Whether they’re campaigning about climate change, shining the spotlight on sustainable style or highlighting the fragility of our ecosystems, The Glossary’s Eco Pioneer series gets to know the game-changing women who are on a mission to save the world. Here, Stella McCartney, designer and environmental activist, proves that staying true to your beliefs against all odds really can lead to a brighter future.
It’s nigh on impossible to talk about sustainable fashion without mentioning forward-thinking designer Stella McCartney in the same sentence. And yet, when the Central Saint Martins graduate first launched her fur-free, leather-free fashion house in 2001, there were more than a few sceptics. “I was kind of ridiculed. I had a million people along the way say, ‘This is not going to work; you’re not going to have an accessories business; you’ll never be able to approach it in the way all of these big brands do,” she said at a Vogue conference.
But Stella has never wavered in her commitment to ethical practices (the story goes that she famously turned down the creative director job at Gucci because she wouldn’t work with leather). From launching vegan fragrances to creating a handbag constructed of Mylo – a vegetarian material made from fast-growing mushroom root systems – Stella has always been an eco pioneer; she’s even designed the world’s first cruelty-free pair of adidas Stan Smith trainers.
Steadfast in her beliefs she may be, but Stella’s talent is such that even when she’s eschewing more conventional ‘luxury’ products like leather, her appeal isn’t confined to a vegan crowd. From rock stars to royalty, everyone loves Stella – you only need look at the Royal Wedding, for which she dressed Meghan Markle for the evening reception and Amal Clooney and Oprah Winfrey for the ceremony.
“At the end of the day, I’m a designer – I’m not trying to be a politician,” she has said. “I think fashion has to remain fun and luxurious and desirable, and you can live a dream through what we are creating, but you can [also] have a sense of security that you’re consuming in a more conscious way.”
To all those original naysayers, Stella is having the last laugh. Her collections are available in more than 100 countries and, after 17 years in partnership with French luxury group Kering (Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent), in early 2018 she decided to buy back its 50 percent stake in her brand. A couple of months later, she threw open the doors of her Old Bond Street flagship where, in keeping with the brand’s commitment to sustainability, the furniture is made from recycled materials, the mannequins are all biodegradable and an air-filtration system provides the “cleanest air in London”.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Stella launched the philanthropic platform Stella McCartney Cares Green late last year, which aims to “create positive change in the fashion industry and the world at large by inspiring and empowering individuals, students, professionals and businesses to embrace sustainable practices.” And where Stella goes, others have been quick to follow – with a wealth of brands since promising to keep fur off the catwalk. But she still believes there should be laws in place to force designers to take eco-responsibility. “In order to encourage people to have better practice in their business, to have better product for the planet and the animals who inhabit it with us, then there absolutely should be some laws in place to make it harder for people to screw the planet up.”