Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

For a fashion brand that’s committed to doing things ethically, marketing always presents a bit of a catch-22. On the one hand, businesses need people to buy their stuff or they can’t survive. But on the other, fashion labels concerned with excessive waste and environmental impact don’t want to encourage mindless consumption. What’s a brand to do?

Stella McCartney‘s answer to that question this season was to shoot her newest ad campaign in a landfill. 

“The idea we had with this campaign is to portray who we want to be and how we carry ourselves; our attitude and collective path,” McCartney said in a release. “Our man-made constructed environments are disconnected and unaware of other life and the planet which is why there is waste.”

Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

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Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

Lensed by cool-girl photographer Harley Weir in collaboration with artist Urs Fischer, the campaign features models Birgit Kos, Iana Godnia and Huan Zhou and was shot on location at a landfill in Eastern Scotland. And while the imagery features the models lying on piles of trash or lounging on a rusted-out car, the overall mood still feels decidedly fashion-y — and even hopeful — rather than darkly preach-y about environmental apocalypse.

“Stella’s fashion to me is about dignity, love and a beautiful attitude to all challenges, all while feeling good and looking great,” artist Urs Fischer said in a release from the brand. “We wanted to reflect that in the concept of this campaign.”

Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

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Photo: Harley Weir for Stella McCartney

Perhaps it’s the playful graphic squiggles or the models’ smiles that do it, but the vision presented by McCartney in the images is upbeat even as it confronts viewers with a sobering by-product of unsustainable attitudes toward consumption. The accompanying video, which features models lip-syncing and bopping along to a song by Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, upholds the same mood.

The whole campaign could’ve easily come off as either overly self-serious and depressing or as making light of a rightfully sober issue if it had come from another brand. But the fact that Stella McCartney has built a reputation for being genuinely concerned with environmental issues — 53 percent of the label’s materials come from sustainable sources, and it’s proudly vegetarian — makes it feel less like a gimmick. Stella McCartney may not be perfect when it comes to the environment, but this campaign feels like a genuine attempt to grapple with the complicated nature of working in and even loving a highly polluting industry.

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