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Is Stella McCartney Ethical?

She’s one of the best known sustainable fashion designers. But is Stella McCartney ethical?

By Noa Ben-Moshe

Stella McCartney might be the first designer that comes to your mind when talking about sustainable fashion, and her well-known love for animals has made her one of the most prominent animal-friendly designers in the world. She’s super talented, has a distinctive style, and she works hard for her money (even though she doesn’t really have to, coming from rock royalty and all). So, what’s not to love?

Well, a few things, it seems.

Every time we feature Stella in Eluxe, we get some great compliments…and some not so great comments, too. It seems vegans sometimes take issue with this allegedly pro-animal brand, and she has made some dodgy partnerships recently.

So, ultimately – is Stella McCartney ethical?

To answer that question, I’ve highlighted some of the key things we love – and don’t love so much – about the brand.

Is Stella McCartney Ethical?

LOVE

Her ‘There She Grows’ Campaign

‘There She Grows’ is the name of a campaign Stella launched in order to raise money to save the endangered Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia. Stella invites participants to dedicate a tree to someone special and then nominate others to do the same with the hashtag #ThereSheGrows and help raise awareness of the ancient rainforest which is under threat from logging and development.

Her brand made a donation on behalf of all those taking part, and participants are also encouraged to donate to support the non-profit organization Canopy, which has been working to preserve endangered forests for almost 20 years. Stella’s pals Drew Barrymore, Oprah, and Gwyneth Paltrow have supported her calls for action.

Her Northern Soul Inspired Collection

For her Fall 2019 collection, McCartney looked to the Northern soul for inspiration, creating loose, wide legged trousers for men and women, strong shouldered dresses and platform boots to complete the look. Sustainability was an inseparable part of this work, with upcycled vintage fabrics used for patchwork jackets, and dresses made from T-shirts which were ripped apart and knitted back together.

The collection also featured “fur-free fur,” which has been a huge part of Stella’s collections for years. Before the show started, Stella played recordings of people making commitments to pay for growing trees, part of her ‘There She Grows’ campaign, mentioned above. In short, it was a runway show that brought huge awareness to ecological issues, and demonstrated that upcycled fabrics could easily be transformed into luxury goods.

Her Respect For People in Production

Ethical production in safe conditions and fair wages are really important to Stella: “The future of fashion relies on people, including those who make clothes, the farmers who grow the crops, our employees and customers. We want to ensure a positive impact for the people we depend on and those who depend on us in return,” she says.

Her brand ensures their factories are safe, and constantly checks that no child labor, discrimination, or abuse is going on, ever. The brand’s materials are sourced and their products are manufactured through a carefully selected network of ethical suppliers located around the world.

Her Circular Economies

The McCartney brand is actively aiming to reduce its ecological footprint by investing in low-impact, recycled or recyclable metals, recycled polyesters and recycled nylons.

For example, Stella’s polyesters are made from rPET, which is created from recycled plastic bottles. For nylon, she uses ECONYL, which is made from waste such as industrial plastic, waste fabric and fishing nets.

She also uses recycled wool and cashmere in her collections (more on this below), and sources sustainable viscose  from certified forests. Finally, she often recycles vintage and old fabrics into new creations.

Encouraging Other Designers To Go Green

Stella has just announced that she will be on board for a United Nations fashion industry charter for climate action, to be launched in Poland.

The designer hopes the charter will make a business case for sustainable fashion, setting out a pathway for collective action to allow for low-carbon production methods to be scaled up, improving economic viability. Other signatories to the charter, which will be launched in Katowice on December 10th, have yet to be announced but are known to include several major fast fashion brands.

Convincing industry decision-makers to prioritise sustainability is “not about peer pressure, it’s about making them excited”, said McCartney to the Guardian. “Who wants to talk about this season’s colour or the next It bag? The sustainability conversation is really the only one that I am interested in having.”

Her ‘Green’ Spaces

Stella’s workplaces are pretty green! All the wood and paper used in Stella’s shops and offices is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, which means it comes from certified, sustainably managed forests, and all of her packaging is either FSC certified or from recycled sources.

LED lighting is used in most of her shops, and it takes up 75% less energy than traditional bulbs, and lasts more than 25 times longer. What we really love is the fact that in the UK, all of her stores and offices are powered by wind energy, provided by Ecotricity – a renewable energy company investing the money its customers spend on electricity into building new wind turbines.

Bringing Animal Cruelty To The Table

Stella has never stopped being a voice for the voiceless: she sheds light on fur and leather’s dark realities by contributing to many animal-welfare organizations such as PETA, and by creating articles, videos and campaigns to raise awareness about some of the cruelest industries in the world. She has been a vegetarian ever since she was born, and so has her brand.

Since Stella isn’t using animal leather in her line, she’s always looking for innovative new vegan leathers, and rumor has it she will soon incorporate Piñatex, a vegan, sustainable leather alternative made from pineapple leaves, into her next collections.

