Before being a vegetarian was trendy, before being kind to animals was the thing to do, before climate change became a contentious issue, and before fashion had to clean up its act in every way, Stella McCartney was committed to fashion sustainability. Since 2001, she’s shown that a luxury brand shouldn’t just sell luxury; it should do it responsibly.
IF ANYONE COULD MAKE A SUCCESS OF THE WORLD’S FIRST VEGAN DESIGNER LABEL, IT WOULD BE STELLA MCCARTNEY. A LIFELONG VEGETARIAN, AND BORN TO ANIMAL-ACTIVIST PARENTS, SHE SUCCEEDED KARL LAGERFELD AS THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF CHLOE JUST TWO YEARS AFTER GRADUATING FROM CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS AT THE AGE OF 25. AFTER FOUR YEARS AT CHLOE, WHERE SHE REPORTEDLY QUADRUPLED SALES, SHE LEFT TO LAUNCH HER EPONYMOUS LABEL IN 2001 AND DID WHAT EVERY DESIGNER BRAND DIDN’T DO – SHE REFUSED TO WORK WITH ANY KIND OF ANIMAL-DERIVED SKIN AND FUR, AND PROVED THAT WHEN FASHION IS ECO, IT’S EVEN MORE DESIRABLE.
Stella McCartney’s eco efforts have gone beyond not using leather and fur. The designer has found sustainable or vegan alternatives for materials like silk, cashmere, nylon and metals, and is helping to develop even better ones for her brand and the industry.
To harvest silk, silkworms are boiled alive in their cocoons. That, to McCartney, is unacceptable. In 2017, she partnered with Bolt Threads, a Cali-based biotech company that creates eco-friendly ﬁbres and fabrics using green chemistry practices. One of its products is microsilk, a vegan-friendly silk made of yeast, sugar and water. Bolt Threads ﬁrst studied the silk proteins spun by spiders, then developed a similar protein in large quantities through fermentation using genetically modiﬁed yeast, sugar and water. The liquid silk protein produced is extracted and spun into ﬁbres the same way acrylic and rayon are made.
Viscose, or rayon, is made from cellulose pulp extracted from trees. Since her Spring 2017 collection, McCartney has used only viscose sourced from sustainably managed and certiﬁed forests in Sweden.
Every year, more than 120 million trees are logged just for fabric production. The impact of deforestation includes climate change and habitat loss for millions of species. Committed to her company being a zero-deforestation one, McCartney ensures that the raw materials used to make her fabrics have not contributed to the loss of ancient and endangered forests, or to deforestation or forest degradation. She is also working with Canopy, a nongovernmental organisation in the United States, to protect key conservation areas like the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia, northern boreal forests, and the rainforests of Canada by ensuring that her suppliers respect the indigenous communities’ rights to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent before logging takes place.
FAUX FUR THAT COMES FROM ACRYLIC, POLYESTER, WOOL OR MOHAIR
Eighty-ﬁve per cent of the fur industry’s skins come from animals in fur factory farms, where proﬁts come before animal welfare, and thousands of animals are housed in poor conditions. Also, to preserve and dye the fur, toxic chemicals are used. This harms both the environment and the workers.
McCartney’s faux fur is a cruelty-free, fur-like product made of acrylic, polyester, wool or mohair. She is conscious, however, that her faux fur products are non-biodegradable, and encourages customers to care for them and be responsible by never throwing them away.
Alter-nappa has been the material used for her label’s shoes and bags since 2013. It is made from polyester and polyurethane, with a recycled polyester backing.
Such faux leather alternatives are kinder to the environment. Animal agriculture emits greenhouse gases and takes up land, while tanneries consume large amounts of energy and water. According to environmental proﬁt and loss account calculations, using recycled polyester instead of Brazilian calf leather creates 24 times less of an environmental impact.
While McCartney has reduced her brand’s impact by not using leather, her synthetic alternatives also come with environmental concerns because they involve the processing of oil. So she is now using recycled and bio-based materials, and exploring lab-grown leather to further reduce the environmental impact.
