands trying to inflate their numbers no matter what, in a pursuit to report artificial growth by overproducing and overstocking. Ironically enough, those brands are usually the ones who communicate the most how important is sustainability.”
Gvasalia argued that a sustainable approach to fashion “has always been a core value of our company.” He noted that Vetements’ first collection included jeans patched together from vintage Levi’s, “giving something old and unwanted a second life and a new purpose,” and that all subsequent collections rework secondhand garments, including dead stocks of military and workwear manufacturers.
“We only deliver to stores what they order and never restock or reproduce sold-out styles,” Gvasalia said. “Being an independent brand, we are always taking on new opportunities and looking for creative ways to make our company more sustainable.”
He noted window displays like the one at Harrods are meant to provoke discussion and raise awareness about sustainability.
“If all the big players are politically involved and afraid to raise those issues properly and honestly, we would like to ask all the young and independent brands to raise their voices. Don`t think that someone else will save the planet,” he said.
Helen David, chief merchant at Harrods, called it a “coup” to work with Vetements, “who constantly shake up the fashion industry and this project is no exception.”
Last December, the landmark London retailer added a 900-square-foot Vetements women’s wear shop in its Superbrands area on the second floor, and it is to introduce a men’s wear corner in its basement level later this month.