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“Waste Is a Design Flaw”—Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst Preach Sustainability at Vogue Global Conversations

Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst, Vogue España’s Eugenia de la Torriente, vogue global conversations

Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst and Vogue España’s Eugenia de la Torriente

“All of a sudden sustainability has been a very, very overused word,” began Stella McCartney during a panel with Gabriela Hearst and Vogue España’s Eugenia de la Torriente at yesterday’s Vogue Global Conversations. The designers had joined the editor to discuss how they are remaining eco-conscious and optimistic during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Personally, sustainability is a state of mind.… It’s about balance at the end of the day. For me, the most important thing is to use the natural resources we have from Mother Earth and use them in a mindful way, in a way that doesn’t deplete them,” McCartney concluded.

Hearst agreed: “Sustainability is a practice; as with any practice, you have to start with something challenging but achievable, and as your confidence and reassurance grow you move to the next challenge.”

Over a half-hour conversation, the designers shared details about their own sustainability practices and debated how the industry at large could implement more environmentally friendly processes. “We could turn back to the norm, but I hope not,” said McCartney. “People who didn’t think the way that we do are starting to understand there is another way. That gives me hope. I know there’s another way, and so I hope that other people can see that now too.”

Here, three takeaways from their conversation.

Being Sustainable Takes Time

Making environmentally conscious products takes time—something the industry at large needs to understand. “At Stella McCartney, over 60% of the environmental good that we do is from looking at the source material and working years in advance,” McCartney said. “I work with the same mills that I’m sure a lot of luxury houses do, but I work so far in advance because I want to use my crops more efficiently with them, I want to have [the materials] transported more efficiently, I want to have less pesticides. It takes longer.”

Hearst agreed that finding alternative production methods isn’t a simple process. “We have the goal by 2021 to [have our products be made from] at least 80% nonvirgin materials,” Hearst said. “We’ve been working for months, ‘hunting and gathering’ as I call it, for our resort and spring season. At least 60% of our materials have been sourced from preexisting materials.” This spring she will launch “The Garment Journey,” a QR code included on a tag in each of her products that will detail how that item was made, from top to bottom.

“I hope people come back and they consider timelines,” McCartney concluded. “They respect that things can take a little longer if you want to do things better.”

Waste Is a Failure of Design

“Sustainability is learning how to work within limitations and parameters, which, in my opinion, is great for creativity,” said Hearst. “As Stella was saying, we don’t live in an endless cornucopia of natural resources. We have to balance production and consumption.… Waste, at the end of the day, is a design flaw. It doesn’t exist in nature.”

“We have to stop and consider the waste. It’s spiraled out of control,” McCartney reiterated, pointing to figures that showed that during shutdowns in February, carbon emissions in China lessened by 25%. “We’ve seen in such a short period of time how incredible nature is, how she bounces back so quickly when we just stop for a second. I think that’s so hopeful. Will we ever be able to heal Earth? It looks like we can.… We have to come out with hope. We have to realize we consume too much.”

Both designers pointed to using upcycled materials and sustainable fabrics as a means to reduce waste. “At Stella McCartney the biggest environmental positive other than sourcing is we don’t kill animals, and it really has a massive, massive positive footprint on our environmental profit and loss. That is a fact. Maybe the good of this is that people slow down, they ask more questions, and they’re a little bit more considerate,” McCartney concluded.

Sustainability Is About Quality Over Quantity

“At the end of the day, all the good values that we put in our product will not be enough to have people buy your product,” Hearst said bluntly. “They have to buy it because it’s a great product, because it’s well-designed.… No one is going to buy your product for your good intentions.”

She continued, explaining that growing up on a ranch in Uruguay taught her quality and sustainability are inextricably linked. “You learn about sustainability from a very utilitarian perspective: You have to build products that last. We always lived and consumed with very few things, but they were made well so they could withstand the force of nature.”

“We learned to grow [our business] with quality over quantity,” she said, noting that she opted not to wholesale her popular bags, an opportunity that could have doubled the size of her business, because it would mean doubling the natural resources consumed. “We’ve been very mindful about strategically growing and not overexposing and overdistributing.”

“We can still have incredible, desirable, fashionable, well-made timeless pieces as Gabriela says, but now is a time to use efficiently and with respect and to go back into normality in a new way,” McCartney added. “We all know how we were practicing things previously; we can do better. I think now is the time to ask those questions and hopefully actually action it when we get back.”

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