Stella McCartney has single handily changed the way the world sees sustainable fashion and that is her greatest success – we discover more.
When Stella McCartney had a dream of creating a sustainable luxury fashion brand 20 years ago, many thought there was no way she would succeed, but the designer defied all the odds to create a global brand that puts sustainability at the forefront but doesn’t compromise on quality or standard.
Growing up in a perhaps non-conventional family (Stella is the daughter of Musician and The Beatles member Paul McCartney and Animal Rights Activist Linda McCartney), it was clear from a young age that the designer would never do things that followed the norm. She loved fashion but also had a strong interest like her mother, in supporting animal rights and wanted to find a way that would bring these two worlds together. When it came to launching her own fashion house in 2001, McCartney made it clear from the beginning that she wanted her brand to have a “no animal” policy; meaning no fur and no leather in her designs. But this was just the beginning. Since then, the designer has gone on to develop innovative materials that are better for the environment and create her pieces using sustainable practices and methods. But there is still much work to be done. In 2019, Stella entered a partnership with LVMH, which will see the designer advise Chairman and Chief Executive Bernard Arnault on ways to move the luxury industry forward in a more sustainable manner.
This year of course has been a very different one for the designer who is used to working closely with her teams every day. The lockdown period saw Stella working from home on her latest collection and learning new ways to adapt and communicate. We find out more about how she spent her time during this period as well as the future of sustainability at the brand and how she plans to make long-lasting changes in the luxury industry as a whole.
This year has been a strange one for all – what is something you have learnt during this period?
I found the first couple of weeks really tricky because in our industry we work with teams and we feed off each other creatively, and I’m usually surrounded by my team in different departments every day continuously. I also have a large family network so I never spend much time on my own. The first couple of weeks were really interesting to me on a working level, because I was trying to settle into working via a device and using my teams in a different way, learning how to use Zoom very quickly! Coming somewhat out the other side, I feel more connected with my teams globally than ever before. We had much bigger meetings with all departments from around the world, which has definitely been a real silver lining as I feel I have learnt so much from them and this something we have continued to do.
Are there any changes you have made within the company during this time that you think are for the better? And is there anything you believe you will do differently moving forward?
I think this situation has reminded us that we can be flexible in how and where we work and still achieve what we need to achieve and beyond. We have many mothers working at Stella McCartney and I have four children myself, so speaking to these women over lockdown, and from my own experience, it was clear that allowing flexibility to work at home a couple of days a week really helps, and so this is something we will absolutely continue.
What can you tell us about your autumn/winter 2020-21 collection – the inspiration, the shapes the materials etc?
This collection was very much about looking back in history to the glamour, looking back at film and theatre; two things that I have always found so inspiring, very much wanting to make it feel dreamlike and something you could escape into. I think usually at Stella McCartney I try to make everything really wearable and sometimes avoid things that are just too extraordinary, but this season I wanted to do the opposite!
I looked at the work of an incredible artist called Erte, who I met on a plane when I was young and went and did a work placement with him. I think as a fashion designer, I often look at Erte’s work as it’s super-theatrical and just really very surreal in a sense. So for this collection, I wanted to bring his incredible work into the now and was lucky enough to visit his archives and use never before seen prints and colourways. It was very much about taking glamour and extravagance and these amazing muses and great women in history and bringing them and their wardrobes into the now and creating pieces that I felt were modern, but still had a huge amount of detail and energy.
Sustainability is of course a key part of the business – why is this so important to you?
I was so lucky to be raised by such a loving and open-minded family who were having these kinds of conversations about the environment and sustainability from day one. I didn’t live by the standard conventions most generations have had to. My parents were rule breakers and never dictated to me the rule that I needed to eat meat and care about the environment but it’s something that just made complete sense to me. I was brought up in the countryside surrounded by nature. The country has always felt like home to me, so naturally, I had to take that mindset into my business practices. There was never the option of doing it any differently.
What can you tell us about the future of sustainability at Stella McCartney?
Innovation is at the core of what we do here at Stella McCartney. We are seeing that consumers are now asking for clarity on where the things they buy come from, pushing brands to be open. We all need to be more transparent about how things are made, where they are made and what their impacts are and that’s something we continuously work on. For the conscious consumer, at Stella McCartney, we try our best to do the work for you. From day one I never wanted to sacrifice on style and I believe with our products you can’t see any difference. For me, innovation is the future of Stella McCartney but also the future of fashion and I think that it’s all about desirability and luxury is about good design and beautiful materials. All our innovative materials look the same or better than traditional ones and this is something I will continue to work hard on!
