Vivienne Westwood talk at London Design Festival

“Everything we do is subsidising rich people” 
 Dame Vivienne Westwood net worth $50 million.

I recently attended a London Design Festival talk by Vivienne Westwood titled ‘Sustainability Revolution: The Role of Activism in Designing a Sustainable Future’ and I want to talk about it.

The title of the talk was merely an aspiration written by someone hopeful at the festival and it is a topic that would best suit Westwood to talk about, as someone who is known for her activist ethos and punk mentality. But obviously and admirably she does what she wants, and she decided to not talk about about activism or her role in designing for a sustainable future at all. 

I went because I was interested in how her brand has evolved and the importance of sustainability in her work. I wanted to know how she can position herself a as a designer and head of a luxury fashion empire, (an industry that in the UK has the forth largest environmental impact after housing, transport and food), whilst referring to herself as a climate activist….?

All possible discussion of these points evaporated over Westwood stating,  “I’m not talking about fashion today!”. As if sustainability and fashion are two very separate issues, or ones that just don’t apply to her DAME Vivienne Westwood DBE RDI (lol). Imagine the privilege, to boldly ignore your own corporate empire that is somehow exempt from environmental impact whilst profiting from the consumption of said company AND profiting from this pseudo-empathy for the environment. It screams greenwashing, which is used by companies to make misleading claims about a product or service to make it seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Fast fashion constantly do it with their “”eco”” ranges that lack transparency, H&Ms “conscious” and most recently Zaras “join life”. Westwood has made no commitment to give her company a structural overhaul and make transparent, impactful changes to her business. 

But back to the talk ~ What she delivered was ramshackle, she has her own quirks but these appeared not in snappy, funny writing but in her own forgetfulness & incoherence. Idk, I feel you are going to stand on a pedestal and deliver a factual message it needs to be clear and concise, you can be accessible without being overly academic. Climate Change is a topic which intersects every element of life, economy, production, and one that is full of misconceptions. You need to specify your intention and be clear as it’s vastness can become overwhelming and deliberating very quickly. As she interspersed with, “I read this somewhere but I don’t know where and I can't believe it” whilst signalling to her “facts person” TM in the audience, reiterating that “I’m the only person who bothers to read this stuff”.  Is well, exhausting and exactly what you’d expect from someone who refers to herself as an “intellectual activist” a quote taken from this Daily Mail article (gross I know) :

"Greta Thunberg is an angel. So am I, I am trying to do the same as her for our planet. I want to make the world better. I am an intellectual activist. People are born activists, they put themselves in other people's shoes"

She spoke about the rot dollar, the history of physical money and how banks evolved into what they are today. Allowing people to borrow more than they own, inflation and how this is the cause of all our problems. There was an assumption that you knew the parameters of the current economic system and it was unclear exactly what that meant. Especially as it is a capitalist economic system, and in the UK is governed by the conservatives (hopefully not for long) who are focused on privatisastion and deregulation, with limited tax and limited public funding.

Her response is that people shouldn’t pay tax, but a tax to the earth which appears quite convenient for someone who has got into multiple accusations of tax evasion in the past with her company............... registered in Luxembourg. 

“No one owns land, we tried everyone owns land but that leads to communism and the wrong people get in charge” lol ok

The climax of her talk, the long awaited rules to live by, delivered as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”,  which is where she noted the reduction of her own impact and only reference to fashion, “I’ve reduced my collections by half”. Going on to say we should reuse instead of consuming, and always recycle. Her mantra was essentially the text on a grubby tote bag from 10 years ago. It would be more interesting to discus how our production model is currently flawed, how recycling doesn’t work and how we should be adapting our production to a circular economy. 

This feeds into the dichotomy that rich people love, that we should all do our bit to save the world! We can do it if we all work together! When really they have the means and the money to do this much quicker than us. I'm not going to stop recycling but the whole narrative stinks of privilege. We need to overhaul capitalism and the economy and as long as there are still rich people this will never happen, regardless of how much we do.

I think a lot about Kim Kardashian posting a video of North picking up litter with the caption: “she loves the planet so much and everywhere she goes she picks up trash” whilst her family literally owns multiple private jets, one recently used by Kanye to casually meet and exchange shoes with DJ Khaled also in his private jet.

(Left: Image taken from Kim Kardashians twitter, Right: Kanye & DJ Khaled exchange Yeezys)

 It is hard to feel positive with Westwood stating “if we don’t do anything, then nothing will happen” whilst I yell internally FIXING THESE ISSUES SHOULDN’T LIE SOLELY WITH CONSUMERS! Thinking about the quote in Naomi Klien's book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, she talks about about how climate change should of been the thing that brought us all together, as it affects us all but it is just another thing that rich people can buy their way out of, despite being the people that do the most harm and use the most resources. They can afford private healthcare, firefighters, own private jets and have unlimited funds to get them out of any situation. Yet climate change exponentially effects non-rich people, non-white people, the people that did the least to cause it.

She sprinkled a few inspirational soundbites in about how public transport should be free and “what nature gives us free should not be privately owned”, which is easy to agree with and keeps the audience on her side. She stated “this keeps me up at night with worry” which just didn’t feel,,, sincere ?  I can’t stop thinking about her ethics in all of this. As she talks about Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and sexual assaulter, she states “everything said about him is a lie!” , on her activist website climate revolution his face litters the page with musings from Westwood stating that her friend is not a rapist…. (yikes) which comes down to whether or not you believe women, which we do.

(Image from Climaterevolution.co.uk)

It is important to speak up for what you believe in, yes, but you also must understand your position within it, how you profiting from it and watching a privileged white woman discuss climate change, without regarding wider issues is a big red flag tbh. 

In a quick google she continues to employ unpaid interns, her business has terrible reviews by former employees who state the low pay and bullying within the company. 

(Image from glassdoor.co.uk)

On rankabrand.org, an independent website set up to compare brands on sustainability and social responsibility her company has a rating of E: Don't Buy. The website states, "we did not find clear information about the climate, environmental and social standards for the production of Vivienne Westwood Collections". You can read more and compare brands here.

She has pledged to use green energy in her factories by 2020 which hopefully, she will, but that remains quite a difficult thing to actually factually prove. A recent article spoke about her most recent fashion week presentation, and how she has been using eco cotton in her new collection but when I messaged the writer regarding how they were informed about this they didn’t reply. 

To finish, Westwood in the Guardian “I don’t feel comfortable defending my clothes. But if you’ve got the money to afford them, then buy something from me. Just don’t buy too much.”

Disclaimer: The talk was £18 and was gifted - I feel privileged to have the opportunity to go as I believe £18 for a 40 minute talk is expensive. All talks on climate change should be free and published online for free as a recording and transcript. This is an issue that should be accessible.

I snuck a 17 min recording which i've put at the end of the spoken transcript at the 09:04 mark. 


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