Stella McCartney's presence at COP28 raises a pivotal question: If sustainable fashion drives success, why isn't the industry following her lead?
As the world congregates at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) at Expo City Dubai, global leaders, businesses, civil society groups, innovators, and activists come together to forge solutions to the most pressing environmental challenges — for the 28th time. It is the 28th United Nations climate change conference, so by now, it is only natural for discussions on climate action and sustainable solutions to feel like a broken record. However, amidst the heads of state and corporations pledging and promising financing and emissions reductions, one figure stands out as a true embodiment of action over words, genuinely integrating her commitments into her professional ethos and practices.
Stella McCartney, a trailblazer in sustainable luxury fashion, distinguishes herself at COP28, not just as a participant but as a catalyst for change. Her unique position as the sole fashion designer at the conference underscores a critical point: the fashion industry, often overlooked in broader environmental discussions, plays a vital role in our ecological footprint. McCartney's presence brings a necessary spotlight to this reality. While fashion is typically associated with glamour and escapism, it is one of the most harmful industries to our planet. Fast fashion, in particular, contributes to immense waste — a truckload of clothes is burnt or buried every second, resulting in approximately USD500 billion worth of waste annually. The designer's involvement at COP28 is a crucial step in addressing this often-ignored aspect of environmental dialogue.
A pioneer in sustainable luxury fashion since 2001, McCartney has consistently led the way in ethical fashion practices, setting a precedent that few in the industry have followed. Her brand, known for being PVC-free, fur-free, leather-free, skin-free, and feather-free, stands as a testament to her commitment to sustainability without the need for legislative push. "This is what I'm practicing in my business model. And if I can do it, really, the rest of the industry can adopt these same methods," she asserts. And we agree.
It is clear that fashion is a sector aware of the necessary changes it must take, yet blatantly refusing to embrace them fully.
Stella McCartney exemplifies that sustainable solutions in fashion are not only viable but can actually drive a brand's success. Her approach serves as a compelling case study, demonstrating that environmental consciousness and commercial achievement can coexist. We’ve known this for years, and yet Stella McCartney remains one of the very few brands in the industry fully embracing sustainable practices. At this point, it is clear that fashion is a sector aware of the necessary changes it must take, yet blatantly refusing to embrace them fully.
One can’t help but wonder: What is everyone else in the industry waiting for? “I think people are waiting for someone to tell them they can’t do something. It’s like they’re children; if you tell a child they can eat sugar for their whole life, they’re going to eat it. But one day, if you stop allowing sugar in the house, they’ll stop eating it. And life goes on without that sugar and they’re healthier for it! They feel better, their mind is clearer, and their body is healthier. It’s better for everyone,” McCartney reflects.
“I don’t think they’re waiting. I think they’re terrified of laws, and I think that’s really what it’s going to take.” She believes that while there are good intentions in the fashion industry, change will likely require external enforcement. That’s why her presence at COP28 isn't just about advocacy; it's about action. McCartney expresses her ambition to influence policy, "I’m here to try and have conversations with the policy leaders and bring in some kind of legislation into the fashion industry where we can all adhere to being better for the planet," she states. Addressing the myriad issues within the fashion industry's supply chain is a complex task. McCartney pinpoints a specific starting point for change: the use of PVC. She highlights its detrimental impact, noting that as a petroleum-based plastic, its microfibers are wreaking havoc on our planet and oceans, and “it should be abolished.” Plain and simple.
At COP28, McCartney’s vision for the future of fashion was demonstrated through the Sustainable Solutions Market. This marketplace wasn't just an exhibit; it was a bold statement on the potential of fashion to be both luxurious and sustainable. “I’m here to provide solutions. The main thing is you can’t just tell people off and give them a load of information that makes them terrified. You need to show them that we can solve the problem.” The market showcased every imaginable alternative to materials, from Savian’s 100% plant-based alternative to animal fur, to Mirum, a bio-based vegan alternative to animal leather, and even Radian Matter's introduction of BioSequins, which are plastic-free, biodegradable, and non-toxic sequins made from plant-derived cellulose. Through these groundbreaking innovations and her overall advocacy, Stella McCartney not only champions sustainable practices but also calls for a broader, industry-wide transformation, emphasizing the importance of individual responsibility and systemic change.
You can’t just tell people off and give them a load of information that makes them terrified. You need to show them that we can solve the problem.
McCartney's role in global sustainability efforts goes beyond that of a mere advocate or designer; she also occupies a uniquely influential position that amplifies her impact on a corporate level. As the personal sustainable advisor to Bernard Arnault, McCartney wields a significant degree of influence in the fashion industry. This partnership not only validates her commitment to sustainable practices but also puts her at the forefront of influencing major industry changes. "I have his ear, I have his attention," McCartney states, highlighting the gravity of her role. This connection is not just about having a seat at the table; it's about being able to direct the conversation towards meaningful, scalable solutions that can have a real impact on the industry. "They’re fully behind this conversation. They’re invested financially in this conversation," she notes, emphasizing the commitment of Arnault and LVMH to the cause. Their partnership sends a strong message to the fashion industry and the world at large: sustainable fashion is not just a niche market but a central concern for some of the biggest players in the industry.
As we reflect on the insights and innovations showcased at COP28, it becomes clear that the path towards a more sustainable fashion industry is not just a distant possibility but a tangible reality. McCartney's work is a testament to the potential of fashion to contribute positively to our planet, encouraging a shift from fast fashion's detrimental impact to a more thoughtful, responsible approach. Her vision encourages us to reevaluate our choices, both as consumers and as part of the fashion industry. The message from COP28 is clear: there’s no more time to waste. It's time for all players in fashion to step up and embrace the change that McCartney has been championing for years.