Being a pioneer is always difficult, and under the weight of a high-profile family name and prejudice, it is even more difficult. Stella McCartney, the designer, business woman, visionary, chief advocate of sustainable and ethical fashion in the world and the mother of four children, in an exclusive interview for L’Officiel talks about the difficulties, challenges and reasons for deserved pride on her way to building a truly sustainable brand.
The daughter of a cult rock star, who chose a designer career in the 90s, at first aroused only skepticism in the industry. What special can a 20-year-old girl who grew up abundantly have on an organic farm? As it turned out – a lot. Having taken the post of Creative Director of Chloé after Central Saint Martins, Stella McCartney breathed new life into the French House and gave rise to the stage of its rapid growth. In 2001, she announced the launch of the luxury brand of the same name, which would not use leather, fur and feathers – at that time unconditional symbols of luxury.
Leather accessories then and to this day are the main sources of profit for the largest fashion houses, bringing them up to 70% of the income. Stella was predicted to fail, but she got a break-even point and her first profit a year before the planned date. “It's funny that when I started all this almost 20 years ago, I was an outsider,“ turned ”on environmental friendliness,” McCartney shares. “They told me that without skin and fur I won’t build a successful luxury brand. Today I look around and see "The dialogue (which I started then) has finally become widespread. The world is shouting about the need for change, the younger generation is announcing the inevitable crisis we are in."
Fashion is one of the industries that pollute the environment, and the time for vibrations has long passed, it is necessary to act here and now, and for this we need the united, joint efforts of all the players. And most importantly – loud. “For years I sat quietly on the side, working on my projects on sustainability, because I always believed that it was possible and necessary to criticize the foundations and challenge myself,” she says. “However, changes need to be introduced as quickly as possible, and if necessary shouting loudly to get a result means we need to do just that. "
The Way of the EcoVine
“It all started with my parents, I adopted their ethical principles as a child,” Stella recalls. “They were both vegetarians, activists of the human rights movement and advocated for the preservation of the environment, so it was invested in me from the very beginning. I always knew that I will bear these principles in my work. " Putting them into practice is a difficult task, because the McCartney team has to deal with the conventional principles of the industry from the first days of the brand’s work and criticize them.
Before the spring-summer 2020 collection was shown, guests were given a memo on which the path of Stella McCartney was outlined in numbers and dates. How they started using organic cotton in 2008, abandoned PVC in 2010, switched to biodegradable soles for shoes and recycled nylon and cashmere, abandoned angora, started using recycled polyester and fully resistant viscose wherever possible, for the production of which old forests are not cut down … It was the most sustainable collection that Stella McCartney has ever created, including 100% recycled denim and straw bags, hand-woven by craftsmen of Madagascar. At what cost does she manage to build just such a brand?
“There are so many obstacles in this way – for example, laws that I pay a 30% tax when exporting my non-leather goods to the USA. And I do not transfer this amount to the final customer, but take it from our margin, ”says Stella. – I believe in quality and justice, however, as soon as you start paying people with dignity, you should increase prices, but we also take this blow. "I am the first to say that we are not perfect as a brand, but we certainly do not do so little."
When you start to delve into what their "not so little" means, you understand: this can be replaced with "very much" without undue modesty and underestimated anyway. So, Stella McCartney has a separate team dedicated to sustainable development. Together with Stella, they communicate with suppliers, go to farms with which the brand collaborates, monitor the observance of the human rights and social responsibility of all their partners, and also meet with startups offering sustainable alternatives to familiar materials.
"I suddenly realized one obvious fact: the players of the fashion industry are essentially the same farmers, we also harvest, but for a different purpose," Stella shares. Being a stable brand, they delve deeply into where and how cotton and wool are grown and collected for their collections, learning the laws of plant growing and animal husbandry.
Cotton, for example, blooms only in the second season, and in order to achieve this effect from the first planting, it is treated with aggressive pesticides that pollute the soil and water. Cashmere production is 100 times more harmful to the environment than wool, so Stella McCartney switched to its recycled version. And their environmentally friendly plant-based alternatives to the skin cause 24 times less environmental damage than natural production.
“We also work with these stunning startups involved in innovative fabrics, and thus make our business more environmentally friendly,” she adds. “For example, we are working with a company that extracts cotton without using chemicals, and this can help make this process completely circular.”
Of course, design remains at the heart of this, but Stella always considers sustainability issues when working on a new collection. “Our spring-summer 2020 collection is 75% sustainable – this is the highest indicator we have ever achieved, and this figure was made possible thanks to access to new technologies and sustainable fabrics. When designing sketches, we tried to maximize the use of such materials, this without sacrificing design. "
Today, this difficult, but for Stella, the only right way inspires and motivates many designers and companies. And the role of the brand as an agent of change extends not only to their internal operations. So, in 2018, as part of the long-standing continuous collaboration of Adidas by Stella McCartney, the first vegan version of the iconic Stan Smith sneakers was released, and on December 2, 2019, their new design will go on sale, of course, also completely eco-friendly. This year, Stella herself has been an adviser to Bernard Arnault, president and CEO of the luxury conglomerate LVMH, who bought a minority stake in Stella McCartney this summer. "I feel that he is definitely ready for dialogue, and the scale of what we can do with him is potentially able to change the rules of the game for the entire market," she says.
It all starts small
“Change will not happen overnight, it is a difficult process, especially for big business. We are almost 20 years old, and it seems to me that we still have a very long way to go, since there is always something to improve, moreover, technology is constantly evolving and some things are becoming easier and more affordable, ”says Stella. Building an eco-friendly brand for two decades, it no longer acts with “broad strokes” (like switching to completely redesigned denim and sustainable viscose in all collections), but digs deeper and understands the details. At the same time, she advises starting with small steps: “Open trash sorting baskets in the office, prohibit disposable plastic, give employees reusable water bottles. Once you deal with this, you can move on to more serious things – for example, to learn how your suppliers work” .
And this robust, thoughtful approach to building and developing a business, Stella McCartney actively passes not only to her colleagues in the workshop, but also to a new generation, including her children.
“As a designer and as a mother, I was given this amazing platform that allows me to talk about things that are important to me,” she shares. – Therefore, my task is to educate people, and my advice to everyone, an adult and a child, is to think about how fashion affects our world and start living more consciously. I hope that I can build such a brand that will show people that you can make stylish clothes, you can have the cut and design quality as high as in any other luxury brand, without compromising on sustainability. ”
Despite the difficulties, obstacles and even skepticism that she has successfully overcome and continues to overcome, the designer looks with cautious, but still optimistic, into the future of her brand and the industry as a whole. “We don’t know if we have enough time to make significant changes for our children, but I feel that only this year we have done a great job and are moving in the right direction,” she concludes. “Fashion industry is one of the most polluting for environment, and I really hope that we finally begin to fight it all together. We still have a very long way to go to really change something. "
See also: How Stella McCartney is changing the fashion world for the better