In May 2021, Billie Eilish stepped onto the Met Gala’s red carpet oozing the glamour of old Hollywood in a Grace Kelly-inspired ball gown.
She was poised and pretty in peach, but she was also full of purpose. Because for the musician, the Oscar de la Renta look came with a price: the brand must pull fur from the shelves for good. And so it did.
“I am beyond thrilled that the entire team heard me on this issue,” Eilish said at the time. “They have now made a change that makes an impact for the greater good, not only for animals but also for our planet and environment too.”
But she didn’t stop at the Met. Alongside her mother Maggie Baird, the founder of food insecurity-focused plant-based nonprofit Support and Feed, Eilish continued to make bold and ethical fashion statements during the 2022 awards season.
For her appearance at the Oscars—where she won Best Original Song alongside her brother Finneas for No Time to Die—Eilish donned a black, ruffled Gucci gown made with deadstock (which consists of previously rejected or unused fabric).
And at the Grammys, where the singer was nominated in seven categories, Baird accompanied her daughter in a vibrant red Mohammad Benchellal dress featuring upcycled materials.
Here’s why their red carpet outfit choices matter for the animals and the planet.
The problem with red carpet fashion
The film and music awards season usually runs for several months, starting around November and finishing in the spring of the following year. Each glitzy event involves a red carpet, big names, and of course, lots and lots of outfits.
According to Vogue, for just one celebrity at one event, around 60 outfit options can be pulled (which gives you an idea of the scale of garments required across the whole season). But all of that clothing has an impact on the planet. For starters, there’s all the waste it creates.
Fashion has a huge problem with clothing waste. It’s estimated that every second, a garbage truck full of textile waste is dumped at the landfill or incinerated. But when brands choose upcycled materials or deadstock for garments, like those worn by Eilish and Baird, they can go some way towards mitigating this impact.
Problems with leather
Samata Pattinson is the CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress Global (RCGD Global), an organization that champions sustainable red carpet design initiatives. It supported Baird and Eilish to make their outfit choices.
Pattinson said that, while “red carpets create an opportunity for a powerful moment and conversation,” the environmental destruction they leave in their wake is a serious problem. “There is clearly an opportunity for a more streamlined, efficient, and sustainable approach to design,” she told Plant Based News.
Leather, for example, is a favorite of many designers and celebrities. But the material is detrimental to the environment. Just last year, a report by Stand.earth and Slow Factory linked a number of fashion brands, including luxury names like Fendi, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, with deforestation in the Amazon caused by leather manufacturers and tanneries.
Leather production is also cruel. Every year, more than one billion animals are slaughtered for their skins. And it’s not just cows. Kangaroos, sheep, goats, horses, alligators, crocodiles, and horses are just a few examples of animals that the leather industry exploits.
And just because the item is luxury, doesn’t mean it’s been humanely produced. Last year, Hermès submitted plans to expand its saltwater crocodile farms in Australia. If they go ahead, 50,000 crocodiles will suffer in cramped conditions before they are slaughtered for their skins.
Why ethical red carpet choices matter
But change is happening in fashion. Like Oscar de la Renta, a number of luxury brands now have fur bans. These include Versace, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Burberry, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Plus, vegan materials are becoming more commonplace. Valentino, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci have all launched vegan leather sneakers in recent months. In April of last year, Karl Lagerfield debuted vegan bags made with cactus leather and organic cotton. In October, Danish label Ganni pledged to drop leather completely and replace it with a more sustainable and cruelty-free plant-based alternative.
Celebrities can help to drive up demand for more sustainable and ethical clothing choices. During red carpet events, in particular, they have a big influence. Not only do millions tune in to watch awards ceremonies live, but in the aftermath, the images of who wore what continue to circulate on social media. They garner hundreds of thousands of likes and views.
“Red carpet culture has evolved because there is a bigger focus on a story, a desire to offer depth and connect beyond the red carpet,” said Pattinson.
She added: “Red carpet moments are exciting and glamorous. But they are also a highly visible way to inspire education and change. Red carpets provide an opportunity to show your values.”
‘It’s really important to me that what I wear reflects all that I believe’
So when Baird and Eilish chose ethical gowns for the Grammys and the Oscars, they used their platforms for good. “It’s really important to me that what I wear reflects all that I believe,” Baird told Plant Based News. “I strive to wear clothing that is sustainable to the planet. That is also cruelty-free in terms of animals and also human labour.”
The mother-daughter duo isn’t alone in making more ethical red carpet choices. RCGD Global has been working to support more ethical and cruelty-free outfits at awards ceremonies since 2009.
Actor and activist Suzy Amis Cameron founded RCGD Global during the press tour for the first Avatar (her husband James Cameron’s record-breaking blockbuster). The organization spotlights the environmental and ethical problems in the fashion world and helps stars to make kinder choices.
Last year, RCGD Global supported Marlee Matlin, who wore a vegan custom-made Vivienne Westwood gown. Like Eilish’s 2022 dress, the garment features Tencel (a sustainable cellulose-based fiber). This year, Paloma Garcia Lee and Tati Gabrielle both made sustainable designer choices in collaboration with RCDG Global.
“The incredible platform our Oscars campaign gives us helps us champion brands that are going the extra mile to do good. It allows us to reach a global audience in one night – quite literally with one dress or tuxedo.
“Through the red carpet our campaign reaches millions in nearly 100 countries,” says Pattinson. “We have been promoting this change for over a decade now, but never in history has sustainability been more relevant.”