Of all the raw materials McCartney uses in her production chain, cashmere has the highest environmental impact. Four goats are needed to produce enough ﬁbre for one cashmere sweater, unlike wool, where one sheep can produce enough ﬁbre for up to ﬁve sweaters. With more affordable casual cashmere products available now, global demand for the ﬁbre is growing. This has led to an increase in the goat population in Mongolia, which is in turn destroying the grasslands in the country. Cashmere goats graze voraciously, rip out grass by the roots, and tear the soil crust with their sharp hooves, allowing wind to carry away the topsoil. The ﬁve fold growth in the goat population since the 1990s has led to grassland desertiﬁcation.
To lessen the impact, McCartney uses Re.verso, a regenerated cashmere yarn made in Italy, instead of virgin cashmere for her knitwear. The former is made from post-factory waste and has 92 per cent less of an environmental impact than virgin cashmere.
She is also working with partners like the Sustainable Fibre Alliance to help to reverse desertiﬁcation that has taken place.
"Most of Stella McCartney’s cotton apparel (like this jumpsuit) is made with organic cotton, which helps both the environment and farmers."
Conventional cotton farming has a heavy impact on the environment. It uses nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides each year – causing biodiversity loss and harming farmers’ health – and is highly water-intensive. More than 20,000 litres of water are used to produce 1kg of cotton, which can make one T-shirt and one pair of jeans.
Organic cotton farming cuts the use of toxic chemicals, improving soil health and increasing water conservation. Farmers have better livelihoods because organic products can be priced at a premium, and do not rely on expensive pesticides and fertilisers. The crops are also mostly rain-fed instead of irrigated, increasing water conservation.
Today, 61 per cent of the cotton Stella McCartney uses is certiﬁed organic.
"ORGANIC COTTON FARMING OFFERS AN ECO SOLUTION. IT CUTS THE USE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS, IMPROVING SOIL HEALTH AND INCREASING WATER CONSERVATION."
1. The Stella Logo Tote Bag is made of polyurethane and polyester. 2-4. The Falabella Monogram Tote and the Elyse lace-ups and pumps are not made of PVC, as McCartney stopped using the material in 2010. Instead, her brand uses a kinder-to-the-environment polyurethane, which has a similar look and feel.
METALS WITH A LOWER ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT
Ten to 15 per cent of the raw material her brand uses is metal, mostly in her Falabella bag chains. These are made of brass, a copper and zinc alloy. The mining of copper causes the nonbiodegradable metal to leach into the ground and water sources, killing plants and animals and causing serious health issues for the workers.
McCartney has developed a stainless-steel and aluminium alternative that is now used for some of her chains. She also provides free repair services for all her Falabella bags.
BY 2020, ECONYL WILL REPLACE NYLON
McCartney is switching the nylon she uses to regenerated nylon. She aims to use only Econyl regenerated nylon by next year. Virgin nylon is made from crude oil (unrefined petroleum), whereas Econyl is made of recycled and regenerated industrial plastic, waste fabric and fishing nets. It has exactly the same quality as virgin nylon and helps to divert waste from oceans and landfills. Every 10,000 tons of Econyl produced instead of virgin nylon saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil.
RECYCLED POLYESTER FOR BAG LININGS
Polyester is a synthetic, non-biodegradable fibre made of coal, air, water and petroleum. Since 2012, McCartney has used only polyester made from recycled plastic bottles for her bag linings, and recycled polyester throughout her collections wherever possible.
Currently, most of the world’s recycled polyester comes from recycled plastic bottles. McCartney is seeking and supporting new technologies that enable the fashion industry to deal with its own waste by recycling polyester fabrics back into fabrics.
A GARMENT LABELLING SYSTEM TO PROMOTE CARING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Developed together with H&M and Swiss clothing care-labelling company Ginetex, Clevercare is a garment-labelling system that advocates saving energy and water by recommending washing clothes at lower temperatures; hanging dry as opposed to tumbledrying; ironing only when necessary; and using eco dry cleaners.
In 2004, Adidas and Stella McCartney began a long-running partnership to design activewear for women. Like McCartney’s own brand, Adidas by Stella McCartney is eco-conscious, uses sustainable materials such as organic cotton and recycled yarn, and makes use of innovations like Adidas’ Drydye technology.
While traditional fabric dyeing needs 25 litres of water to dye a T-shirt, Drydye is a polyester dyeing process that requires no water and uses half the chemicals and energy.
How it works: Using compressed carbon dioxide, dye is injected into the fabric, eliminating the need for water as the dye medium. After the dyeing cycle, the carbon dioxide is gasiﬁed so it separates from the dye, which condenses. The clean carbon dioxide is then pumped back into the dyeing vessel to be reused.
