Stella Saves the World
British designer Stella McCartney set out to change the fashion industry. She’s succeeding.
By Britt Burritt
Tie-dyed organic denim. Sumptuous vegan leather. Soft nylon recycled from fishing nets. Sustainable viscose from regenerating forests in Sweden. Stella McCartney’s summer 2019 collection is a feat not only of fashion design but of material innovation. It’s also her most sustainable season yet.
Raised as a vegetarian on an organic farm in Sussex, England, by her legendary parents, Paul and Linda McCartney, the mother of four and fashion-house founder is passing down her family values—not just to her children but to an industry. “My mindset in business comes from the way I was brought up,” McCartney says from her London headquarters. “It’s ingrained in me, really. It motivates me every day to look for new ways to be more sustainable and more mindful.”
Since launching her label in 2001, McCartney has done things differently. For one, her line has never used leather or fur, a first in high fashion. “People associate leather with luxury, but I wanted to approach things in a different way,” she reflects. “I always wanted to prove it was doable without sacrificing style or design,” McCartney says of her strict no-leather policy for clothes, handbags and shoes. “I think it’s one of the most game-changing things we’ve done in the fashion industry, and we are still the only luxury fashion house providing this type of product.”
Within the last year, McCartney has seen others follow her lead: Gucci, Versace, Burberry and Chanel all recently pledged to stop using fur. “It’s nice to see more people come to my side, my way of thinking, and I wish that more people would join me in the luxury sector of fashion because we are constantly finding new and creative ways to be more sustainable,” she says. She’s partnered with technology innovators like Bolt Threads in California, with whom, she says, “we’ve collaborated on alternative fabrics—a vegan silk and mylo [material made from mycelium, a root structure of mushrooms] to serve as a substitute for leather.”
Her eco ethos extends to all her projects, whether it’s working with adidas on a new Stan Smith in vegan leather or her recently launched bridal line, Made with Love, which also utilizes sustainable viscose. “Launching the bridal collection is something I feel very passionately about and it is very close to my heart, having been a bride myself and being honored to have been asked to do wedding gowns for some of my dear friends many times.”
One of those friends was of course Meghan Markle, who wore a sinuous white halter dress designed by McCartney for her royal reception last May. It was the dress seen around the world and then made available to the public three months later. “Representing British design and being chosen by the Duchess of Sussex to make her evening gown has honestly been one of the most humbling moments of my career,” McCartney confides.
Last year, McCartney bought back parent company Kering’s stake in her company, making Stella McCartney, the house, independently owned. “I think the most modern thing we do as a house is challenge the way we make things—we take responsibility, and we don’t want to compromise anything for that,” the designer reflects. Being fully in control of her brand’s fate will hopefully allow her to innovate and take more risks.
“It is about the legacy and the long term,” she says about the decision. “As my grandfather always told me, it is all about ‘staying power.’” Or in other words, sustainability.