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Vogue Italia’s latest issue is greenwashing at its finest

‘Vogue Italia’ replaced photo spreads with drawings to reveal the environmental cost of making a fashion magazine. The stunt doesn’t offer any real solutions.

Vogue Italia’s latest issue is greenwashing at its finest
[Cover Images: Vogue Italia]

Fashion magazines follow a formula: They’re full of glossy pages, gorgeously shot ads, and photo spreads full of the latest designer looks, curated by powerful editors. But the January 2020 issue of Vogue Italia throws the rulebook out the window.

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Editor-in-chief Emanuele Farneti decided to nix all photo shoots—which are notoriously resource-intensive—turning instead to artists to create images that fill the pages. The magazine is still all about highlighting what’s in style: There are eight different illustrated covers, and each portrays a real item from Gucci’s latest line. “The challenge was to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them,” Farneti explains.

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*NO PHOTOSHOOT PRODUCTION WAS REQUIRED IN THE MAKING OF THIS ISSUE A preview of the January 2020 Vogue Italia Special Issue on newsstands January 7th @Paolo.Ventura featuring @FeliceNova in @Gucci Cover 7 of 7 *** "All of the covers, as well as the features of our January issue, have been drawn by artists, ranging from well-known art icons and emerging talents to comic book legends, who have created without travelling, shipping entire wardrobes of clothes or polluting in any way. The challenge was to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them. This is a first, Vogue Italia has never had an illustrated cover: and as far as I know no issue of Vogue Italia in which photography is not the primary visual medium has ever been printed. Thanks to this idea, and to these artists' process, the money saved in the production of this issue will go towards financing a project that really deserves it: the restoration of @FondazioneQueriniStampalia in Venice, severely damaged by the recent floods.” @efarneti See more via link in bio. Full credits: #FeliceNovaNoordhoff @michamodels Editor in chief @efarneti Creative director @ferdinandoverderi Fashion @franragazzi @robertaninapinna Casting directors @pg_dmcasting @samuel_ellis @ DM Fashion Studio #VogueValues

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The issue was an attention-grabbing stunt, one designed to highlight the enormous environmental footprint of putting a fashion magazine together. In a note to readers, Farneti itemizes the many costs of filling an issue with luscious photo spreads, from sending people around the world on 20 flights and a dozen train rides, to keeping a fleet of 40 cars on standby, to shipping 60 boxes of clothes and accessories, to the plastic wrap on garments and the glaring lights perpetually shining on set. All of that pollution and waste is eradicated for this issue. There is also a sizable reduction in production costs, and Farneti explains that all the money saved will be donated to restoring the Fondazione Querini Tampalia, a museum in Venice damaged by recent flooding that was directly attributed to climate change.

The issue is certainly a creative way to reveal some of the hidden environmental destruction that goes into producing a fashion magazine. But it does not offer many long-term solutions. It’s a one-off affair, and the next issue will go back to traditional photo shoots. What are environmentally minded consumers supposed to do now that we know how wasteful photo shoots are? Boycott Vogue? Boycott all fashion magazines?

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*NO PHOTOSHOOT PRODUCTION WAS REQUIRED IN THE MAKING OF THIS ISSUE A preview of the January 2020 Vogue Italia Special Issue on newsstands January 7th Female figure wearing @Gucci by Vanessa Beecroft @VBuntitled Cover 2 of 7 *** "All of the covers, as well as the features of our January issue, have been drawn by artists, ranging from well-known art icons and emerging talents to comic book legends, who have created without travelling, shipping entire wardrobes of clothes or polluting in any way. The challenge was to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them. This is a first, Vogue Italia has never had an illustrated cover: and as far as I know no issue of Vogue Italia in which photography is not the primary visual medium has ever been printed. Thanks to this idea, and to these artists' process, the money saved in the production of this issue will go towards financing a project that really deserves it: the restoration of @FondazioneQueriniStampalia in Venice, severely damaged by the recent floods.” @efarneti See more via link in bio. Full credits: Editor in chief @efarneti Creative director @ferdinandoverderi Fashion @franragazzi @robertaninapinna Casting directors @pg_dmcasting @samuel_ellis @ DM Fashion Studio #VogueValues

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More importantly, the stunt does little to address the larger problem of pollution in the fashion industry—which Vogue, as one of the industry’s most important tastemakers, perpetuates. The fashion sector is responsible for 8% of all global climate impacts—more than all maritime shipping and international flights combined. It requires 98 million tons of nonrenewable resources every year, including petroleum to produce synthetic fibers, chemical dyes, and fertilizers to grow cotton.

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Part of the reason the fashion industry has such an outsize impact on the environment is because it churns out far more clothes than consumers need. More than 100 billion items of clothing were manufactured in 2015—for only 7 billion humans—and that number keeps going up every year. The average woman has 150 items of clothing in her closet, many of which she will only wear a few times before discarding.

A significant reason for all this overconsumption is that the fashion industry is premised on an endless cycle of new trends. Here’s where fashion magazines are directly culpable. Vogue, as its name implies, is all about defining the style of the moment. It exists to promote beauty and creativity, and it does so by identifying new trends (and declaring others passé). Conspicuous consumption is built into its DNA.

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*NO PHOTOSHOOT PRODUCTION WAS REQUIRED IN THE MAKING OF THIS ISSUE A preview of the January 2020 Vogue Italia Special Issue on newsstands January 7th @David_Salle featuring @LiliSumner in @Gucci styled by @TonneGood Cover 1 of 7 *** "All of the covers, as well as the features of our January issue, have been drawn by artists, ranging from well-known art icons and emerging talents to comic book legends, who have created without travelling, shipping entire wardrobes of clothes or polluting in any way. The challenge was to prove it is possible to show clothes without photographing them. This is a first, Vogue Italia has never had an illustrated cover: and as far as I know no issue of Vogue Italia in which photography is not the primary visual medium has ever been printed. Thanks to this idea, and to these artists' process, the money saved in the production of this issue will go towards financing a project that really deserves it: the restoration of @FondazioneQueriniStampalia in Venice, severely damaged by the recent floods". @efarneti See more via link in bio. Full credits: #LiliSumner @nextmodels Editor in chief @efarneti Creative director @ferdinandoverderi Casting directors @pg_dmcasting @samuel_ellis @ DM Fashion Studio #VogueValues

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If we want to dig ourselves out of the current environmental crisis, we need more from the fashion industry than Vogue Italia’s illustrated issue. We need large, systemic change that brings together the many disparate players in the fashion industry, and that includes fashion magazines. Vogue magazine has 26 different editions around the world, and in December, each edition’s editor-in-chief pledged to abide by a set of values that includes “preserv[ing] our planet for future generations.” But the brand did not share specifics about how it would do so.

Here’s one idea: Perhaps Vogue and its ilk could commit themselves to stemming the endless churn of fashion. Instead of constantly promoting the latest collections, they could promote older designs or pieces explicitly designed to last forever. In doing so, they’d encourage both consumers and fashion designers to rethink their wasteful habits. After all, nothing is more beautiful than a healthy planet.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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