Last October, McCartney also designed the ﬁrst vegan leather Stan Smith.
"H&M Conscious Exclusive’s boots are made of pineappleleaf fibres."
"The material for this slide is foam made from algae."
LET’S GET WITH THE PROGRAMME
Fashion has always been bad news for the environment, but it has become worse since the fast-fashion boom. Being cheap and accessible makes fast fashion one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases (according to the BBC, it produces about as much as all the air traffic in the world does), water pollution and waste, air pollution, and a landfill problem. While some retailers have launched sustainable lines, sustainability plans and recycling initiatives, we as consumers can help by always making the right choices, choosing ethics and transparent practices over consumerism and materialism.
So, Who’s Doing What? H&M
The Swedish company first launched its sustainable line, H&M Conscious Exclusive, in 2012. In its ninth collection now, it continues to use new sustainable materials.
“We do this because Conscious Exclusive is an important testing ground for the whole H&M Group,” says creative adviser Ann-Sofie Johansson. “It allows us to try out the latest sustainable fabrics on a smaller scale first. And I’m thrilled to say that on numerous occasions, we were able to eventually incorporate the new sustainable materials into the wider collections.”
This year’s new materials are Pinatex (a natural leather alternative made from the cellulose fibres of pineapple leaves), Bloom Foam (a plantbased flexible foam made of algae biomass from freshwater sources that are at high risk of algal bloom), and Orange Fibre (a silk-like cellulose fabric from repurposed citrus juice by-products).
Other sustainable materials used are recycled polyester, organic cotton, organic linen, organic silk, Tencel, recycled plastic, recycled glass and recycled silver.
“Every piece in the Conscious Exclusive collection is made of sustainable materials – if not 100 per cent, they definitely constitute the majority. Even details such as sequins and beads are made from things such as recycled polyester or recycled plastic.” Besides Conscious Exclusive, H&M is increasing the use of sustainable materials in its regular products.
In 2018, 57 per cent of H&M’s products were made of 100 per cent recycled or sustainablysourced materials, up from 35 per cent in 2017. The brand aims to bring that figure up to 100 per cent by 2030, and to be climate positive – removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – by 2040.
In 2016, Zara launched the Join Life collection, a sustainable line that features designs made from forest- and animal-friendly sustainable materials such as recycled wool, Tencel, and organic cotton.
The brand’s Spanish parent company, Inditex, whose stable of brands includes Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Stradivarius, also has a sustainable strategy in place. Its efforts include:
• Using recycled or organic cotton. Cultivating organic cotton uses 90 per cent less water and 60 per cent less energy than normal cotton; recycled cotton uses 80 per cent less water.
• Using lyocell, viscose and modal that are not obtained from primary or high-conservationvalue forests.
• Using recycled polyester and polyamide.
• Not selling fur. It is phasing out mohair products and promises to be mohair-free by 2020.
• Using humanely sourced wool.
• Using leather only from animals reared for food, never solely for their hide.
The German sportswear brand’s sustainability efforts began in 1989, when it banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (which deplete the ozone layer) for all its products. Three decades on, it has co-founded the Better Cotton Initiative (which aims to address the negative impact of mainstream cotton farming); started dedicated rigorous environmental audits at its supplier sites; co-founded the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative to drive change in industry practices for responsible chemical management; launched Adidas Drydye; and partnered Parley for the Oceans, an environmental organisation and network that aims to protect the world’s oceans from destruction.
Fur-free High Fashion
While designer labels may not produce the same volume of goods as fast fashion, many are taking their first steps into sustainability by going fur-free.
Gucci has replaced real fur with both sustainable fur (clipped, shorn, or combed from animals) and faux fur made from acetate, polyester and acrylic, like in the coat pictured above.
CALVIN KLEIN fur-free since 1994
RALPH LAUREN since 2006
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD since 2007
GIORGIO ARMANI since 2016
CHANEL, COACH, FURLA, GUCCI & MICHAEL KORS since 2018
BURBERRY, DKNY, DVF & VERSACE since this year
PHOTOGRAPHY RAYMOND LEE
STYLING BRYAN GOH
HAIR CHRISTVIAN GOH/ARX, USING KEVIN.MURPHY
MAKEUP RINA SIM, USING ARMANI BEAUTY