When Stella McCartney first launched her label in 2001 as a joint venture with parent company Kering, the industry’s response was lukewarm at best. Her identity as a luxury brand that did not use fur, feathers, or leather made her an odd duck on the London Fashion Week calendar. To add to that, her famous name caused plenty of assumptions about her design acumen, even though she had graduated from Central Saint Martins and was once a Creative Director at Chloé.
Fast forward 14 years to 2015, when the Stella McCartney brand was the subject of a Harvard Business School case study due to its innovative business practices. Or simply take a look at the numbers: McCartney holds 30 directly operated stores, 20 franchised stores, and 600 wholesale accounts, raking in global revenue between $150 and $200 million annually – all without ever compromising her core values.
Her commitments to sustainability aren’t just paying lip service to idealism, but are concrete examples of how major luxury goods companies can operate ethically and environmentally. Her supply chains use raw and sustainable materials, she employs lots of recycled and innovative materials in her collections, she works with producers to decrease pollution and waste, and the list goes on. Amid all of this, McCartney is also a mother to four extraordinary children and spends her personal time advocating for the environment, among other causes.
In this exclusive interview, McCartney speaks to Savoir Flair’s Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia about where her passion for the environment came from, her experiences with Middle Eastern clientele, and more.
Stella, why is the Middle East such an important market for your brand?
You know, I don’t really know why. We’ve always been received so well out here, so we opened some stores. Our fragrance is very successful here. I’m just hoping it’s because we make clothes and other products that women can wear and relate to. I love my clients; they are not terribly dissimilar in each place that I visit. I seem to have a Stella Gang, and they’re all great.
There is a lot being discussed at the moment about the state of the fashion industry and the fast pace at which designers have to produce. We’ve seen several important designers leaving houses, and a lot of talk about how quickly the fashion cycle has become. Do you feel this pressure at the moment?
I think the industry has changed very much over recent years. There was a lot of pressure on creativity, in general, to produce more and more and more. I think it really is in all areas of the world, all areas of the arts. I think there is more demand, more music, more architecture, more art, more film. There is an increasingly rapid pace at which humans consume. I think there is a certain point where you want to feel assured that you are being creative, and creative for the right reasons.
I think there is a certain point where you want to feel assured that you are being creative, and creative for the right reasons.
We do a lot of collections, but we still feel very excited every time we get a chance to start a new collection. I don’t ever approach something like, ‘Oh my God, I have to do another one.’ I do think, ‘Okay, that was quick’ and ‘Phew, I would really like a little bit of space in between’. But I always feel very, very blessed and lucky that I get to design. It’s so exciting every time I’m at that starting point – when I think, ‘I get to choose new colors and fabrics, and talk about new silhouettes and a new approach.’ I love creating so, yes, it’s hard and tiring on one hand… but it’s an extraordinary opportunity to create on the other.
You became environmentally conscious at a very early age. What do you attribute this to?
I think that I’ve always been mindful of the environment, of our fellow creatures on the planet that we all live on. This is probably because of my upbringing. I grew up on an organic farm in East Sussex, and I spent a lot of time outside – you know, riding horses, playing in fields, riding on my bike. I was very engaged with nature and the seasons, watching when the birds had eggs and when they built nests. I connected with that, so I grew up with a very great opportunity to see that firsthand. I was very lucky. I was brought up in a certain way, and I always intended to take my environmental passions into my chosen career. It was very important to me. If I am creating something, I want to create it in a very sustainable and responsible way.
If I am creating something, I want to create it in a very sustainable and responsible way.
There is a certain responsibility that comes with you being a pioneer for eco-friendly luxury. Do you find that there is a lot of pressure on you because you are the ambassador, so to speak, for that movement?
Yes, when you have put yourself forward as doing something different, you can fall down or stumble if the tiniest thing happens. I don’t mind that. I want to keep on my toes, and I’ve never claimed to be perfect. I am not. It’s impossible to be perfect. I think the minute you create anything in life beyond just cooking yourself a meal, you’re kind of having a negative effect on the environment. Just the existence of humans is not particularly environmentally friendly. I am concerned with being that person, but at the same time, I am not going to pretend that it isn’t a challenge… that it doesn’t come with weight and responsibility.
However, I find it really exciting to approach my work in a way that isn’t conventional. I like working outside the box. I like saying, ‘If viscose comes from trees, I am going to try and work with sustainable forests.’ I’m not going to just start using viscose because then I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you – I wouldn’t have a product to talk about. I have a voice, and so I’m going to try and use it in the best way that I can.
I am not going to pretend that it isn’t a challenge… that it doesn’t come with weight and responsibility.
I want to backtrack a little because you mentioned you aren’t perfect, but it certainly does seem that way with your beautiful family and global empire.
[Smiles] Thank you. I’m definitely not perfect, and I think anybody who knows me well enough will be very happy to tell you so. I am very lucky. I always realized how lucky I am, but at the same time, I manage it. You know, having four children, having a career… I think I manage it with the help of a lot of people. I couldn’t manage it without them.
Do you think there is some sort of magic formula for women having it all?
I think we all have it all. Don’t you? I think I’m very, very lucky to have been born, and that I am somehow here and having this conversation. I don’t know how I landed here, but I know that I didn’t look at it lightly. I know that I saw opportunities, and I worked hard. I’m taking it seriously, and I am trying to be mindful. I’m definitely aware of how blessed I am. And you know, it isn’t easy for a lot of other women and lots of other people on this planet that we share. So I can only do my best with what I’ve got.