We met the patron of the 2017 Designer for Tomorrow award by Peek & Cloppenburg and Fashion ID Stella McCartney in Berlin for an Interview
At some point, thinking about sustainable luxury fashion and the use of vegan materials (instead of leather and fur) will lead you to Stella McCartney. But the daughter of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney has more to offer than just a famous family: She’s run a successful business since 2001 and built her own brand from scratch while also trying to set an example for other companies that are attempting to become more sustainable in their own products and company strategy.
Meeting her was more than just a normal interview for me: If you are a vegan and you like fashion, there is no way you can encounter this exceptional woman without adoring her approach. Yes, sustainable, vegan fashion can be both ethical and luxurious.
1. Did you always want to become a fashion designer and create clothes for women?
I guess so. All of my early memories outside the family were always led by fashion. I was really interested in how clothes look on a basic level and how you can, hopefully, make someone’s life better by giving them an option that’s right for them.
2. What was your motivation in creating your own label and producing more sustainable and – above all – vegan clothes?
I went to college at Central Saint Martins (in London) to study fashion design. It wasn’t my mission to have my own brand, but it happened and I was really lucky that it came to me straight away, so I just went into it. I wanted to take a holistic approach in creating my work – and now, in my fashion house – and maintain a responsible, mindful, and sustainable approach to both business and the product. Since I grew up that way, it was very much how I lived my entire life. It never occurred to me to be hypocrite in any shape or form, so why wouldn’t I bring my beliefs to my workplace?
Luckily I was in a place where I could afford to set an example and lead the way for other people and brands – I realized that the privilege my family background brought me was the ability to always fall back on it. To have this security in the back of my head allowed me to not compromise.
3. In your opinion, will people ever understand why a vegan bag is as expensive as a leather bag? How can this message be brought more easily to the market?
If we keep on spreading the word about what we do, people will understand it. And if people are actually informed and interested in the process – in fact, it’s actually more expensive half of the time – they will get it. How are non-industry people supposed to know that, anyway? For example: I get charged tax when I import my non-leather products to the United States – and it’s 30% more than real leather is taxed!
These are things you would never know if you haven’t started your own business. To not put it back on my consumer and to not raise the price, we lower the margin. Most consumers don’t know the cost of being a sustainable fashion brand and how many obstacles you have to overcome on your way. I think that there is a lot of information that an interested potential target group should have access to. And luckily, the industry is just about to change in the right direction.
4. Is the technology behind finding more eco-friendly and vegan materials something you are already investing in? Or are you working on a specific new material yourself?
We have a whole department that is focussed purely on new technologies, new development, and new materials. First and foremost, I am a fashion designer. It really excites me and I love designing beautiful things and making them beautifully. But at the same time, I find it very exciting to find new techniques and materials. For me it’s the most modern thing that we do and it keeps us really relevant and it sets us apart from everyone else. This is also one of the reasons I worked with Adidas to make performance clothing, to have access to their technology and use zero-waste engineering, and look at injection dye processes without the use of water.
But we also spend a lot of time looking into different technologies and materials that have been developed. Our bags, for example, are made from recycled plastic bottles.
Furthermore, we’ve just done a project with Sea Shephard which is all about polyester from recycled bottles. We also just spent three years developing a viscose that isn’t made from virgin forest – it is from sustainable ground. That was an investment on our part and we are the only fashion house in the world that uses it and developed that. I don’t even think people know that there is so much viscose used in fashion, or what it’s made of.
5. What would have to change so that more major designer labels could change their production cycles to a more eco-centered process?
The policies have to change: There needs to be laws to set brands in place. The fashion industry is so harmful for the planet and people don’t think about that. And it’s not like the food industry or the automotive industry – they have people who look into them and set rules and regulations. I think fashion has managed to get away with it, strangely. I am not really sure why, but the mass murder of animals for fashion is not good for the planet, nor is using water and land inefficiently, or the chemicals we use to tan leather – we kill innocent creatures. Yet, it’s still happening. I think we need some protection policies.
On the other hand, people also need to want to do it. If it doesn’t touch them on a personal level, then it’s pointless, because people that are in a position to make a change need to genuinely care and have the desire to do it. I think you also need to have a success story in order to show everyone what the alternative is. The majority of the people in fashion are just doing business, and if they can see that they can do it differently and it can be even more successful, consumers will demand it, and they will have to do it. It’s the classic question of supply and demand.
When I first decided to do interviews, all people would ask me about was my dad. And now, they want to talk about this topic. The shift is already happening. It can only change via the next generation.
6. We are happy to have you back in Berlin this year as the patron of the Designer for Tomorrow award. What brought you back?
I genuinely enjoyed the experience last time, getting to meet a new generation of designers and engaging in conversation. I am very lucky and privileged to be a woman that can support that kind of platform to talk to the next generation of designers and possibly give some advice. Looking into the industry, I think it is very important to support people and to give them some insights.
“Last but not least: Can we take a photo?”
The Designer for Tomorrow award is an annual event by Peek & Cloppenburg and Fashion ID to support junior talents. Further information can be found here.