No Kilts Allowed Fashion Column: Climate Change and Fashion

Riverside weather is downright confounding. Particularly this time of year, it becomes nearly impossible to dress appropriately for the climate. Just this past week, I left my apartment in the morning feeling overwhelmingly warm, and by the time I exited my first class it was startlingly cold.

It is because of this unpredictable weather that “seasonal” fashion is now somewhat obsolete. Especially with LA-based designers, the traditional divide between the spring/summer and fall/winter collections has become blurred. While this makes it easier for us to have more expansive wardrobes, it is actually puts designers at a disadvantage. “The whole fashion industry will have to change,” Beppe Modenese, founder of Milan Fashion Week, told The New York Times. He said the industry “must adapt to the reality that there is no strong difference between summer and winter any more” and that “You can’t have everyone showing four times a year to present the same thing. People are not prepared to invest in these clothes that, from one season to the other, use the same fabrics at the same weight.” Notice how stores seem to be selling bathing suits year-round now? Mainstream retailers like Target and Kohl’s have hired climatologists to help them plan their collections.

Many designers have even used the blending of seasons to raise awareness of global climate change. At Paris Fashion Week in 2007, Canadian designer Rad Hourani controversially said, “With global warming, I don’t believe in four distinct seasons anymore.” British designer Katherine Mannett has taken a step further, claiming that if the fashion industry does not adapt to climate change, it will cease to exist as we know. it. “The entire clothing industry is upside-down right now, and has been for some time,” she said. “We have bikinis being sold in January, and fur coats being sold in August. It’s bonkers.”

In 2010, Karl Lagerfeld released Chanel’s fall-winter ready to wear line in a manner so startling that it was bound to draw attention. Giant icecaps were delivered from Sweden to Paris fashion week, and the entire show was conducted with models posing around them. It took 35 ice sculptors six days to carve the 28-foot-tall northern Swedish import into a tableau of floating ice caps on a glittering Arctic sea for a backdrop. Lagerfeld cited the ice hotel in Sweden as his inspiration.

While it is unclear whether or not Lagerfeld’s intention was to point a finger at global warming, the buzz that generated after the show demonstrates the influence the fashion industry could have on awareness of global issues. The successful rise of fair-trade and eco-friendly fashion lines can also attest to this. Because global climate change impacts them so directly, I think it would be compelling to see more designers use their changing collections to raise awareness for this pressing issue, and perhaps see an expansion of these fashion-with-a-cause lines.

At the fundamental level, common raw materials for clothes like cotton and wool depend on natural agriculture and irrigation for their production. The impact of climate change on water levels directly effects the quantity and quality of these crops that are vital for clothing production. Designers should consider this a prime opportunity to do good for their business, their consumers and the earth.

The relationship goes both ways, as large scale farming for wools and leathers leaves a significant carbon footprint of various greenhouse gases. Even man-made fibers like polyester require immense energy usage for their production. Through the processes of manufacturing, shipping and retailing clothing, the clothing industry is a considerable contributor to harmful emissions and energy use.

On a practical level, it is possible to dress to accommodate the constantly shifting weather. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: the best way to dress is in layers. Hamnett agrees, saying, “I think we may see a move toward more layered clothing in the winter, rather than bulk clothing as we seem to favour now. Layers are both more effective and more adaptable: they show the fashion industry being responsive and innovative at the same time.” Layering ensures that you can add or remove pieces of your ensemble throughout the day to adjust to the temperature. Cardigans are an easy fix for chilly days, and they don’t take up too much room inside a bag. Summer dresses can easily be transitioned for cooler climates when paired with dark neutral tights and boots.

Climate change is unpredictable. It throws conventional fashion patterns out of the window. Given that fashion is a trillion dollar global industry, this necessitates a global response. This should not be difficult, since entrepreneurship is something that the industry does particularly well. Hopefully designers will continue to provide seasonally ambiguous clothing to suit the weather, and capitalize on the opportunity to raise awareness for the environmental implications of this problem.

 

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