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British designer Stella McCartney had been an advocate and pioneer of sustainability long before it became an industry buzzword. But she is still developing new ways to work. More recently, that has included experiments with leathery material made with mycelium – or mushroom root structures – and efforts to use cotton and wool from regenerative farms, which restore the health and biodiversity of the land rather than purify it.
“It’s very simple, but today it seems very radical, and it really 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 takes for the wider industry to realize it needs to change:
Consumer pressure and better regulation are critical for the fashion industry to make changes that are urgently needed. “I don’t think we can trust our industry to commit to this, but we can trust tomorrow’s customers to insist that this is the only thing they are going to invest in,” she said. “The only way to really make a significant change in the timeline that we have is to have policy, to legislate.”
When LVMH took a minority stake in its brand in 2019, McCartney took on a role as an advisor to the CEO of luxury conglomerate 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 this was the future,” she said. “I think it sends a hugely positive message to the industry.”
For the class of young designers who want to work sustainably, McCartney has some wise advice: value collaboration and mutual learning over competition; “Be a fighter” when it comes to getting better incentives for sustainable practices; and always looking for new information on how to get better. “You never stop learning if you work sustainably,” she said.
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