Stella McCartney: Fashion is literally getting away with murder

British fashion designer Stella McCartney has called on clothing manufacturers to take more responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they produce and stop the "unglamorous" sourcing of unsustainable and unethical products.

Speaking at a lecture hosted by Stella McCartney’s parent brand Kering at the London College of Fashion (LCF) on Monday evening (14 November), McCartney said the fashion industry is “old-fashioned” when it comes to sustainable sourcing and remains far behind other major industries in terms of climate progress.

“Fashion is one of the most far-behind industries of a mass-scale that is responsible for a negative footprint,” McCartney said. “The minute you make something, you leave a footprint. But the fashion industry doesn’t talk about this.

“I wish more people would join [the movement towards sustainable sourcing] because it is the only way forward. All of the other major industries in the world are having to look at themselves; having to question how they manufacture wand what the responsibility of that is. Part of business is to change and the fashion industry has got more to do.”

McCartney went on to condemn the “ridiculous” real fur industry, which kills more than 30 million animals every year. “Fashion is literally getting away with murder,” she added. “It needs to be answerable.”

Vegetarian Adidas

At one point during the on-stage discussion, the designer issued an “open challenge” to sportswear brand and long-term Stella McCartney partner Adidas to make all of its footwear ‘vegetarian’ by removing any animal ingredients or bi-products from the manufacturing process.

McCartney said: “I’m really honoured in that I get to work with Adidas and they made me the first pair of vegetarian Stan Smith sneakers a couple of months ago, and you really can’t tell the difference. I always want to say to Adidas: make them all vegetarian; see your profits go up and don’t tell anyone for two years. [Consumers] will not have a clue. I challenge them openly.”

Coincidentally, McCartney’s call to Adidas came on the eve of the sports company announcing that it will push around 7,000 pairs of trainers made from 95% ocean plastic into the market, alongside setting a new goal to produce one million ocean plastic pairs of trainers by 2017.

The Stella McCartney brand, which sits alongside the likes of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen in Kering’s portfolio of luxury fashion firms, is a prominent player in the sustainable-sourcing movement, having never used real leather, fur, skins or feathers in any of its products.

On Monday, McCartney revealed that the number of clothing items in her brand’s inventory that are completely ‘sustainable’ is continuing to rise, with 53% of the new women’s collection and 45% of the men’s now manufactured and sourced sustainably. One recent breakthrough came when the brand announced that all of its viscose fabric, which is used in t-shirts and dresses and is produced from forest fibres, is now sourced from sustainably-certified forests in Sweden.

Natural capital approach

McCartney has also been keen to prove that you can wear ethics on your sleeve and reap the financial rewards, and is using natural capital accounting to do so. Her business recently published its first environmental profit and loss (EP&L) accounts, which place a monetary value on the environmental costs and benefits that the company has generated by its direct operations and across its entire supply chain, covering sourcing, manufacturing and selling practices.

According to Stella McCartney’s inaugural EP&L report – which is based on Kering’s open-source methodology to measure environmental impact – the brand’s 2015 environmental profit and loss impact was a ‘loss’ of €5.5m, representing a 7% growth in impact over the past three years, whilst the brand’s environmental impact has reduced by 35% per kilogram of material used.

“As long as we’re heading in the right direction, I’m happy,” McCartney said. “Sustainability is one of the things that set us apart from our competitors – we’re proving that you can have a business and be mindful and responsible.

“We’re growing double-digits every year – we’re one of the fastest-growing brands that Kering has. And yet, our business has reduced its environmental impact by 35%. So we’re growing, but at the same time our impact on the environment has lessened.

“More fashion brands need to realise that sustainability can be more profitable. It’s not rocket science, in fact it’s a bit about going back to where we all started.”

The third annual Kering Lecture concluded with the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion being given out to 10 LCF students, who had each developed fashion projects that re-think the whole production cycle and value chain in fashion. Kering formed a five-partnership with LCF in 2014 to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry.

Luke Nicholls

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