By Karen Guzman
Fashion designer Stella McCartney discussed her commitment to sustainability at the Yale School of Management on April 24, telling students that the time has come for her industry to put the planet first.
“The fashion industry needs to be called out,” said McCartney, a sustainability pioneer in fashion and an outspoken animal rights advocate. “It has to change… My whole career has been about finding a solution to these problems I’m facing as a businesswoman.”
McCartney, founder and creative director of Stella McCartney, a global brand that leads the way in sustainable fashion, spoke in a talk sponsored by the Yale SOM Dean’s Office and by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. Indra Nooyi ’80, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo., moderated the discussion.
Nooyi lauded McCartney as a sustainability pioneer in fashion, a notoriously carbon-producing industry that is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, she said. McCartney acknowledged that carving a niche in this business—with her environmental priorities and famous surname (McCartney is the daughter of musician Paul McCartney)—hasn’t been easy.
“I felt ridiculed and not taken seriously for quite a while,” she said. But the growing awareness of climate change and the adverse impacts of the animal industry has helped. McCartney said she now sees her role as two-fold: creating garments and educating consumers on how to consume fashion more sustainably.
Nooyi pointed out that educating consumers is critical today, especially in light of the “fast fashion” ethos, which encourages shoppers to acquire and discard copious amounts of garments in an effort to keep pace with social media trends and the growing pressure to look “fabulous.”
“The power of the consumer is the most critical thing,” McCartney agreed. “I’m in the service industry. I serve people… Consumers don’t realize they have the power.”
McCartney also called for policy changes that would encourage sustainable choices in the fashion industry, much the way that financial incentives have with electric vehicles in the auto industry. Other changes could address the issue by rewarding designers who import or export products that are not made with animal products. And new technologies aimed at creating plant-based materials and fabrics, as well as improving the recycling of mixed materials, are also promising avenues, McCartney said.
Answering questions from the audience, McCartney encouraged students entering the fashion industry to explore its varied roles—all of which touch on sustainability issues in powerful ways. She also encouraged students assembling new work wardrobes to invest wisely, and sustainably—buying fewer, timeless pieces that will last.
Nooyi, who said she had recently donated the bulk of her own work wardrobe to charity, emphasized quality over quantity: “Fashion shouldn’t be so disposable.”