At Stella McCartney, Sustainability and Commercial Viability Work in Tandem

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The world of luxury is intrinsically linked to exotic furs and supple leather and its runway venues have long been the chosen grounds of protest by environmental activists. The call for action, till recent years, has largely gone unheard by the fashion industry. A rarity amongst her set, British designer Stella McCartney has grounded her eponymous label in the ways of ethical fashion.

“I grew up as a vegetarian, [on] a farm in the countryside and sustainability just stemmed from the fact that it made complete sense. I am in fashion and I do not use leather, fur or PVC. This is unheard of,” revealed Stella McCartney in an e-mail interview with T Singapore.

The namesake label, since its launch  in 2001, has sidestepped the conventions of luxury, detaching from its frivolity and instead, driving forth a environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle. “I was always told that I’d never have an accessories business because people associate leather with luxury. But I am approaching it in a different way. We are the only luxury house providing this kind of product and proving it is doable,” said McCartney.

Since the beginnings of McCartney’s involvement in fashion, her eco commitments have grown in breadth. A purveyor of faux leather that was previously largely contained in the footwear and accessories department, McCartney, for the first time, used the material for clothes on her Spring ’18 runway. A far cry from the kitsch of synthetic leathers, McCartney’s new fabric, coined Skin-Free Skin, was a display of polish. Her diverse range of product lines also include a sustainable eyewear collection made from natural and renewable resources from naturally occurring castor  oil seeds and citric acid; shoes crafted from biodegradable soles and a lingerie line that repurposes metal for hardware and uses organic cotton for the gussets.

Barely the tip of McCartney’s overarching conservationist efforts, the brand’s ethos also trickles down to its physical establishments. All Stella McCartney stores, offices and studios in the United Kingdom are powered by wind energy. Additionally, 45 per cent of their global operations are run on renewable, green energy. Its latest store in Singapore is fitted with bespoke cabinets crafted from reclaimed timber.

“The current system that the fashion industry relies on to make products are at best out of date and are at worst actively destroying the planet. This is why we have been working for years to ensure that our supply chains represent some of the most traceable and sustainable in fashion,” shared McCartney.

“We believe in this vision for a new textiles economy and will expand our support of innovations that allow for waste garments to be recycled into new garments – but most importantly we are ready to be a part of this massive opportunity for the industry to truly change,” she added.

While the industry is riddled with the frivolity of large conglomerates, McCartney maintains that clothes can elicit a real change in the grand scheme of things. “I think fashion and glamour have a massive impact on people. It is a huge industry and if one can offer a more sustainable and informative message, hopefully the consumer will tie it to how they want to consume. Hopefully, they will make the right choices. If they are not compromising style for sustainability, there is no reason why they should choose a more harmful brand over mine, for instance,” she explained.

Building an international fashion brand, and all the while spear- heading eco friendly initiatives that work against the system, has by no means been an easy feat. “There are a lot of challenges as we are constantly having to question the system and really look at the entire process from sourcing to manufacturing to our stores. It definitely is harder as it’s not the norm in fashion right now. It’s a really interesting layer that’s added into the way that I work. It is the most exciting challenge. I can design a dress that people dream of in three months. I can be modern and on-trend in that sense, but actually beyond all of that, there’s a different kind of modernity that’s driving me, in partnership with great design,” shared McCartney.

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We don’t sit and analyse beyond normality in order to  achieve  numbers or achieve great  success  globally. When we look  at  new  categories and new territories, we come at it from a very authentic and instinctive  place. It also has to feel right for our house, you know? I think that if you approach business in that way and  if  I  approach  design in that way, I hope that that authenticity will resonate with my customer and then that will obviously reflect in our success,” said McCartney.

At McCartney, fashion and sustainability have long been bedfellows and the conversation continues in the hopes of gaining a global momentum within the industry and beyond.