She faced scepticism for marrying high fashion with sustainability. And when her graduate collection was bolstered by the presence of her celebrity father and a few supermodel friends, it may have been easy to dismiss the merits of her work. But now, fifteen years after founding her eponymous brand and a stint as creative director at Chloé, Stella McCartney has proven her naysayers wrong.
Winning over fans both critically and commercially, her business has transformed into a global empire, spanning womenswear, accessories, lingerie, eyewear, fragrances, kidswear, and as of this December, menswear too. In addition, the company has 51 freestanding stores and is distributed in more than 77 countries. Yet despite the impressive scale of her business, what grounds McCartney’s brand is its roots in the environment.
“I was brought up by my parents [Paul and Linda McCartney], so sustainability came very naturally to me,” the designer explains. “I was brought up on an organic farm in the countryside and the whole family was vegetarian, so it sort of came without thinking that my business would be green too.”
For McCartney, sustainability is serious business. The brand eschews the use fur, leather and PVC – materials that are crucial staples of the fashion industry. Her company also tackles issues such as unnecessary water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions with her work, continually questioning and minimising the impact of her business’s own supply chain and manufacturing process. It is this mission that drives McCartney to get up each day.
That said, the designer doesn’t see herself as some messianic visionary that was way ahead of her time. Rather, the designer had a cumulative and consistent upbringing with ecological values that shaped her world view. She explains: “when it came to my having a career, starting a job and starting a brand in fashion, I guess it wouldn’t have sat comfortably with me to be hypocritical. The seeds that were sown in my personal life came into my business life.”
“Fashion has to modernise. It has to challenge its history. More than fifty million animals a year are killed in the name of fashion and that has to stop. It is not ethical, responsible, or sustainable,” she asserts.
Despite the growing urgency and importance of this ethical mindset, McCartney still stands as somewhat of an exception. Whilst the effects of ecological destruction are becoming increasingly rampant, many fashion companies still isolate themselves from these concerns. This may give the Stella McCartney brand a covetable point of difference, but the sad reality is that there is still much room for the industry to improve.
"I want to deliver to men what I deliver to women: a wardrobe, a choice and effortless, modern clothes."
- Stella McCartney, Fashion Designer
“The fashion industry needs to think in the same way as all of these other huge companies now that are really addressing the environment. They need to try and work hand in hand with it; and not do the usual fashion thing, think we are above it and not care,” she says.
It is this line of thinking that will also thrill men who are thrilled to hear that Stella McCartney is slated to makes its debut menswear retail launch in December 2016. Just like their female counterparts, men can now look for to Stella’s luxurious and ecological offering. The move has raised eyebrows for all the right reasons – whilst it is common for men to design for women, the opposite is a rarity. That said, a designer such as McCartney could potentially invigorate what is sometimes a staid and unimaginative wardrobe.
She explains: “the desire to marry the Stella woman to a man has been inside me since the very beginning. My time on Savile Row [working for Edward Sexton] inspired so much of what I do, and it feels like the right moment to talk to men and give them what they deserve. I want to deliver to men what I deliver to women: a wardrobe, a choice and effortless modern clothes.”
If McCartney’s latest autumn winter collection is anything to go by, this leap shouldn’t be too dramatic. The show conveyed a certain tomboy practicality, with puffy parkas, oversized blazers and sloppy pants that moved away from the body. This was contrasted with a series of sexy slip dresses made with pleats and lace. Editors and buyers alike will be curious to see how McCartney will not only straddle femininity and masculinity for a male sensibility, but do so with her stringent eco practices in mind.
And perhaps that is what makes McCartney such a successful designer and eco-advocate – that she can create both desirable clothes that also happen to be green. She understands the power of fashion to change consumer behavior – not from guilt-tripping others to take some moral high ground, but rather from persuasive means that are palatable and attractive.
“For me, this is the most exciting challenge. [Stella McCartney is] the only luxury house providing this kind of product and proving it is doable. It’s the most game changing thing that we’ve done in the industry. This is what drives me, challenges me, and defines the modernity of my brand.”