Courtesy of WWD

Vivienne Westwood, from the Queen of Punk to Fashion Activist

Starting with her small shop in King’s Road in London, Vivienne Westwood has dressed punks, celebrities and prime ministers for half a century. Westwood’s eccentric label has become a referent to follow when talking about fashion activism. Since establishing her brand in the 80’s, the co-founder of punk has exposed a truth we’re not used to hear in the fashion industry and has opened her eyes to see what most designers and fashion business can’t.

Vivienne Westwood had a relationship with Malcom McLaren —the manager of the Sex Pistols— they were partners-in-crime. The couple channelled the spirit of the punk movement, her designs, his thoughts. Since then, Westwood’s distinctive personality has not left us indifferent. Throughout her career, she has used a wide range of methods of self expression, from the use of shocking pieces to unforgettable political state- ments. She used t-shirts as a claim to capture her revolutionary ideas, she turned her back against monarchy and denied capitalism, creating a transgressive movement through the English establishment mockery which young British related to.

Vivienne Westwood, photographed at her shop Seditionaries on 430 Kings Road, circa 1970s. © Robin Laurance.

Eventhough the provocation is a must on her daily life, she has rather put in enhancement her activism through raising awareness of climate change. The main question was and still is: what can people do out there to play their part in saving this planet? Climate Change is in the spotlight and people are becoming more demanding regarding what’s behind the clothes they intend to buy and turning their backs to fast fash- ion —or at least trying gradually. Ever since, Westwood has been working very hard on a grand scale for half a century, but has she been aware of the frantic relation between the climate crisis and the fashion industry? What has she been doing about it?

Along with Andreas Kronthaler, —her actual husband and right hand man— she is running her brand which now exists to produce more than clothes and accessories; it has been converted to an activist and climate change brand in order to raise awareness on the true cost of fast fashion. ” We use our brand voice
to raise awareness of the environmental impact of overconsumption.” Westwood devotes most of her time to environmental causes, she does no longer focus all of her energies on iconic fashion shows and rather prefers to concentrate and take action into how the inequities of the global financial system are a cause of 21st cen- tury terror.

Vivienne Westwood protests climate change as environmental demonstrations hit London Fashion Week

Over the years, since Westwood’s brand took off, she has been coping with saving the planet and having a growing business. This might seem opposite worlds but she has developped a cleared-eye view of the climate crisis and believes that by taking action in developing a series of changes, fashion business and environmen- tal activism can coexist.

This very much experienced designer has taken note of its impact on the planet. Knowing that, all collec- tions are to be downsized in production and nowadays, they are a 50% smaller than 3 years ago. Clothes are fair trade and she creates and sells collections that meet the standard requirements of Vivienne Westwood’s mantra of choose well, buy less, make it last. They source raw materials with minimal social and environ- mental impact, most of their fibres and fabrics have a low impact dyeing. She is also advocating for the end of wasteful practices like the use of cotton, which she’s replacing it by hemp and also denim, which she stopped producing. As fashion is and must evolve, there is no other option but to be up-to-date in terms of taking care of Mother Earth, not only as a tendency but as a real commitment.

© Getty Images

Keeping that in mind, one of the most recent steps that Westwood has taken, is the creation of a flagship campaign to lead ambitious climate action for a greener, safer future for all, called Fashion Switch to Green. The campaign intends to be a catalyst for global environmental change through collaboration. It’s reaching out to fashion brands and businesses to commit to switch to a green energy supplier within the next three years and tying the campaign to the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This means that transitioning energy usage into a renewable source can play an integral part in reaching business sustainability goals and tackling climate change.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood stands in a giant bird cage in protest against the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S., outside the Old Bailey court, in London. © Matt Dunham

Even though having had a life-long commitment to sustainability, she has always referred to herself as an activist as much as a designer. Westwood continues to work in fashion because she wants to create “THE company of the future”, she would love to make into a law that once you expand your brand to a certain point, you can’t expand anymore and you have to give your profits to charity. “I’m a fashion designer and an activist. Each helped the other. And it’s very very important to look great if you want to make a point because then people I think listen to you more.” —Westwood says laughing.

But, has it been possible to merge fashion and sustainability while mantaining a certain logic between these apparently opposite worlds? Certainly, there is not only one answer to that but it is true that commitment and responsible consumption have led one of the biggest and last independent houses in the fashion indus- try to be known as the first activist brand.

There are many ways to start tackling climate change, this is only a small introduction. If you wish to know more, don’t hesitate to educate yourself.

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