Stella McCartney tells Cop26 the future of fashion ‘looks bleak’

Stella McCartney attends a Bob Dylan performance in Hyde Park, London (Getty Images)
Stella McCartney attends a Bob Dylan performance in Hyde Park, London (Getty Images)

British fashion designer Stella McCartney has called on world leaders to introduce new laws and policies to help regulate and reduce the fast fashion industry’s contribution to the climate crisis.

“The future of fashion looks bleak unless we step up,” she told an audience at Cop26 on Monday 8 November, where she was speaking at The New York Times’ Climate Hub.

McCartney said that during discussions with world leaders at the G7 Summit in summer, she had noticed that their focus was largely on how to regulate areas with obvious polluters, such as the automotive and aviation industries.

“It’s incredible how the fashion industry has just gone under the radar. Look at us, look at us, look at us, but don’t look at us when it comes to that part of the conversation,” she said.

“There’s what feels like gazillions of fashion houses. We’ve got to have a method to measure across the board, there needs to be law on that. Our politicians need to step up.”

According to World Bank, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of annual carbon emissions across the globe; more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

McCartney has previously spoken about her dismay at being “penalised” by governments across the world for trying to implement sustainable practices in her business.

Her namesake fashion brand does not use materials from animals, such as leather, fur, feathers or skin and has a commitment to “being kinder to Mother Earth”.

Sharing an example of how these practices have served as a disadvantage to her company, McCartney explained that she gets taxed 30 per cent when she tries to import plant-based shoes into the US.

“But If I put pig leather in, [the tax] is gone,” she said, before calling on governments to incentivise sustainable practices. “We should get tax breaks. We have to change policy and force the industry.”

When asked by NYT fashion director Vanessa Friedman about the three most important steps the fashion industry can do to tackle the climate crisis, McCartney said she believes stopping the use of animal products would have “by far the biggest impact”.

“It comes back to my policy. Stop using animal products is really the first thing. The second thing is to stop using animal products and the third thing is stop using animal products,” she said.

The designer, who is a vocal advocate of animal rights, recently created a 100-item line of handbags made using mushroom leather. “We worked with mushroom leather years ago and they were like rock. We are just getting to the stage now here we can create a fold in our vegan bag and it doesn’t crack,” she said.

McCartney’s brand, which she launched in 2011, became part of luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH in 2019. Speaking to the audience at on Monday, she revealed that she is in regular conversation with LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault about how its brands can become more environmentally friendly.

“I’m a fighter, and I believe very much in infiltrating from within. I’m the trojan horse and I’m in there,” she said.

Other fashion houses under LVMH include Fendi, known for its use of fur, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, which all use animal leather in their products. McCartney said she had been talking to creatives and designers at the brands about modifying their practices.

“They’re all terrified of me,” she said, before disclosing that creatives at Fendi had told her they were planning to start using recycled fur.

“Recycled fur? That’s the biggest cop out I’ve ever heard,” she said. “I’m telling them all off, but I’m also putting my money where my mouth is and I’m showing them there’s alternatives.”

In June, McCartney debuted her Autumn 2021 collection featuring a range of products made with synthetic furs, which the designer says are “26 per cent kinder to the environment than real fur”.

The campaign, “Our Time Has Come!”, saw several figures dressed as animals walking among the general public in some of London’s busiest areas including Trafalgar Square, Mayfair and Piccadilly Circus.

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