Schooled by Stella
Firing on all cylinders is Stella McCartney’s normal mode. The many-hats-wearing-designer is in Dubai for a whistle-stop 24 hours and it’s her second time in the city in three years. In fashion, travel is as much an expectation as delivering a new collection each season – but Stella “tries to keep it to a minimum because I have the kids” (that’s three).
She’s sat in a thick strobe of afternoon light which illuminates her glacial blue eyes. Tucking into a glass bowl of roasted cashew nuts, she’s taking a brief hour to do media interviews between a morning of visiting her boutique in The Dubai Mall and a late-night dinner with the press. No frills, no fuss, she’s every bit un-celebrity with her shoes strewn across the carpet, her hair scruffed up into a wispy ponytail and sitting crossed-legged in a child-like way.
Despite entering the fashion world through a wide doorway (famously being Paul McCartney’s daughter) Stella is a household name in her own right as she continues to reinvent the fashion wheel with sustainable practices in fashion. She is essentially building an environment that suits her – a kind of environment that isn’t responsible for “cutting down 100,000,000 trees” as per last year’s records, which is set to increase this year.
Despite seeking new methods to source materials (making materials rather than using what’s already available) to be as sustainable as possible, Stella McCartney is still a luxury house with quality and style at the forefront of its ethos. And more and more Stella’s looking at ways to create fashion without sacrificing the planet. So far, she’s leading the way.
You’re at the forefront of fashion’s cleaner production movement. What small things have you started doing in your day-to-day production that’s helping in a big way?
The biggest impact that we have is at the supply chain level and so what we end up doing is developing our own fabrics. The starting point of sustainability is where you source from. Nothing is done small. We try to make it easy and effortless for the consumer. If you are a conscious consumer, you can come to Stella McCartney and a small thing you can do is buy a non-leather bag and that has a huge impact environmentally. The biggest impact we have is not using leather or animal-based products (including glues that aren’t animal used). It does take a lot more work though. It took us 17 years to make a non-leather bag.
At Stella McCartney HQ we have implemented small yet effectual things. We have filtered water, glass bottles etc. We work with a technical brand called Air Labs and they remove all of the pollution in the air in our Bond Street store, so that we have pure oxygen coming into the office.
Where do you stand on the topic of fashion vs. more mindful fashion? Is there a fine line with producing lots of collections in an un-environmentally friendly way and producing slower collections and risking your business model?
You can have healthy revenues from creating less. There’s plenty of business models in the fashion industry that have really one product that sells over and over which is about timeless design and incredible high quality of manufacture. It’s how you run your business. At Stella McCartney we have a very conscious way of doing business – we don’t subscribe to fast fashion for many reasons: on average fast fashion is worn three times before it’s either land filled or burned. We like to create pieces that are made incredibly well and sourced incredibly well, that will last you in design and manufacture your whole life.
Today a lady came into the store and she was wearing a piece that she had bought 12 years ago and it looked ageless. It looked individual. If you can use a raw material that’s not cutting down trees or not killing animals or using tonnes of water, why wouldn’t you?
Science and technology – are these things you’re making use of more and more?
We are working with some guys in San Francisco who are growing silk in labs. For me that is the future of the planet – not just in fashion – but in food and medicine. But it’s also business: if they can figure out how to use $500 billion worth of waste that the fashion industry leaves behind every year and use it for business, then not only are they saving the planet they have a very healthy business model. Unless you have the business backing the product, you don’t really have a voice to have a substantial conversation.
How can the next generation’s fashion designers be more conscious about their sustainability practices?
It’s a really interesting question right now, because sustainability is being spoken about across the board. The way people are living their lives right now is being put into question, so it’s a very relevant topic. Being a conscious consumer is very critical, mostly for the next generation because they are more informed and have greater access. Right now, fashion houses are having these conversations and paying attention because people like you are writing about it and consumers are asking those questions and demanding something better, with a modern approach to an old fashion system. I think the youth will not stand for anything less and businesses are always targeting the future buyer and thus have to be relevant. New designers really have to mean it. The conversation is definitely happening but it’s whether or not designers really mean it. Authenticity is another strong trigger word that needs to be taken into consideration too.
How do you shake off the inevitable question about your fame via your dad? Does it bother or endear you?
I find it very refreshing that you’ve asked me that because I haven’t been asked about my dad in years. I’m so proud of my dad and he’s proud of me. When I was first starting out obviously that conversation was number one on the list but now I don’t get asked as much. I’m in a good place with his connection to everything that I do – I’m very grateful and blessed for the parents that have been so helpful in my career. I don’t think I would be around if I was just Paul McCartney’s daughter and didn’t have a product.
Do your worlds ever coalesce?
Sometimes – he recently used some of my clothes for a music video. His music is also in my Bond Street store – it’s three hours of original Paul McCartney music, so if you want to get an authentic musical experience of his work, you have to visit the store.
What are your sustainability goals for 2019?
I would like for Stella McCartney to be a zero-impact brand, which we are getting towards. My personal goals are to lead by example – in order for that to happen, the core of it is design and how we communicate what we do and our message for the rest of the world.