Catwalks to Campaigns: Fashion Ethics by Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood, with over 50,000 people who marched in London, England, to campaign for climate change ahead of COP21 in Paris, France. Photograph: Matthew Kirby.

When you hear Vivienne Westwood, your mind immediately goes to fashion. But Dame Vivienne Westwood was much more. From punk, politics and eco-pioneering, her passing on 29 December 2022 marked the end of a colourful career spent disrupting the world of fashion and culture. 

Once coined the "terrible child of fashion", Vivienne Westwood was responsible for punk making its way into the mainstream world of fashion, with her unique designs and iconic tartan prints quickly becoming a staple of British fashion and winning her a place among the most successful British designers of all time. Vivienne Westwood was more than just another fashion designer, and trying to summarise all the activism initiatives she embraced worldwide does not give justice to her proactive approach. 

Celebrities wearing the “Save the Arctic” campaign t-shirts designed by Vivienne Westwood. (L-R) Georgia May Jagger, Sir Ian McKellen, Kate Moss, Labrinth, Sir John Hurt, Naomi Campbell, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Rita Ora. Photograph: Andy Gotts.

Since the 2000s, Vivienne Westwood has been an outspoken advocate for the environment. Working with the NGO Greenpeace on the "Save the Arctic" campaign, she joined  joined Greenpeace at the exhibition in the London Waterloo underground, displaying pictures of celebrities wearing the organic unbleached cotton T-shirt she had designed to collect profits and raise awareness on the fragile Arctic, drilled repeatedly by the oil company, Shell. "Climate change is my priority, not fashion," she told The Guardian in 2014. 

In her self-titled 2014 memoir, Vivienne explained why fashion was never just clothing. "The only thing I really believe in is culture," she said. "There has never been an age where people have had so little respect for the past". She has always used collections and catwalk shows as a canvas for her activism campaigns. Sustainability and sustainable fashion became imperative for her brand under the motto "buy less, choose well, make it last." Vivienne led the sustainability mission by acknowledging the contradictions of the fashion industry itself—promoting awareness, and campaigning for a better world. Her dedication to slow fashion is evident through the brand's social and environmental impact of materials, reduction of emission and waste, craft and heritage, packaging, and, most importantly, activism. 

An advocate for sustainable fashion, the 2017 logo for the “Fashion SWITCH to Green” campaign led by Vivienne Westwood alongside the British Fashion Council, the Mayor of London, and influential British designers, including Stella McCartney.

In 2010, Vivienne Westwood launched Climate Revolution to document daily content and news about activisms and its community. Then in 2017, she led the "Fashion SWITCH to Green" campaign alongside the British Fashion Council, the Mayor of London, and influential British designers, including Stella McCartney. The campaign aimed to encourage the fashion community to switch to renewable energy to reduce their impact on CO2 emissions and electricity usage. But Vivienne knew a lone wolf was not enough—she wanted a long and deep-linked collaboration with the creative industry, which was necessary to make an effective global change.

Vivienne Westwood's environmental commitment is her legacy to the fashion world. She once stated, "You've got to invest in the world, you've got to read, you've got to go to art galleries, you've got to find out the names of plants. You've got to start to love the world and know about the whole genius of the human race. We're amazing people".

A precursor of the punk movement and eco-pioneer, Vivienne Westwood has not only imposed her vision of fashion, regardless of the times and trends but brought issues of climate change to the forefront. Is eco-fashion the future? Despite her passing, Dame Vivienne Westwood's ethics and values will undoubtedly continue to shape and inspire the future of fashion for years to come.

Vivienne Westwood’s commitment to the environment is her legacy to the fashion world. And as Vivienne Westwood knew, “we are proud of the changes we have made so far. We understand there is so much more to do.”

Sustainability at Gen Woo 

At Gen Woo, sustainability is also at the heart of our brand. From producing all products in our own GOTS-certified factories to using BSCI or 100% organic cotton, we put ethical trading, sustainable sourcing and animal welfare at the core of our corporate responsibility.

We're looking at ways to reduce our water and energy use, improving our energy efficiencies by investing in new technology and machinery. We're using our hot waste water to heat our cold water. And we're using solar heating panels to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and gradually changing to all LED lighting in our family-run factories. We are taking steps in the right direction, and you can read more about our sustainability initiatives here. 

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