She’s also recently launched a  bio-design challenge (along with PETA) for students; to create animal-free, vegan wool, in order to slowly phase out the use of wool in her work.

is stella mccartney ethical

Image: Stella McCartney Instagram

DON’T LOVE SO MUCH

She Still Uses Animal Products

It’s well known that Stella’s sustainable fashion line is leather, shearling, angora and fur-free, but she does use repurposed cashmere in her designs, as well as wool, which boasts a Gold-Level Cradle to Cradle Certification. To get it, she worked with one of her key knitwear suppliers (who makes more than 79% of her wool knitwear yarns) to focus on optimising the entire wool process, from avoiding the use of pesticides around the sheep, to changing the chemistry of dyes and improving the health and safety of the animals, and the sustainability of the materials. Of course, for non-vegans, this isn’t an issue, and is even good news!

But, when it turned out that 1 of the 26 wool suppliers she sourced yarn from in Argentina was abusing sheep, it made vegans pretty angry, and they denounced the brand, despite the fact that Stella cut off ties with the supplier immediately. Vegans aren’t happy that she uses wool, mohair and cashmere at all, even if it’s repurposed.

Her Extinction Rebellion Campaign

Oh, what a public relations mistake this was! I mean, how silly is it that radical anti-capitalist, pro-environment activists were employed (and flown around the world) to sell a luxury collection of clothes? Stella’s fans were not impressed, and neither was vegan blog The Peaceful Dumpling, which stated: “While Stella McCartney may have had only good intentions, using anti-capitalist activists to sell clothing negates their message and muddles her own image. How can anyone take Extinction Rebellion’s call to abstain from shopping seriously when their representatives are modeling for Winter 2019 collection?”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that!

But beyond being mere hypocrites, the Extinction Rebellion group is riddled with other serious issues.

For example, when interviewer Andrew Neil asked Zion Lights to justify Extinction Rebellion’s terrifying claim that “billions of people are going to die in quite short order” and that “our children are all going to die in the next 10 to 20 years,” he was forced to admit that he just made those figures up on the spot. But then Lights actually had the nerve to defend his lies by stating “alarmist language works”, which is just another way of saying: “creating unfounded fear gets people to support us.” Which is not ok, of course.

Surely there’s a more credible environmental group Stella could align herself with?

She Just Signed Up With LVMH

This may be the biggest complaint we have with Stella. But who knows? It may also yield the best results.

The designer was previously under the Kering umbrella, then became independent briefly before signing up with LVMH. She’s meant to hold a specific position and role on sustainability as special advisor to Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, and the executive committee members. The thing is, LVMH has been broiled in several controversies that have led many an ethical shopper to shun the group.

For example, there was the debacle where Louis Vuitton was caught working with a supplier who skinned animals alive to make leather for their bags (the company says they have since cut ties with this supplier, though).

The brand also caused controversy when they donated a whopping 200 million Euro to help repair the roof of the burnt Notre Dame cathedral, but a big fat zero for the burning of the Amazon. (However, pressure on social media led Arnault, who also happens to be Europe’s richest man, to donate 11 million Euro to help put out the fires. Um, priorities, people!)

Then there was that time they were accused cutting corners and costs by moving production from France to China, and of also using labour in countries with extreme risks of abuse of their workforce. The company refuses to mention whether they pay a living wage to its workers abroad, nor does it disclose the names and addresses of its suppliers, meaning there’s little transparency in their production processes.

Let’s just hope that Stella’s role as ‘special advisor’ allows her to clean up all these issues, and also to help LVMH stop using animal products, including exotic leathers, angora and fur, in their designs.

Her Fur Free Fur

While we love the look of her fur-free fur coats, it’s a pity they can be so bad for the environment! Stella knows this, and on her website, she even says: “The journey to fur-free fashion does come with challenges. We work with a few select mills that produce our materials in an environmentally sound way. We are conscious that the product itself is non-biodegradable, made from either acrylic, polyester, wool or mohair. We therefore encourage customers to care for their items and be responsible with their garments, never throwing them away.”

That’s all fine and well, but surely she could at least use recycled materials for these?

Well, the good news is that she is. Stella has partnered with Ecopel, a company that makes fibres from recycled PET bottles. Their materials feel like fur, and although threads from recycled plastics shed microparticles of plastics when washed, since we rarely, if ever, wash our winter coats, this seems like a step in the right direction.

OVERALL

So, is Stella McCartney ethical? The truth is, no brand or person is perfect. There’s always something we can find to critique about any entity’s activities and perspectives. But as far as sustainable fashion is concerned, it’s pretty hard to fault Stella.
The Good On You brand directory rates her as ‘good’ for:
  • her use of eco friendly materials in her designs
  • reducing waste across her entire supply chain
  • measuring and reporting on her brand’s direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions
  • setting a deadline for the elimination of hazardous chemicals by 2020
  • complying with a Restricted Substances List
  • having a policy to minimise solvent-based chemicals
  • setting water reduction targets and wastewater is treated and discharged properly.
  • joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Considering all of these wonderful achievements and goals, we’d say it’s wise to forgive the designer’s dalliances with dodgy activists and fashion conglomerates and focus more on the incredibly positive force she is in the world of sustainable fashion.

Main image: Stella McCartney Instagram. All other images: Stella McCartney

Noa Ben-Moshe

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Monica
    Oct 31, 2019 at 10:23 am

    First of all I think instead of people concentrating on the negative I think we should commend Stella for the great strides she’s made. One point however that you fail to mention is that her brand also uses silk which is definitely not vegan or animal-free.

    • Reply
      Chere
      Oct 31, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      Agreed! And right on about the silk!

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