Stella McCartney’s star has never stopped rising. We meet her to talk sustainability, spider silk and the importance of having the courage of your convictions
Words by Jessica Aureli, Photography by Camilla Armbrust, Styling by Chrissi Smith.
Tenacity is not an unusual trait to find in a designer, but Stella McCartney takes it to a whole new level. For years, hers was a lone voice in luxury fashion, fighting to be heard on the importance of ethical production and sustainable resources. But she didn’t ever back down, even in the face of near-unanimous agreement that her business model would never succeed.
Fast forward to today, and that much-invoked tenacity has paid off. While fashion is finally catching up to the conversation, McCartney remains ahead of the curve, always innovating, always challenging herself - and in turn, the industry - to find a better way. We caught up with her to discuss synthetic spider silk, her organic carrot theory and why she wants people to notice the woman, not the outfit, first.
Farfetch: You’ve said that you want your clothes to be “perfectly constructed in the most beautiful fabric, because I want them to last not just your lifetime but your daughter’s lifetime and her daughter’s lifetime.” Why is this important?
Stella McCartney: ‘First and foremost, I am a fashion designer and my job is to create beautiful, luxurious desirable clothes with a high quality that will last. Sustainability is important to us, so as a brand we have taken this a step further by embracing new business models that will transform how clothes are produced, sold, shared, repaired and reused. One of the most important actions towards reducing environmental impact is to design products that are built to last and promoting the extended use of clothing for the entirety of their life cycle. This allows a slow down on the amount of natural resources currently being cultivated and extracted from the planet for the sake of fashion which is key in our commitment to becoming part of a more circular economy.’
“I want my designs to allow women to feel strong, feminine [and] sexy”
What role do you see your pieces playing in the Stella woman’s life?
‘I like to design things that allow women to be themselves but at the same time offer something that they might not have thought of or they wouldn’t have dared to do. I want my designs to allow women to feel strong, feminine [and] sexy; and not just have people noticing the outfit itself but rather the actual women wearing it.’
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?
‘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.’
“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!”
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.’
Do you envisage the rest of the industry catching up with your point of view?
‘Sadly, I feel fashion is not moving in this direction, or on the few occasions that it does, then not for the right reasons. It’s a slow process, but in the interests of our planet it’s imperative that every business becomes more sustainable and more responsible. Fashion shouldn’t be exempt. It is one of the most harmful industries on the planet and we have to be accountable. By having a successful business that has developed sustainable viscose and has collaborated with companies such as Parley for the Oceans and Bolt Threads, I would hope that I’m an example to the rest of my colleagues in the fashion industry that you don’t have to compromise design, luxury or quality in order to be sustainable.’
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.’