Moscow doesn’t believe in trash. This could easily have been a provocative slogan for the recent edition of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia paraphrasing the legendary title of the Academy Award winning Soviet film Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears. The organizers have been quietly pushing the industry status quo on sustainability and interculturalism for years. #MBFWRussia was among the first to ban fur, embrace live streaming, champion modest fashion, and prioritize emerging talent. With strategic support from Russian Fashion Council and Fashion Fund, the seasonal event grew into the largest and most impactful fashion platform in Eastern Europe. This season post-pandemic vulnerabilities necessitated a temporary scaling down. The shows took place at the Museum of Moscow instead of the massive Manege pavilion just outside the Kremlin. The change enabled a radical re-alignment of the mission to the greater sustainable goals.
Big changes manifest themselves in small things. For example, #MBFWRussia has discontinued its long-established practice of customized designer T-shirts work by the volunteers and staff onsite. This time, upcycling specialists ‘Rishi created 200 uniform shirts for the entire event team using second-hand garments. This idea dominated the narrative and the vibe of the season with perhaps its most memorable highlight being an unlikely collaboration between emerging talent and one of the nation’s largest garbage collectors. You read that right! This fall, Russian Fashion Council and EcoLine Group, Moscow’s top waste treatment operator, had partnered with the charitable Vtoroe Dykhanie Fund to transform donated second-hand clothing. The discarded garments collected by the Fund in the spring were given to designers at RigRaiser and VINA for upcycling. This sustainable fashion idea supports two important trends – educating about existing recycling technologies/practices and conscious consumption. The key message of the project was that unnecessary clothing, donated to charity, could be the basis for real designer runway collections. A good reason to look at your wardrobe once more before throwing it away.
According to the government-backed Russian Ecological Operator, garments and footwear currently constitute 25-30% of landfill mass: Russia has seen a 15% increase in textile waste since the early stages of the pandemic. However, Russia is experiencing a rising popularity of upcycling fashion. Moscow’s shopaholics start to spend on branded upcycled pieces, and the local fashion week powers the trend, adding more sustainable designers to the schedule.
The final results were the talk of the season. RigRaiser’s philosophy – “style as a shape, awareness as a way, art as a mission” – made for a fascinating assortment of looks running the gamut of aesthetics from office casual to nightlife provocateur. Meanwhile, VINA wowed the audiences with its brilliant patchwork and innovative tailoring. “Our collaboration with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia is a way of presenting a reasonable and creative approach to the use of unwanted garments, and it can also help with making slow fashion a new trend. If we had a sustainable clothing collection and recycling sector, it could significantly contribute to waste reduction and help with the ecological situation. Minimizing landfill waste and recycling are among the key strategic national priorities,” said Evgeny Mikhailov, Chairman of the Board of Directors, EcoLine Group. “We are delighted that these ideas are spotlighted at Russia’s largest fashion event. It covers a very passionate audience”, adds Oksana Bachina, content director for EcoLine.
Elsewhere on the runway, there were a few critical standouts. Brothers Roman and Alexander Kim launched their streetstyle label Innominate with an eye towards exploring the spectrum between masculinity and femininity, darkness and light, and other counter-balanced concepts. The young brand is one of fourteen Russia Fashion Fund grant winners. Active since 1996, Sergey Sysoev is one of the more established names in Russian fashionscape. He was inspired by the natural, painted and marble flowers in the historic aristocratic countryside retreats scattered throughout the Moscow region. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg’s best kept secret ZA ZA by designer Alexandra Koryakina-Nikolayeva showcased one of the more structurally fascinating collections crafted to resemble flowers stretching towards the sun to bloom. Stylist turned fashion entrepreneur Alexandr Rogov pleased his loyal following with a “see now, buy now” collection that was his most practical in years, yet lacked in excitement. N Legenda marked their fifth year at #MBFWRussia with a monochrome ode to “androgyny and omnitude.” Seemingly despite itself, Moscow appears to be evolving in its attitudes towards a more fluid gender expression.
Shades of green are the new tricolor when it comes to expressing national pride. “A growing number of designers taking part in MBFW Russia support sustainable development guidelines. The Fashion Week is working towards the closed cycle as much as it is currently possible. We systematically support digital fashion, having abandoned merch production and working on the event’s carbon footprint reduction in general. The Russian Fashion Council intends to introduce sustainable practices not only at the Fashion Week, but beyond it, too,” said Alexander Shumsky, President of Russian Fashion Council and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia.
With Russia being one of the few notable absentees from #COP26, the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow this month, it is worth acknowledging that cultural initiatives sometimes have the power to convey important messages otherwise lost in the media shuffle of convenient soundbites. The continued leadership of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia on sustainability within the fashion industry constitutes another great example of fashion diplomacy at its best.