This year you have launched some new sustainable materials – how important are these landmarks and what is the next step in terms of sustainable materials as Stella McCartney?
Both were an incredible milestone for the brand, and something we are so proud of. It is landmarks like these that keep me going. For our Autumn 2020 collection, we introduced a new fur-free-fur called KOBA® which is made of plant pulp and recycled polyester and uses around 30% less energy and 63% less carbon emissions which is incredible, and we are the first brand to use it. We also worked with a new denim partner to create the world’s most sustainable, biodegradable stretch denim. It’s innovations like these that we plan to develop through our future collections and also explore new areas of innovation, as we want to keep growing this arm of the business.
What challenges do you face in sourcing and creating sustainable materials?
There have been many challenges along the way and I know we’re not perfect, we are always striving to do better. As a brand, we have a very high standard for choosing who we partner with. We have been working with our key partners for many years as innovations can take years until they are off the ground, but it is always worth the wait! We don’t join things just to be a part of them. We are past the point where just talking is an acceptable action. The initiatives that we get behind are ones that are pushing to change the status quo, to really and radically shake things up and address the serious issues we are facing as humans and as an industry.
What is something you are most proud of when it comes to sustainably producing your collections?
I am incredibly proud of being able to show the world that you can create luxury fashion and desirable accessories in a way that is better for the planet and better for the animals without sacrificing style for sustainability. I’m so proud of the milestones we have hit as a house, for example in 2010 when we stopped using PVC which is by far the most toxic of all plastics. In 2016 we hit two milestones, we stopped using virgin cashmere and introduced sustainable viscose. Sustainable viscose has about seven times lower impact than virgin cashmere. Viscose comes from trees, and our sustainable viscose ensures that no deforestation occurs, we can map the journey of our ready-to-wear collection’s viscose back to its roots in sustainable managed certified forests in Sweden. By 2018 80% of all the cotton we used was organic, and in 2019 all of our denim was organic. These are just some examples of things we have been working incredibly hard on over the years and we will certainly not stop there!
In 2019 you entered a partnership with LVMH – what opportunities has this offered you in terms of developing sustainability within the company?
My goal is to assist Bernard Arnault and to be his personal advisor, so that’s what I’m going to do – advise him. You know timing is everything, I know that he is ready for the conversation and the magnitude of what we could do together is quite game-changing. As I mentioned above, these things don’t happen overnight, and sadly we don’t know if we have enough time to change for our children. But all I know is that the opportunity is there and I couldn’t be more excited, more ready, and more equipped to deliver on that privilege.
In your opinion what is the future of fashion weeks post COVID-19?
This situation allowed us all to take a minute and reflect on how we work which has been an incredible gift. I found it extremely interesting watching the recent fashion weeks as I feel being forced to create collections in lockdown allowed designers to really get creative and to think outside the box, which I’ve found refreshing to watch and experience myself. That said, we’re creatures of habit so I don’t know if this situation will cause a permanent change to the way we do fashion weeks. We can see that many brands have already bounced back to the traditional runway show format, but I would like to think that as a whole, we might stay in this moment for longer than to be expected. I hope this time has allowed people to reconsider that we can have a little more consciousness and to change our mindset.
This issue is about success – how would you define success?
Defining success is completely unique to everyone, and there can be big successes or small, everyday ones. But I guess for me, I will feel such a huge amount of success when the day finally comes where sustainability in the fashion industry isn’t singled out, or when it’s a whole conversation because it’s just part of everyday life – everyone consuming consciously and responsibly and brands producing collections sustainably. That for me will be a huge success as I started on this journey 20 years ago when people were telling me I was an eco-weirdo! We have come a long way since then but we still have a long way to go.
What is your secret to success?
Stay true to what you believe in! I’m proud that I’ve managed to stay true to what I believe in, to not have compromised anything when I had people around me telling me I needed to do things in a certain way to be successful, to me that is success and what I’m most proud of!
What can you tell us about Stella McCartney in the Middle East and can we expect to see you visiting any time soon?
I last visited the Middle East end of 2018 for a work trip. It was the most wonderful trip and I had such a fantastic time meeting and talking to my customers and experiencing the culture. With COVID-19, I’m staying put for now, but I hope I get to come back again soon! I would love that.
What is a message you would like to send to your customers and fans in the Middle East?
Thank you for your tremendous support, I can’t wait to be back with you all soon! X Stella.