Stella McCartney got candid about her career trajectory and the realities of the fashion industry this week while speaking at the WWD Apparel + Retail CEO Summit in New York. Known for never using fur or leather, the designer also doubled down on the importance of both style and sustainability.
She told WWD’s Bridget Foley, who moderated the talk: “When I started, I was Paul McCartney’s daughter. That was the only headline I had. I came to fashion with that label. I had to shake that puppy off for a while.”
It wasn’t until this year that McCartney leaned into her family history with the launch of the “All Together Now” collection, inspired by The Beatles’ film “Yellow Submarine.” She said, “I definitely avoided The Beatles for a period of time. That’s why I went into fashion and not music. I didn’t want to give people the easy route with me. It took time.”
Outside of this legacy, McCartney then created her own by entering into the fashion world, not willing to work with animal products.
“It was, until pretty recently, strange and unheard of.” She said, “[But] people didn’t notice it. And I stand by that today. You shouldn’t sacrifice any style for sustainability. My personal belief system is not one I would project on my customer. And 90% probably still don’t know that this is a non-leather shoe or that our products are made in a more sustainable way. I don’t think people know that. That’s important to me.”
However, in the industry, McCartney’s eco-conscious ethics have become yet another label.
“The reason I came into any label was because women wore my clothes. I am woman designing for women. My fashion is loved and worn. That’s lesser talked about.”
In regards to sustainability — a hot topic [that] brands are using, both authentically and not, to connect with consumers — McCartney is at the forefront. Nearly 20 years ago, she launched with no leather, fur, skins, feathers or animal glue. In 2008, her brand started using organic cotton; in 2010, she went PVC free; and the list of goes on. For spring ’20, she launched her most sustainable collection to date.
Despite great strides from labels such as McCartney’s, the fashion business continues to be one of the most polluting industries in the world, and it is slow to change.
“The fashion industry is elitist in a way,” explained McCartney. “We have to be ahead of the curve. That’s what I wanted to do when I became a fashion designer, to make trends. And really, we follow a lot more than we lead. It’s time to own it and respond to our consumers, too.”
She added, “If I can show our industry that I can have a healthy business that is invisible in the fact that I’m being way more sustainable and I have a 78% sustainable runway show that stands shoulder to shoulder with every other house that isn’t; if I can show that you can do that and every single other person is doing it, then I’ll leave the room. Then my work here is done.”
The designer isn’t naive to think that her upbringing didn’t offer a leg up when it came to creating an atypical business model.
“I am very privileged,” said McCartney. “I didn’t have to compromise my ethics going into my own career. I knew and I still know that if everything goes horribly wrong [I can go home and live with Dad.] That’s the privilege that comes with privilege. You can make career choices.”
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