Google and Stella McCartney fashioning sustainable clothing

Stella McCartney fashion guru

Google and UK fashion guru Stella McCartney have teamed up to find sustainable alternatives in global textile production, a major polluter of clean water.

Industrial dyeing in the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to oil.

Google Cloud is creating a tool which will use data analytics and machine learning to compile information about supply-chain sources of raw material in which its origin often involves a complex and circuitous route to the factory.

Google will also use McCartney’s collection of company manufacturing data to interpret how to lower the environmental footprint, especially in developing countries.

Google will focus on the two most massive scales of production, cotton and tree-based viscose, better known as rayon. It involves a chemical process that releases toxins in the air and has been linked to heart disease, birth defects and cancer.

In addition, 20 per cent of wastewater and ten per cent of carbon emissions globally occur in the first stage when raw materials are processed, a scientist said.  

Google’s data could also lead to ways of eliminating millions of tons of non-biodegradable microfibers that are dumped into oceans each year and can remain there for centuries. 

Synthetics, such as polyester, nylon and rayon – release tiny strands of microfibers, which are microscopic pieces of plastic made from petroleum. Just one machine washing of a single piece of clothing can release 700,000 microfibers, and the dirty water usually winds up in the ocean, according to data published by Greenpeace.

The plastics are eaten by fish and other sea life that is consumed by humans.

Industrial dyeing in the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to oil. Credit: University of Queensland

Australians are the second largest consumer of textiles behind the US. About 85 per cent of clothes we buy here, on average 27 kilograms per person each year, winds up in landfills, according to data from the University of Queensland. Incredibly, only one per cent of the 100 billion garments made during a 12-month period are recycled. 

It’s not surprising that Google chose to partner with McCartney; she has long been an environmental advocate in her industry. 

Like her father, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and her late mother Linda, a photographer and animal rights activist, Stella is a staunch vegetarian.

She does not use any leather, feathers or fur in her fashion collections and has been known to criticize other leaders in the fashion world who use animal products as “heartless.”

McCartney has also collaborated with the Silicon Valley biotech company, Bolt Threads, who created silk entirely made from yeast.

McCartney designed a “vegan” silk dress which was showcased at the design exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

Bolt has also created a biomaterial grown from mycelium, an underground root structure. McCartney uses the Mylo material to create her signature Falabella bags.  

“I think one of the biggest compliments is when I know people go in and buy a Falabella bag or a pair of shoes, or a faux leather skirt, and they have no idea they’re not real leather. I think that’s really where it becomes sexy. Where you’re not just providing an alternative …you’re creating a great product,” McCartney told Vogue.

Google says it intends to work with other industries that use raw materials. 

“We plan to include data sources that allow companies to better measure the impact of their raw materials, relevant to key environmental factors such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water scarcity,” said Nick Martin, the Google Cloud’s Retail Chief.  Google announced during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit on sustainability.

“At Stella McCartney, we have been continuously focusing on looking at responsible and sustainable ways to conduct ourselves in fashion, it is at the heart of what we do,” said McCartney of the new collaboration with Google. 

“We are trying our best – we aren’t perfect, but we are opening a conversation that hasn’t really been had in the history of fashion,” she said.