Stella McCartney’s star has never stopped rising. We meet her to talk sustainability, being accountable, and following your own path
Words by Ryan Thompson, Photography by Camilla Armbrust, Styling by Sally Bottomley.
Since her graduation collection in 1995, Stella McCartney has swum against the tide in her unwavering pursuance of ethical and sustainable fashion. She has been the drum that never skips a beat, defying so many who believed that such a business model wouldn’t stand a chance in the luxury industry. Today, her unqualified success marks her out as an innovator who continues to pave the way for like-minded young designers. We caught up with her to discuss the beauty of tailoring, synthetic spider silk, and the wisdom of carrots...
“When I first started I was kind of made fun of. I was told I would definitely not have a business and that was from people that I’d worked with and looked up to!”
Farfetch: Many must have thought you were mad when you set out on this sustainable journey. Do you feel vindicated for having the courage of your convictions?
Stella McCartney: ‘It’s the way I was brought up. It has been ingrained in me to have respect for fellow creatures and to be mindful of how one approaches life, so it was a no-brainer to take that philosophy into the way I conduct myself in business.’
What was the industry attitude to sustainability when you first started out?
‘When I first started I was kind of made fun of. I was told I would definitely not have a business and that was from people that I’d worked with and looked up to! It does surprise me, in a really exciting and encouraging way, that I can talk about these things now and people are more interested. They want to have more information and want to be more conscious in the way they consume.’
Are men behind the curve when it comes to making sustainable choices?
‘I don’t find that an emphasis on sustainability is evident in men’s fashion, so it was crucial to include that in my collections and bring that part of our DNA into the realm of men’s fashion. For instance, we have a great non-leather sneaker made from sustainably sourced vegan material and elsewhere we have used organic cotton, sustainable viscose, recycled nylon and polyester, eco alter nappa and sustainable wood and cork to name just a few of our key sustainable fabrics.’
What frustrates you most about the industry’s approach to sustainability?
‘I think a lot of designers don’t have the information, or they’re simply not aware of the impact. I think a lot of them don’t care, sadly, and some of them probably want to do it but don’t really know how or where to start. I would say to them, just source! Sustainable alternatives are available! The more people who do it, the more demand it creates and the more products we’ll have to use. If everyone ate organic carrots, you’d only be able to buy organic carrots. That’s the way life works.’
‘Fashion is one of the most harmful industries on the planet and we have to be accountable.’
What’s the biggest challenge when working with sustainable materials?
‘We work very closely to try to find a balance between what we need to do as a business to continue to make progress, while not putting so many constraints on the design team that it wrecks the creative process. We are still a design-minded business and the quality of the product is our number one priority. We want to prove that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to look any different, that it can look just as beautiful, luxurious and exciting as anything else.’
What developments are you most excited about?
‘We recently announced a partnership with Bolt Threads [a California-based biotech start-up that has bioengineered a completely synthetic spider silk] which is so exciting for me on a personal and professional level because it feels like the dots are finally being connected between fashion, sustainability and tech innovation. I’ve been on a journey for much of my career to find this and now there is finally a new opportunity to bring so many industries together and for them to all work as one for a better planet. It is a truly modern and mindful approach to fashion.’
Is designing for men more or less of a challenge than designing womenswear?
‘I definitely have to step out of my comfort zone. With menswear I get to play and enjoy the challenge of the unknown. I studied after school on Savile Row, so tailoring is in the DNA of the brand. I have such admiration for the craft of Savile Row, I think it’s like architecture. We are still developing the language for our Stella man, but this season we wanted to refresh his wardrobe with a nod to the classics. The tailoring has more of a voice but isn't shouting out loud. He is confident and secure in his self-awareness and not apologetic to have bold moments and bursts of fun, while having a gentler and more traditional side with his roots in music and British tailoring.’