For Kering’s third annual talk at London College of Fashion, Frances Corner welcomed the ‘effortlessly cool’ sustainable fashion role model, Stella McCartney to the stage. In conversation with Lucy Siegle, they discussed the responsibility of both designers and consumers in bringing change to the industry.
Stella began by sharing her latest innovation; viscose produced sustainably from forests in Sweden. In a short, introductory video we watched Carmen Kass, dressed in an array of luxurious designs tackle the issue of deforestation and make a case for forest conservation. This playful and informative video surmises McCartney’s approach to fashion. Trained at Central Saint Martins, she is first a designer driven by a desire to create the stylish, sharp, sexy and sporty and secondly an activist with a strong commitment to people and the environment. For Stella, ‘the fashionable side has to go hand in hand with the ethical side’. While many sustainable brand’s fastidious attention to environmental standards has led to a compromise in design, the success of Stella can be attributed to her tenacious ability of remaining both desirable and relevant to the fashion elite. She stressed the importance of investing love in the supply chain and being mindful of the challenges fashion production poses while staying true to a design philosophy.
How to prioritise
As a market leader, she explained the difficulties her company face when sourcing materials which are only just becoming available. Stella stressed the importance of prioritising the development of materials which replace those with the most significant environmental impact first. An ethos which placed the use of animal products at top of the agenda. When the brand launched as a vegetarian company the industry laughed and deemed she could never build an accessories line without leather. Even today her non-leather goods incur the same taxes as leather items and cost significantly more to produce. She expressed concern in the lack of flexibility and growth within the industry which relies heavily on ‘outdated’ design practices. Unlike the food industry which has seen significant growth in ethical and biological markets, fashion remains woefully behind the times. She encouraged brands to ‘think differently’ and to be open to the positive changes innovation and technology can bring. The development of products such as Stella’s line of fake fur jackets are so realistic, in theory, they could eliminate the need for real fur. Rather than making consumers feel guilty about their purchases, Stella aims to ‘infiltrate from within’ by offering sustainable products so desirable the consumer does not even notice.
53% of Stella McCartney womenswear and 45% of menswear is currently made from sustainable materials, a figure which is set to reach 100% during the lifespan of the brand.
Stella’s gentle approach to the subject of fast fashion showed an understanding of the difficulties many consumers face when wishing to engage with fashion on a limited budget. She encouraged consumers to ‘come at fashion from a different point of view’, to invest more in a longer period of time and to spend mindfully and responsibly. She invited consumers to ‘challenge the people who make your clothes’ and demand that fashion no longer ‘gets away with murder’. She heralded a shift towards greater product awareness and transparency. As with the food industry, Stella called for clothing to be set to sustainable standards with an ‘ingredients list’.
Dilys Williams summed up Stella McCartney’s mindful approach to fashion with the phrase ‘standing up can be a principle as well as a style’. The event culminated with the announcement of the winners of The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion 2016; Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, Ana Pasalic, Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie. The resounding message for the next generation of designers was; be courageous, be responsible and say something from the heart.