If you visit Milk Gallery in New York during Fashion Week, instead of the runway shows that the space usually hosts, you’ll see a new line of clothing designed for the reality of climate change.
A jacket is fireproof and water resistant; a hood that pairs with the jacket has a mosquito-net face mask to protect from infectious diseases. Solar-powered headphones give storm warnings. A bandana with interchangeable filters protects against smoke during fires. A backpack doubles as a sleeping bag for someone forced to flee their home, with a removable side that filters water.
The conceptual line, called Unfortunately, Ready to Wear, was a collaboration between Milk Studios, designer Luka Sabbat, and the Natural Resources Defense Council–a nonprofit better known for suing the Trump administration to enforce environmental laws than for garments. “We’re going at this from a different angle than I think most environmental organizations have ever done,” says Rhea Suh, president of NRDC. “Honestly, I think we need to be a lot more creative about how we reach out to new audiences.”
The designs respond to the reality of the extreme weather caused by climate change–but the purpose is not to show how we’ll have to adapt, but aspects of a future dystopia we can still avoid. “I think the thing that we want to underscore is the future doesn’t need to look like this and that we have the ability–and this was underscored in the IPCC report by the UN–we have the ability to change that trajectory,” says Suh. “We have the technology, the economics are increasingly on our side–it’s just the political will that’s missing. And so that’s the bottom line.”
But after the creative process began a couple of years ago, the partners quickly realized exactly how relevant this type of clothing already is. “These are not things that you’re going to need in the future–these are things you need now,” says Mazdack Rassi, cofounder of Milk Studios. “We’re talking about the present–the fires, the pollution, the migration that climate change is creating in the world.”
The designs are about survival, not aesthetics. “If it comes down to the world burning down, who gives a shit about a pair of jeans that looks cool?” Sabbat said in a video about the project. “It’s about functionality.”
Some products like this already exist. When the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California history burned last year, sales of designer filtration masks spiked in San Francisco. At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis–driven by a war that was sparked in part by climate change–another designer created a lightweight jacket that could transform into a tent for people on the move. (Recent runway shows have also nodded to postapocalyptic style, like a 2018 Calvin Klein show with models in hazmat suits and thermal foil blankets.)
On a new microsite, the organization helps point visitors to climate action, from driving less to advocating for better local policies or holding the EPA accountable for its work. “There’s an opportunity that we have to connect that alarm or that kind of nascent sense of awareness with more information and a pathway to action, so that we can get not only people more engaged and more empowered about making changes and taking stock in their future, but, ultimately, we can hold our elected officials at all levels of government accountable for their actions and to pressure them to be more proactive in our actions around climate,” she says.