Can fashion find a way to celebrate nature on the runway — and off?


Animal-inspired themes and animal materials, from wool and leather to fur and exotic skins, have a long history in fashion. However, with the climate and biodiversity crises growing more urgent and fashion facing more pressure to reckon with its role in exacerbating them, the discrepancy between fashion’s external messaging and internal operations may be larger and more consequential than ever.

Critics say that while most designers draw inspiration from nature, they fail to make a reciprocal effort to conserve it or even reduce the negative impacts of their supply chains on it, and it’s time for that to change.

“We need nature, and our economy is embedded in it, but we’re losing it at this incredible rate,” says Helen Crowley, partner at global investment and advisory firm Pollination and former head of sustainable sourcing and nature initiatives at Kering. “It’s time to step up and say, ‘I love nature. I use it in my business, I get value out of it, let me give value back to it.’ That’s not saying I want to put a price on nature. In fact, if brands stepped up with that responsibility, it would enable everyone else to enjoy nature too.”

Considering the pressure on fashion to reduce its impacts — and considering the industry’s own promises on biodiversity conservation specifically, including staging a larger presence at the most recent UN biodiversity conference than it’s ever had before — wildlife advocates and biodiversity conservationists say fashion has to recognise that it can’t go on taking inspiration from nature and exploiting it at the same time. The industry has borrowed heavily from the natural world for so long and is overdue, experts say, to start returning the favour.

“We want brands to embrace that responsibility and say, ‘I want to do things differently’,” says Crowley.


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