Stella McCartney: My son thinks Cop28 is ‘greenwashing’

Stella McCartney, fashion designer, during a Bloomberg Television interview on day two of the COP28 climate conference
Stella McCartney said it was heartbreaking that her son didn't think Cop28 would make an impact - ANNIE SAKKAB/BLOOMBERG

Stella McCartney was told by her son that Cop28 was greenwashing and she should tell global business and political leaders to “f--- off”, the fashion designer has revealed.

McCartney is in Dubai at the global climate summit to raise awareness of the harmful environmental impacts of the fashion industry, which accounts for around 8 per cent of global emissions.

But she said it was “so heartbreaking” that her youngest son, 15-year-old Beckett, did not believe the event could make an impact.

She said: “He was like, ‘oh but Mum, what change is really going to happen there, it’s all just greenwashing. Why are you going?

“Why don’t you just tell them to f--- off? Tell them all to make change’,” she added.

“I said ‘well in a different approach, I kind of am.’”

Dashing around the pavilion in the 30C heat at the summit’s Green Zone, where the brand is showcasing 15 green innovations, the designer seems a little flustered.

She’s a bit stressed, she said, because the stakes are so high. “I wish I didn’t care so much.”

McCartney has made being kind to the planet and animals a core feature of her brand since her start in the industry more than two decades ago.

She has never used leather or fur in her own line, and has recently pioneered the use of innovative materials instead of synthetic alternatives, which are usually made from plastic.

In 2016 she stopped using virgin cashmere, because of its outsize environmental impact due to deforestation in the Mongolian Gobi, where it is farmed from goats.

Stella McCartney, fashion designer, following a Bloomberg Television interview on day two of the COP28 climate conference
The designer said the fashion industry was a 'hot mess' - ANNIE SAKKAB/BLOOMBERG

Flying thousands of miles to a wealthy petrostate to host glamorous events at a climate conference might therefore seem like an interesting choice.

But McCartney insisted that the real disconnect was between the reality of the fashion industry and its public face.

“Fashion is one of the few industries that you don’t see,” she said. “You’re not allowed to see animals being killed. You’re not allowed to see guns being made. And you’re not allowed to see drugs being made. That’s my conversation.”

The designer said the fashion industry was “a hot mess”, and needed to be scaled down, arguing that the number of clothing brands was unsustainable.

“It sounds terrible, but I just think there’s far too many,” she said. She hit out in particular at fast fashion, which she said was “a criminal offence, in my opinion.”

“The model of fashion has to change entirely. The waste in fashion is extraordinary,” she said. “Every single second a truckload of fast fashion is buried or burnt. It’s not sustainable. And it’s quite frankly, morally incorrect.

“People are key to the conversation. If they don’t buy that stuff, there is no supply of that stuff.”

It is a tricky message for McCartney, a multi-millionaire household name who makes garments that retail for thousands, to tell people not to buy cheap clothes.

Labelling herself “one of the first nepo babies”, McCartney said she was aware of her privilege and the financial challenges faced by many. But she is blunt about her message.

“I’m in touch enough with that. And it is a problem,” she said. “But I have to say sadly, we’re living in a day and age where if you want to eat better food for the planet, and for the creatures on the planet, and for your health, if you want to buy better things that will have less of a negative impact on the planet, they come at a cost.”

She adds: “I don’t want it to be that way, I want it to be the absolute opposite. But sadly, we’ve arrived at a place where it costs more to be good.”

‘Penalised for doing good’

Given her unflinching morals, McCartney comes under particular scrutiny for her brand, but said she has become resilient to pushback within the industry.

“Am I ever told to shut the fuck up? I’ve had a lot of that in my career,” she said. “I mean, I’ve been ridiculed for the majority of my career. First of all, I was Paul McCartney’s daughter in every interview.

“I was made fun of for not using fur. I was the only one not using fur. So we’ve come a long way.”

Last year, McCartney launched a $200 million start-up fund jointly backed by LVMH, for whom she is a sustainability adviser.

Some of the start-up’s first funding projects are on display in Dubai, including a  technology that uses enzymes to break down plastic waste and turn it into infinitely recyclable material, and a fake fur made from natural materials.

“I’m really at Cop to give solutions about swapping out bad industry for good,” she said. “I’m trying to use my privilege to have a conversation and bring awareness.”

She will meet with high profile business leaders while in Dubai to press the case for more investment in sustainable fashion, and is calling on politicians to incentivise greener materials and production methods.

“You’re penalised for doing good things,” she said. “I’m taxed up to 30 per cent more by taking non leather products into America. I don’t put that on my customer, I put it on my margin.

“So I’m penalised as a business for trying to not kill a billion animals a year.”