It’s rare that the fashion crowd and the eco-friendly, vegan leather-wearing gang will find themselves in the same room after work on a Monday night. But that's what happened at the London College of Fashion for a talk with Stella McCartney, in conjunction with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
We trickled into a packed auditorium (with a noticeable absence of fur coats) this chilly Monday evening to hear the 2016 Kering Talk: Sustainability in Luxury Brands, in conversation with McCartney. Not only is the designer the clear leader in green luxury fashion, but she’s also hugely involved in the LCF Sustainability Masters Course. Developed in conjunction with Kering, it's the first fashion degree of its kind – an entire specification in producing clothes that won't harm the planet.
Here's what we learned from the woman who played a huge role in bringing environmental awareness to our oft-materialistic industry:
THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS BEHIND THE TIMES
Ironic, isn't it, that an entire industry built on predicting the future trends and zeitgeist, could fall behind in one of the biggest cultural movements of our time – saving the planet. McCartney said, "I find the fashion industry on the whole pretty old-fashioned. Technology and innovation completely inspire me. Fashion is getting away with murder, and it needs to be answerable."
In a time when wearable tech is our go-to industry buzzword, it's worth noting how slow we’ve been to catch up to, say, the food industry on considering where our clothes come from. Everyone's obsessed with farm-to-table meals, minimizing carbon footprints by eating local vegetables, but how much do we really know or care about where our clothes come from?
SUSTAINABILITY AND BUSINESS SUCCESS ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE
When McCartney first launched her own label in 2001, she was "made fun of by people I worked with and looked up to. I was told I'd never have a successful accessories brand without leather."
It's hard to fathom that the then-head designer at Chloé would ever be mocked, but sustainability was simply not 'in fashion' a mere 15 years ago. McCartney today is working to instill in young designers that, "By investing love into a supply chain… you can still be successful and be sustainable." With over 600 employees, and now the fastest-growing business under the Kering umbrella, she is living proof that a sustainable business can be a profitable one.
FABRIC TECHNOLOGY IS DEVELOPING FASTER THAN WE EVEN KNOW
When she first started her line, McCartney had no idea how damaging viscose was to the planet — 120 million trees a year were being cut down for a seemingly innocuous (not derived from animals) fabric. So in addition to her vegetable-tanned faux leather and organic cotton, she has spent the past two years developing an eco-friendly viscose. From the latest spring 2017 collection onwards, all of her viscose is sourced from sustainable forests in Sweden, which Carmen Kass can explain to you in the company’s eye-opening video above.
OTHER KERING BRANDS ARE FOLLOWING HER LEAD
Thankfully, she’s no longer alone in the fight. According to Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s Head of International Affairs, the entire group is consistently looking to Stella McCartney for innovation and new ideas, and working to incorporate them into other brands. There was one awkward moment when the subject of the Kering project for sustainable python skin was broached — kinder killing methods are a slightly different kettle of fish (snake?) than an entirely animal-friendly brand like McCartney's. But the designer is quick to note: "Everyone is human, I don't want to preach but all I want to do is share information so people can work to make better decisions in future."
THERE'S MORE TO SUSTAINABILITY THAN THE FABRICS
We may think we're being entirely kind to the planet if we avoid leather, meat and fur. But more importantly, McCartney was keen to stress the dangers of chemical dyes and the importance of safe conditions of factory workers. On her views on fast fashion: "No human should suffer for fashion, and neither should the planet."
SUSTAINABILITY IS THE FUTURE FOR THE NEW GENERATION OF DESIGNERS
By working with LCF on the Sustainability Masters Course, Kering is creating a grassroots campaign to make it an integral part of the industry from the very beginning of education. When McCartney studied at sister college Central St. Martins, "it was the fur and leather industries sponsoring the graduate prizes, and everyone had to put a certain amount of sheepskin in their collection." In sharp contrast, on Monday they announced the winners of the Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion, which encouraged 400 students to compete in eco-friendly innovation, with the winners receiving a grant and an internship at either Stella McCartney or Brioni.
SHOPPERS HAVE RESPONSIBILITY, TOO
So how can we, the consumer do our part? By "checking the label for ingredients" the way we do with food. This could well be the next industry regulator — stricter guidelines and a need to declare the supply chain on the label. McCartney notes "if a watch can cost £3 on Amazon, someone, somewhere is making up for that cost."
AND FINALLY, AN OPEN CHALLENGE TO ADIDAS
Adidas, for whom McCartney designs, recently made her "the first ever pair of vegetarian Stan Smiths. I openly challenge them to make all the Stan Smiths vegetarian, not tell anyone, and watch their profits rise."