Stella McCartney set the bar high when it partnered with Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive initiative in 2014, refusing to settle for anything less than the group’s gold-level standard. One year later, the British fashion house has yet to meet that goal—but as Claire Bergkamp, the brand’s head of sustainability and ethical trade, explained at last week’s Product Symposium in New York, that’s not a bad thing.
“We actually haven’t achieved [any Cradle to Cradle] certification yet because we won’t accept anything below gold for this project. We really want to push the boundaries of where we are,” she said. “We could achieve a silver or bronze level within this specific supply chain without a huge amount of work. It would still take some work, but the optimization we really want to do will come at the gold level.”
As part of Fashion Positive’s cooperative of leadership brands (which also includes Loomstate and Bionic Yarn), Stella McCartney sought to optimize its Italian supply chain by investing in one of its trusted mills to spin a non-toxic wool yarn that will then be turned into jumpers by an SA 8000-certified supplier. The aim: to produce a luxury collection that achieves gold accreditation.
“We don’t just do this as a capsule collection. We don’t want to say ok, we can do these natural dyes, we can do this one-off; we can show that it’s possible. There’s value in that but that’s not what we wanted to do,” Bergkamp continued. “We actually want to make change in our supply chain and to find out with our supply chain partners how we can make this a long-term change, not just a short-term change for a short-term, capsule collection or one-off opportunity.”
For that reason, the brand decided to home in on material health.
“The issue around chemicals in fashion right now is a big issue—and it’s kind of a scary issue from the brand point of view because we want to do the right thing, we want to ensure our materials are healthy, but at the same time the chemical companies, the people who are actually producing the dyes, aren’t always giving us what we need to produce the clothing,” she noted.
Ignasi Cubiñà, co-founder and director of Eco Intelligent Growth (a circular economy consultancy service based on Cradle to Cradle principals) and the assessor that’s working with Stella McCartney on this project, said it’s about designing with the view that that product will eventually be returned back to the soil.
“I’m saying eventually,” he pointed out, “Because when you’re dealing with luxury products, those don’t have a turnaround of 10 days. Those are products that you keep for years. But this design for positive impact is taking the long-term vision as well. The product has to be totally safe from a chemical perspective while the material reutilization part has to be taken into consideration from a very early stage. You have to develop a strategy, to see what will be the next use, the next life of the product.”
Luckily, the Italian mill in question was more than willing to take on this task.
“The owner of this yarn mill said that working on this product was the first real conversation he felt he’d been having in sustainability because it’s a real challenge for them,” Bergkamp said. “This is looking beyond the simple improvements that are very important; beyond the energy, the water, the waste. This is pushing them to think about the next step and for us, after they’ve done that, we can continue to give them business and hopefully build more and more of that into our final products.”