Stella McCartney Criticized For Using Climate Activists As Models—& We Kind Of Agree

August 20, 2019

Each fashion city has its own distinctive culture, and here at PD HQ we’ve always been in admiration of how vocal British designers have been in advocating for sustainability. In 2017, Vivienne Westwood drew attention for declaring, “Don’t buy anything.” Stella McCartney has been showing that vegan, cruelty-free, and sustainable fashion can be aspirational since establishing her namesake label in 2001. With these leaders, British fashion has always seemed more punk and creatively driven than commercially focused, as in cities like New York. Buying something by Stella McCartney felt a tiny bit more like patronage than consumerism, if you know what we mean?

But the latest controversy surrounding Stella McCartney threatens to tarnish her eco-goddess image. Her latest ad campaign for Winter 2019 collection featured climate activists working for Extinction Rebellion, who have each apparently pledged to not buy anything for a year.

Fans were quick to point out the irony—or let’s be real, hypocrisy—of using anti-capitalism activists to sell a luxury collection, even if those clothes are as vegan- and earth-friendly as possible. “But how do your clothes fit in to this? Surely we need to stop buying and producing as many new clothes yet you are still creating as fashion dictates per season. I find it a confusing message,” commented user stephaniecgee on Instagram.

“How do you fit their message of no flying with your business and the people who wear your brands most (many are super models who jet off very often?),” asked user amy_112. Another user, thirtyfivegamble, proposed the most logical (albeit difficult to execute) solution, point-blank: “We need to stop buying and producing …. trend driven seasonal fashion even if ‘ethical’ is NOT a solution.”

“I think there is a mutual understanding between Extinction Rebellion’s boycott on fashion and what Stella is trying to achieve,” Tori Tsui, one of the Extinction Rebellion activists in the campaign, told Vogue. “What the boycott is meant to do is tell the story of an emergency. We know it won’t be realistic for everyone [to stop shopping], but if you can’t boycott fashion entirely, buy sustainable. If you can’t go vegan, try to eat less meat. If you can’t stop flying, then offset your emissions…People like Stella are achieving a lot just by making these ideas more mainstream.”

As an online magazine that has been writing to make vegan and sustainable lifestyle more accessible and aspirational since 2013, we get it. Extinction Rebellion (or XR, as the group is also known) started out as a fringe movement, and can still be considered radical and disruptive in either negative or positive ways, depending on who is controlling the narrative. Being endorsed by someone as widely respected as Stella McCartney can boost the organization’s influence across demographics. But here is the thing: respect comes at a high price of always adhering to one’s values. 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?

Stella McCartney has the industry’s most impressive record of eco-friendly production, from a solar-powered office and vegetarian staff lunches to recycled textiles and more. The label doesn’t burn or destroy its unsold merchandise, as many of its peers do. But the next level of commitment for Stella McCartney would be to restructure her brand to eschew the seasonal merchandising cycle completely. Instead of showing a seasonally-driven collection that is meant to become outdated within months, she could showcase a main, perennial collection reinforced by a monthly capsule that adds just a bit more pizzazz. Many smaller sustainable houses already do this, including one of my favorite French labels Coralie Marabelle. This, of course, would mean scaling back on the wheel of create > market > consume to which all major retailers subscribe. An even greater credit to her environmentalist stance would be to donate the proceeds from her business to charities. Is that so unthinkable? There are already brands that do this, like Newman’s Own, and even Meghan Markle’s new workwear collection, the proceeds of which will benefit Smart Works, her chosen charity.

As the editor of PD, I find myself recommending sustainable fashion on a regular basis. But in my personal life, my retail shopping is relatively meager. Here are all the fashion things I have bought in 2019: an organic cotton t-shirt by Fils de butte, a raincoat from a Paris secondhand store, a pair of Repetto loafers from that same store, a white broderie anglaise dress, a gold necklace, a pair of gold earrings, and a gold ring. All of these have been either secondhand, organic, or made locally, and I foresee not too much more shopping in the 4 months left of 2019.

I hope that recommending sustainable-fashion picks makes it easier and more fun for readers to transition from mainstream retail, but at the end of the day, I hope we all come to a point of buying and owning less. Every single new product we make consumes Earth’s limited resources, and we just can’t handle much more. What we need even more than a beautiful vegan-leather Stella bag is a new paradigm in which we acknowledge that we actually don’t need another bag.

Related: Meghan Markle Will Design A Sustainable Fashion Line To Benefit Charity

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Photo: Stella McCartney via Instagram


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