Last week CSF hosted Sara Arnold to talk about Extinction Rebellion (XR). Sara had been involved with the direct action that took place across London earlier in April. She was also active during London Fashion Week back in February – highlighting climate change as an urgent issue for the industry to address.
Sara talked to CSF’s Elliot about her thoughts on power, education, direct action and fashion. If you have any questions please do let us know.
CSF: What has been your role in XR?
SA: To be honest, when I first started with Extinction Rebellion, I tried become part of the normal group but as the time has gone on I’ve starting working more specifically on cultural and fashion related elements, as that fits well with my work and background.
CSF: You were part of the Extinction Rebellion Swarm at London Fashion Week in February. What was your sense of the response from the fashion industry and supporters?
SA: I was one of the coordinators of that. It’s really hard to say what position we have, it’s very fluid. I think the level of awareness has really changed. We have been in touch with the British Fashion Council and had some meetings with them. Even that in itself goes to show that non-violent direct action does work, I think those kinds of meetings wouldn’t be possible unless we’d done the swarming action beforehand.
At the beginning of May we are doing a talk – similar to the one we did here at LCF at the British Fashion Council – we can see where it goes from there. We really want is a platform to be able to give these sorts of talks to as many people as possible.
What we’re here to do is to increase the level of awareness around climate change and highlight the urgent nature of things. This is an emergency and it’s up to people how they react to that.
CSF: What kind of changes would you hope to see the fashion industry make? How important is awareness raising?
SA: We’re all stuck in a system, so what we’re doing is not about blaming or shaming or saying that there is a particular way that we need to go. But it’s about us all coming together and saying the system is killing us and it needs change. Saying that though, the change does need to come from the top, from the government. So, what the rest of us can do is declare a climate and ecology emergency. I think this can happen on a personal level or on at an organisational level. It is also about coming together as an industry and working together to declare this.
The real change happens from government. So ideally what I would like to see is the fashion industry declaring an emergency and then using their influence in whatever way that they can to get the change from the top.
CSF: Here at CSF, one of our key focuses is education. We believe it is vital for all students to have a critical consideration of the social, cultural, economic and environmental context of fashion’s practices across courses at all levels. What are the skills and knowledge you think fashion students need to be able to make the changes we need now and in the next few years?
I think we are about to go through tremendous change over the next five to ten years so it’s really hard to say. It’s about educating people so that they can adapt to the changes we will face; to not just have resilience but resilience to be adaptive to the situation. It’s about creating a regenerative culture, and giving people cultural skills so we will have a society worth living for.
CSF: There is a lot of negativity associated with highlighting the changes we all need to make if we are going avoid temperature rises of over 1.5 degrees. What are your thoughts on how to navigate this pressure for the positive with the real cold hard facts of the current situation?
I think we have to accept that there’s a certain amount of damage that has already been done. There isn’t really any hope we are going to get out of this unscathed. We’ve already got people dying from climate change around the world. We need courage not hope to get through this.
Through being involved in XR I’ve lost hope (through learning more and more about the situation) that we’ll avoid catastrophic consequences of ecological collapse but I’ve gained hope in humanity. Hope comes from being involved in a community, being informed and adaptive for what’s coming. That’s really important. We have to look out for other’s well-being.
I certainly felt powerless before I found XR, and I felt alone in this feeling of hopelessness. Yet through doing direct action and seeing it working I feel I have power now. And I’m seeing other people wake up to that power now. When we were doing the swarming action earlier last year, we were just testing tactics but through this I realised you and a small group of friends have lots of power; if you’re willing to use it.
CSF: What’s next for Extinction Rebellion and the Fashion Industry?
Our focus now is getting the government to negotiate with us. There is a meeting set up with Michael Gove. We wanted this meeting to be a public meeting – something that is still being negotiated. I think Diane Abbott is talking to XR already. We are doing a push for ‘culture declares an emergency’ at the beginning of the month, and there is now potential to do ‘education declares’ too.
There is going to be a lot more action to be planned but this is all to be discussed and decided – it depends what happens with negotiations with the government, what we do next.
For the fashion industry, it is about looking at the next fashion week. Last time the action took place only in London, but I’d like to this happening during Paris Fashion Week too. What actions can we do to raise the awareness and really have a call to action for the industry? XR are starting a campaign to boycott fashion, asking people to only buy, rent or swap 2nd hand, recycled or up-cycled items, therefore stopping the use of virgin resources.
This is not the end.
For more information about Extinction Rebellion and updates about their negotiations with Government click here.