Stella McCartney Goes Off the Cuff

The designer opens up about what led her to become a pioneer in the world of sustainable luxury fashion.



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SUSTAINABILITY HAS ALWAYS been important to me. It started with my mum and dad — they were vegetarians, world rights activists, and environmentalists. My vision and the way I approach my life and the industry, in general, has absolutely come from them, especially my mother. She was so ahead of her time in her consciousness and her mindfulness. She had so much love for the planet and for its creatures. I learned a lot from her strong ethics growing up.

I always knew I would carry these values through to my own work, which is why I was only going to start a fashion brand if I could do it without having to use real leather or fur. Since day one, I have been on a mission to create luxury fashion that does not compromise on desirability or sustainability, but that works in a responsible way that benefits Mother Nature, rather than harms her.

At first, I was a lone warrior — people thought I was an “eco-weirdo.” They used to look at me like I was crazy when I would say I’d created a luxury fashion brand that didn’t use any leather or fur. But I’ve been championing a responsible way of working for over 21 years now, and I do think, slowly but surely, we are moving in the right direction.

For example, in the last few years, there has been a considerable increase in material developments. Innovations are also becoming more readily available and, in turn, becoming slightly cheaper to purchase because the demand is there. These include recycled materials, such as polyester, nylon, and regenerated cashmere, which we like to use throughout our collections as it reduces our impact.



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On a personal level, this allows me to focus on identifying the issues and trying to make positive change, rather than focusing on bringing awareness as I was doing previously.

Sequins are another example: I love working with sequins, and back in the day we just couldn’t because they were made with PVC, which we don’t use due to its high impact on the environment. There were only two “sustainable” colors available; today we have a whole swatch book to choose from. Someone is thinking about something as tiny as a sequin, which shows how far we have progressed.

But I think one of the biggest and most positive changes I’ve experienced on this journey is that I can now talk about the topic of sustainability in fashion freely and feel like it’s a conversation, as opposed to a battle or a difficult debate. Today I look around and it’s everywhere — from the farms and the factories to the array of sustainable materials on offer to the attention it’s getting in the media. People are a lot more educated; there’s more information out there. On a personal level, this allows me to focus on identifying the issues and trying to make positive change, rather than focusing on bringing awareness as I was doing previously.

Beyond not using any leathers, feathers, furs, or skins, our commitment to sustainability has evolved into working with start-ups on material innovations and more. I get to speak to incredible innovation start-ups daily, which is an amazing part of my job that I really cherish — so much so that I recently launched a $200 million investment fund, the SOS fund, centered on early-stage materials, energy, and supply chain start-ups with the potential to have an environmental benefit and bring commercial success. We’ll incubate these technologies, put them on my runway, and then, when they’re ready, we can roll them out.

I am constantly looking at new innovations and ways of working — from designing to store practices to product manufacturing — to ensure we are creating the least impact on the environment as possible. Over 60% of the positive impact that we have here comes from our sourcing, which shows the effect responsible sourcing could have on not only the industry but also the planet. This is what drives me and gets me out of bed in the morning.


For Winter ’23, we have a whole fruit bowl of alternative leather innovations. There’s AppleSkin, made with the waste of apples used for juice and jam production in Northern Italy (which creates about 34,000 tons of waste a year, can you believe it?!). And then there’s Vegea, made with grape waste from the Italian wine industry, and Bananatex, a canvas fabric made from fiber from the banana plant, which is grown in abundance in the Philippines. It is also completely natural and doesn’t require any pesticides or additional water. The new star of the show, however, is another alternative leather called Mirum. It’s a complete game changer that’s going to take over the industry — mark my words!

Mirum is completely natural, made predominantly with natural rubber and other natural materials, such as charcoal and cotton. And it uses natural dyes. It’s fully circular, fully customizable, and most importantly: It isn’t made with any plastic whatsoever.

Not being sustainable in this day and age is the most unfashionable thing a brand can do.

As a brand, we are also putting a lot of focus on regenerative agriculture, because we believe this is the future of the fashion industry. In 2019, we invested in a regenerative cotton farm in Turkey with our partners Söktaş, working with them on their regenerative cotton pilot program. The results we have been seeing show the soil is sequestering a significant amount of carbon, which is so exciting. LVMH have also invested in Söktaş, which gives me great hope knowing the power they have in the industry.

And customers are now demanding to know where their clothes and accessories come from and how they are made. If you’re not already doing this, you should be: Be curious, ask questions! At Stella McCartney, we now include QR codes on a lot of our products, linking directly to a dedicated page on our website that lets our customers read more about the product’s life cycle. The closer we come to the crucial date of 2030, set by the Paris Agreement, the more this demand will heighten, and brands that don’t take action will be left behind. Not being sustainable in this day and age is the most unfashionable thing a brand can do.

As my very chic grandfather — Lee Eastman, on my mother’s side — always told me: “Staying power is the most important thing.” I have carried that all through my life.

Our Contributors

Erin Dixon Managing Editor

Erin Dixon is the managing editor of Departures. Previously the managing editor of the arts and culture journal Dossier, she has worked and written for a variety of international magazines and publishing houses, ranging from Vogue, Kinfolk, and GQ to Phaidon, Workman Artisan, and HarperCollins.

Mary McCartney Photographer

Mary McCartney is a portrait and fine art photographer, filmmaker, cookbook author, and Global Ambassador for Meat Free Monday. Her work is held in major private and public permanent collections including: the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the National Portrait Gallery, London; The Royal Academy, London; and the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, Paris.


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