The Condé Nast College was delighted to welcome renowned fashion designer and environmental activist, Stella McCartney to our virtual lecture theatre via Zoom to begin the January term. BA (Hons) Fashion Communication student, Beatrice Bosley, reports on Stella McCartney’s Industry Talk.
About the Stella McCartney Industry Talk
The winter term at Condé Nast College has kicked off with a bang in our virtual lecture theatre with renowned fashion journalist, Sarah Mower MBE interviewing sustainable fashion designer Stella McCartney enlightening the CNC students on forward-thinking ethical fashion.
Stella McCartney is one of fashion’s most admired designers and eloquent activists. Her fresh approach to ethical engagement with fashion, and the distinctive tone of her feminine yet modern womenswear are a result of her passionate personal beliefs to create a better, more sustainable brand.
Today, the Stella McCartney brand has been a thriving, sustainably focused label for 20 years. Stella’s career, however, started aged 16, when she made her fashion industry debut interning with the iconic Christian Lacroix. The start of a journey that led her to graduate from Central Saint Martins in 1995, where the young designer’s now-famous graduate show saw several of her friends, fashion’s favourite supermodels, roaming the runway. Swiftly after, in 1997, she joined Parisian fashion house Chloe with epoch-defining success as Creative Director before founding her own, progressive and cruelty-free, namesake label, Stella McCartney.
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What does sustainable mean?
Having grown up in rural England, within a family of passionate creators, Stella’s innate appreciation for the beauty of the natural world is evident through her devotion to leading the fashion industry out of the clutches of commercial chaos and into an increasingly ethical realm.
Her dedication to accountability appears to transcend the world of fashion, inspiring the tone of the entire Stella McCartney brand. The label’s voice is intrinsically linked with the global zeitgeist for positive growth, with the goal being not to preach but to instead inspire an entirely collaborative and innovative response to the future. The designer characterises her approach as ‘solution-driven’, maintaining that “Direct, simple, ‘less is more’” can carry the greatest value when communicating such a remarkable cause.
The abundance of knowledge and genuine faith that grounds the designer is expressed with perfect clarity as she details the myriad of environmental elements the fashion industry relies on to produce its wares, “What we forget in fashion is that we work in a very linear way. At Stella, we start at the source. Over 60% of the positive impact we have is just working really methodically in the way that we source our materials.”
“I wish it was almost like an ingredient label on food. I wish the fashion industry had this level of deep information…” Stella McCartney
It is frequently forgotten, when perusing shelves of beautifully crafted and carefully merchandised goods, that their creation comes at a cost greater than money alone. The sacrifice paid in decimated biodiversity and concealed within ‘green-washed’ propaganda, can often appear ruthlessly irreparable. Stella challenges this notion, however, and whilst outlining the production processes reliant on our planet’s resources, she notes how her brand is working towards renewing resources within their practices, “One thing we’re looking at a lot is being regenerative in our cotton sourcing. That’s not just looking at the plant and it’s being organic, looking at where we’re getting it from and making sure that it’s well-sourced and that human rights are set in place. All those kinds of things. It’s also looking at how we put back in what we’re taking out.” Ensuring that resources are renewable, and not entirely finite, is a significant element of sustainable consumption that is frequently forgotten. Leading Stella to note that it’s all about “trying to work in a more circular way”. Be that as a consumer, who rents ball gowns and shops vintage, or a designer that implements measures to source sustainable, renewable materials.
Putting it in simpler terms when speaking about transparency across the industry, the designer states, “I wish it was almost like an ingredient label on food. I wish the fashion industry had this level of deep information that we all had to do to analyse our business.”
Sexy Fashion Stuff
Pioneering the development of entirely ethical materials that can be used to build an industry of entirely sustainable designs remains a relatively novel notion within the luxury fashion industry. It is, however, a potent identifier of those brands that reside at the forefront of future proof innovation. The reach of the Stella McCartney brand’s influence extends across a phenomenal 77 countries, within which a myriad of different cultures and approaches to fashion resides. Despite this broad global access, Stella notes that “the incentives really aren’t set in place” for fashion companies to adopt sustainable practices and, had she indulged in similar cost-cutting practices utilised by the fast fashion industry, her business might have been “tenfold bigger if I hadn’t have chosen to work in this way.”. An interesting comment to note, as it draws into question whether the industry might begin to perceive brand success as ethical, not just financial.
Information surrounding fashion’s habitual practices can highlight a set of ultimately unsettling realities. From the cruelty of cashmere curation to the extremes of garment waste when, “Every second a truckload of fast fashion is burned or buried.”. The designer shares her understanding that “It’s [sustainable fashion] not really like sexy fashion stuff, well, I find it sexy fashion stuff!”, and it’s evident that she sees it as her responsibility. Leading her to use her brand’s platform to raise not only awareness but the standards set within the industry.
An emphasis on the joy of design has always been present within Stella’s career, with her enigmatic approach to conversation she offers an uncommonly comforting air of eloquent sincerity. An essence that is evidently shared throughout the McCartney brand, with the consistency of its message of morality. Today, the label has continued its journey and begun working with recycled ocean plastic, transforming our understanding of essentials with a range of virtually zero-waste, seamlessly flexible garments, “With Stellawear, a lot of it was using ocean plastics. So it was fishing nets and plastic bottles out of the ocean and recycling those. That’s been a really great project.”.
As quintessentially elegant and high quality as the Stella McCartney brand is, it also is representative of a larger, fundamentally positive attitude towards our shared global responsibility. As Stella continues she maintains that her, “main mission from day one hasn’t changed. You shouldn’t sacrifice anything, in terms of style, or fashionability, or in quality just because you’re working in this [a sustainable] way,” and continues to share that, “We’re selling our new collection in Milan and it’s 80% sustainable, and that’s crazy we’ve never gotten a number that big!”
During the charming conversation shared with Stella it quickly becomes clear, through the animated and inspirational undertones with which she speaks, that nurturing the sustainable growth of the fashion industry remains a shared mission. Fortunately, it appears to be a rather more fashionably tantalising one than we could possibly have imagined.
By Beatrice Bosely, BA Fashion Communication