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Stella McCartney Sees Fast Fashion as Environmental Threat

Fashion designer Stella McCartney called on business leaders and politicians to help the industry reduce its impact on the environment.

McCartney, whose luxury clothing label avoids material like leather due to its impact on land and water resources, said disposable apparel known as “fast fashion” is wrecking the planet. Her remarks, while sidestepping specific names, referred to companies that move trends from the catwalk to shop hangers as quickly as possible, including Asos Plc and Boohoo Group Plc.

“People wear, on average, fast fashion about three times before it’s thrown away,” McCartney said at an event in Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London hosted with Vanity Fair magazine. “We need to educate.”

Her remarks added to the scrutiny of fast fashion companies. Last month, U.K. lawmakers wrote to the heads of online retailers including Inc. and Asos to seek evidence about the environmental and social impacts of selling cheap clothes.

Retailers who can supply cheap and trendy clothes quickly have grown in popularity in recent years. Buoyed by social media platforms like Instagram, the companies offer cheap clothing that consumers are unlikely to wear more than a few times.

Fast fashion is “creating an enormous trash problem,” said Cara Smyth, founder of the Fair Fashion Centre. “It’s about a $3.6 billion textile waste problem, in America. It is important to know that it is not only the company’s fault but the consumer’s fault.”

One of the other environmental concerns with fast fashion is the process through which online orders are delivered. The need to ensure that garments reach consumers as quickly as possible could mean that more fossil fuels are used in getting those items to market.

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“We haven’t yet understood what is the carbon footprint of online,” said Stephen Brenninkmeijer, an angel investor and a fifth-generation retailer from the family behind C&A Group. “Online is a tricky business, and I hope that people like Amazon are looking at that as well.”

McCartney urged larger companies to follow her call because “big industry leaders have a much bigger impact than I do. Business leaders have to man-up.”

The materials which fashion companies use is also an increasingly important topic for designers that are seeking to boost their sustainability credentials. Along with refusing to use leather, McCartney also sources its viscose or rayon from sustainable forests. Earlier this year, Levi Strauss & Co. launched an initiative to eliminate many chemicals from its jeans manufacturing process.

Consumers and investors alike are both demonstrating an increasing appetite for sustainability when deciding where to put their money.

“There is no shortage of capital in the world that wants to go in this direction” said David Fass, Macquarie Group CEO for Europe the Middle East and Africa. “The hearts and minds argument of the common man on the street, has been won. My feeling is that what the financial services business needs to do, is to be working with the real innovative companies of today.”