LONDON — It’s not easy bein’ green.
So sang Kermit the Frog on “The Muppet Show,” and so argues Stella McCartney, who swings between elation, and frustration, as she pursues her green agenda. A vegetarian who loves horse riding, she was flying the anti-fur, feather and leather banner long before the cause was fashionable.
McCartney, an honoree in the Environment category of the 2020 Fashion Awards alongside Anya Hindmarch, Christopher Raeburn, Gabriela Hearst and The Fashion Pact, recalled a recent day in the studio when she was scanning a paltry selection of eco-friendly sequin samples.
The vast majority of sequins are made from PVC, but McCartney uses a plastic and solvent-free alternative, and the options are limited.
“I was looking at this sliver of a color card and thinking, ‘Seriously?’ So, I asked my embroiderer to bring in all the conventional PVC cards, and the stack was about 10 feet high. Why are we being punished for working in a better way? I just want everyone to catch up,” McCartney said in a telephone interview.
She’s faced similar challenges with fur, and now uses the plant-based KOBA faux fluff, which her company helped to develop. It’s not perfect, but it’s far greener than the other fake stuff on the market.
“The fur is shorter because the fibers break easily — so my selection is limited. I have to take those challenges, and my training as a fashion designer, to create something that looks better than the other furs on the market,” the designer said.
McCartney said this extremely challenging year has spurred her into taking even more action on the environmental front. In the autumn, the company released its latest environmental profit and loss account, where it lays out the positive and negative impacts of the brand on the planet.
Around the same time she also unveiled her “A to Z Manifesto,” which McCartney said would act like “a checklist” for responsible behavior by her brand. The 26 letters of the alphabet stand for words and phrases she wants the brand to live by, such as “accountable,” “conscious,” “zero waste” and “humor.”
“I found myself in lockdown asking so many questions,” about hers and the company’s purpose, and even asked why customers would want to buy from the brand once things return to normal. “I feel more empowered than ever to focus and condense my vision, and to amplify it. I feel really ready to fight for this different approach to fashion,” she said.
The designer has also created some problems for herself in the process, running short of fabric to upcycle or recycle. “We’ve upcycled all of our organic denim and faux fur and zero waste pieces, and I worked so hard on not buying new materials for the latest collections that we’re now running out of things. What an achievement,” she said.
She told the team, “’Now, let’s find, and use, other people’s waste.’ It’s really an exciting way to work. We are constantly challenging ourselves, pushing and maneuvering ourselves into a better way of working. We have an aggressive plan to move forward. The manifesto will stay with us and we’ll build on it, with more technology and a focus on [reducing] waste.”
McCartney’s company is also working on using recyclable aluminum chains for her signature Falaballa bags, and has been whipping plastic bottle waste into her latest shape and swimwear collections.
Nodding to the environmental report, McCartney said her company has been “working adamantly on biodiversity, and how we farm organic cottons. We’re looking at the sub-layers of the soil, and the areas in it that attract the CO2 emissions, we’re trying to safeguard and respect them. We really go into that depth of detail. If you mean it, and want to do it properly, you have to start at the birth of the food chain in fashion.”
McCartney believes that fashion customers also need to cut back and return to “a more conscious way of consuming. We really need to ask ourselves questions. Do we need leather? Do we need fur? What about the millions of minks killed in Denmark? Is this really where we want to be after this global pandemic? I feel like I’m more inspired, and empowered, than ever before,” she said.
Asked about the progress she’s making on the environmental front with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, McCartney said things are moving quickly, but didn’t give any details.
In July 2019, the designer sold a minority stake in her business to LVMH and, as part of the deal, become a personal adviser to its chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, and the company’s executive committee members.
She said the pandemic has focused LVMH’s attention even more on the fact that “change has to happen. They really are ready to have this conversation. We’re working regularly on a lot of impactful plans, and having conversations across the board. But it’s a process.”
“I joke with them saying, ‘I’m going to bring X, Y and Z to you. These things are digestible and doable and we can scale them up.’ Some of the other conversations, I need to introduce them more gently,” she admitted.
McCartney argues that working with an environmental agenda is not easy, not for her, not for anyone, but she persists.
“We’re really lucky — we’ve been ‘eco-weirdos’ for a while now, and we have a deep knowledge and a deep understanding of the process — it’s how we work every single day, and my intention is to share that knowledge, and to shift the industry.”