Written by: Kyera Giannini
Edited by: Stephanie Farrell
With consumers vocally (and monetarily) supporting phrases like “green is the new black”, fashion designers have been scrambling to get their foot in the sustainable door. Products made of organic cotton, sunglasses crafted from wood and tee-shirts spun from recycled plastic bottles all add up to a significant shift in consumer fashion. Even Trend Union, a fashion trend forecasting service, is on board; stating in their latest presentation at Parson’s that sustainability is not a trend but is in fact here to stay. So how have some of the largest luxury design houses begun the process of turning their brands eco-friendly?
Well, UK-based Stella McCartney joined the eco-chic community before it was stylish and continues to be a role model and leader in directing the fashion industry towards a sustainable future. The brands approach is multi-faceted. In its own words from their Sustainability Statement, “We…know that sustainability isn’t just one thing, it isn’t just organic cotton – it’s organic cotton, plus wind energy, plus not using PVC, plus thousands of other little steps.”
One of those little steps is eliminating animal skins from designs. McCartney became famous for her stance in favor of animal rights when she filmed videos for PETA about fur and leather. The videos and accompanying articles graphically show the inhumane treatment of animals bound for the fashion industry and the disastrous effects of tanning on the environment. In accordance with her beliefs the House states, “We do not use leather, skins or fur in any of our products, collaborations or licensed products.” No products, including fragrances, are tested on animals. The current Fall/Winter 2013 collection uses wool sourced only from companies that provide documentation proving they use anesthesia when “mulesing,” or cutting away skin from the hindquarters to prevent infection. For her efforts in this area McCartney was presented with the very first Green Designer of the Year award in 2008 by the Accessories Council – an category created especially for her.
On the clean energy front, McCartney has taken great strides towards alternative energy options. “All Stella McCartney stores, offices and studios in the UK are powered by wind energy,” says the company’s sustainability statement, and “45% of our operations are run on 100% renewable, green energy and 65% are run on partially green energy.” Those numbers also include international locations. Here in New York City, her store is powered by ConEdison Solutions, which provides 100% wind and hydro energy.
In an effort to reduce the waste produced by Stella McCartney, the company has partnered with the National Resource Defense Council’s Clean by Design. The aim of the Council is to improve conditions at overseas factories: “By improving the efficiency in the manufacturing processes, there are plenty of opportunities to both save money and improve the environment.” More recently the brand has partnered with Kering Sustainability, a group that will help them reduce their greenhouse emissions by 25% in four years.
Although McCartney has made great strides, the company still has several lofty goals for the future. Sourcing gold and diamonds from verified operations that do not harm the environment, sourcing 100% of paper products from sustainable forests and, “ensuring all hazardous chemicals have been phased out and eliminated from our production by 2020,” are just a few.
Of course, no fashion house could be considered sustainable without also addressing fabrics. “We continue to use as much organic cotton as possible in our collections and we are always exploring new eco materials and processes.” McCartney states on their site. There, they also provide the hard numbers, “In 2012, 34% of our dim and 36% of our jersey for ready-to-wear was made from organic cotton and 50% of all knitwear for Stella McCartney Kids was organic.” The newest eyewear collection is made from 50% natural, renewable materials like castor oil seeds and citric acid. And while not a fiber, the dyes used in the newest Adidas collection called DryDyes contain 50% less chemicals than traditional dyes, use 50% less energy and require no water during processing. In addition, since late 2010 the company has used shoes with biodegradable soles made from a bio-plastic called APINAT and completely eliminated all PVC from all collections. Within the “Meet Our Star Eco Products” are a host of other products designed with the environment and human rights in mind.
All this being said, the time it takes for an established, international, luxury fashion company to become completely sustainable is still very long and often considered impossible. McCartney is showing the world that it can be done, even if it is just little by little. As for McCartney’s future efforts, she says, “In many ways we are just beginning our journey towards becoming more sustainable, but we are dedicated to continuing our work towards being able to replace what we have taken from the environment.”
Check back with us next month to learn about yet another luxury house going sustainable!