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British designer Stella McCartney has been an advocate and pioneer for sustainability long before it became an industry buzzword. But she is still developing new ways to work. More recently that’s included experiments with leather-like material made with mycelium — or mushroom root structures — and efforts to use cotton and wool sourced from regenerative farms, which restore the health and biodiversity of the land instead of purely extracting from it.
”It’s very simple but today it seems very radical, and really it could be the future of fashion,” she told BoF editor in chief Imran Amed in a keynote address at the BoF Professional Summit: Closing Fashion’s Sustainability Gap. McCartney also shared the compromises she has to make as a designer to work within the parameters of sustainable materials and low-waste production methods and what it will take for the wider industry to wake up to its imperative to change:
Consumer pressure and better regulation will be key for the fashion industry to make changes that are urgently needed. “I don’t think we can rely on our industry to commit to this, as much as we can rely on tomorrow’s customers insisting that this is the only thing they’re going to invest in,” she said. “The only way truly to have significant change in the timeline that we have is for policies to be set into place, for there to be legislation.”
When LVMH took a minority stake in her brand in 2019, McCartney took on a role advising the luxury conglomerate’s CEO Bernard Arnault on sustainability. “The reality with Monsieur Arnault is that he would never have invested in a brand like mine if he didn’t think that this was the future,” she said. “I think it gives off a huge message of positivity for the industry.”
For the crop of young designers looking to work sustainably, McCartney has some sage advice: value collaboration and mutual learning over competition; “be a fighter” when it comes to securing better incentives for sustainable practices; and always look for new information on how to be better. “You never stop learning when you work sustainably,” she said.