Stella McCartney calls out fashion industry over sustainability failings

British fashion designer Stella McCartney has this week criticised the fashion industry, claiming that it is “getting away with murder” by continuing to use unsustainable and environmentally-harmful practices.

The London-born designer and vocal supporter of animal and environmental welfare within the fashion industry was speaking at a sustainability event at the London College of Fashion, hosted by her label’s parent company, Kering.

Stella McCartney calls out fashion industry over sustainability failings
McCartney, who attempts to ensure that her products are entirely vegetarian and leave as small an ecological footprint as possible through her use of sustainable materials such as recycled cashmere, called on consumers to challenge the fashion industry’s harmful practices, saying: “Fashion really is getting away with murder.”

She added: “There needs to be more systems in place, more vigorous testing, and as a customer you can do that, you can challenge the people who are making your fashion.”

A call to arms

Not afraid to advocate a more environmentally-conscious approach from consumers in front of an audience including Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault and his wife Salma Hayek, McCartney implored consumers to instigate change through their choices, saying: “Be mindful of your consumption. I think the one thing we’ve forgotten is that we make the choices. I think it’s really important to know what you’re consuming, to ask questions, to reduce your meat intake, to look at how you’re living your life and how that has an impact on the environment.

“Ask questions: ask big corporations why they are using materials like PVC, and why did that watch cost three pounds, what the hell happened from A to Z there?”

While McCartney says she is reticent “to preach”, she did not hold back in her call to arms aimed at her fashion industry peers to put an end to environmentally-harmful practices. She said,that she is “sure [Kering] will give up python farms very soon”, while also expressing her desire to see real fur phased out for faux fur, saying: “You really can’t tell the difference. There’s no reason to kill 15 million innocent creatures.”

At the event, Professor Frances Corner, Head of the London College of Fashion, spoke about the college’s partnership with Kering, which includes student competitions based around sustainable briefs: “We need the next generation to be creative and flexible and prepared for an industry which faces significant social and environmental challenges, so through this partnership our students are learning, crucially, how to become global thinkers and how they can manage the complexities of sustainability in a rapidly changing market.”

Seeds of change

There is no doubt that the issues identified by McCartney are a very serious problem. In the UK, domestic clothing consumption increased by 10 per cent between 2010-2015, while 620,000 tonnes of clothing were sent to landfill in England and Wales in 2013-14. Furthermore, textiles accounted for five per cent of the UK’s total carbon and water footprints according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) 2012 ‘Valuing Our Clothes’ report.

The fashion industry also consumes a vast amount of natural resources. The production of materials such as cotton (taking up to 20,000 litres of water to grow one kilogramme) make inefficient use of resources and can lead to the release of hazardous gases, pesticides and dyes into the environment.

However, steps are being taken to reduce fashion’s ecological footprint. Five leading European fashion brands and retailers (Bobo Choses, OVS, Peak Performance, Primark, and Star Stock) recently signed up to the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP), a three-year plan worth €3.6 million (£2.6 million) and led by WRAP with funding from the EU LIFE programme, which aims to increase sustainability in the fashion industry.

ECAP, which builds on WRAP’s UK Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP 2020), which saw a 12.5 per cent reduction in water impacts and a 3.5 per cent reduction in carbon impacts by last year, aims to help the fashion retailers to divert 90,000 tons of clothing waste from landfill, save 1.6 million tonnes of CO2e and save 588 million cubic metres of water. However, the fact that the commitments are per tonne of clothing, rather than overall impact, means that the impact of the UK’s fashion industry could still be growing even if signatories meet their targets.

Furthermore, the innovative use of materials by companies, such as Adidas and Parley for the Oceans’ creation of football kits from ocean plastics, the introduction of low-impact dyes, and changing consumer habits, while not yet mainstream, are all making some progress towards more efficient use of resources within the fashion industry.

We took an in-depth look into the future of sustainable fashion in the last issue of Resource, which can be found here.

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