Stella Mc­cart­ney

Fast Company - - The Great Ai - ed­i­tors@fast­com­pany.com

But rather than leave other la­bels in the dust, Mc­cart­ney wants to bring them along with her. She knows that by de­vel­op­ing and us­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ma­te­ri­als in her own col­lec­tions, and talk­ing about it, she can ap­ply pres­sure to lux­ury fash­ion and all ap­parel to fol­low suit. Ul­ti­mately, her goal is to make real cul­tural change in the world.

A month af­ter ar­rang­ing the Bolt col­lab­o­ra­tion in July, Mc­cart­ney is still vis­i­bly elated. The Lon­don-based de­signer and her fam­ily—hus­band Alas­d­hair Wil­lis, the cre­ative di­rec­tor of rain-boot com­pany Hunter, and their four chil­dren—are spend­ing their an­nual sum­mer hol­i­day in the Long Is­land town of Ama­gansett, New York, at the sprawl­ing com­pound owned by her fa­ther, Paul Mc­cart­ney, who is, of course, the for­mer Bea­tle. An ear­lier down­pour has foiled her plans to eat at a fa­vorite out­door food joint, so we’ve set­tled, in­stead, at a res­tau­rant that bills it­self as a “Bo­hemian eatery,” the menu stocked with the req­ui­site kale sal­ads and av­o­cado toast.

Mc­cart­ney is dressed en­tirely in her la­bel, from her olive green jacket down to her 100% eco-rub­ber plat­form san­dals. Stella Mc­cart­ney, the brand, is known for its sig­na­ture mix of fem­i­nine and mas­cu­line, soft and tough. Mc­cart­ney the per­son is no dif­fer­ent: un­fussy, with a dis­arm­ing warmth and quick sense of hu­mor that slices through pre­tense. “I wouldn’t even have five min­utes of things to talk about if this in­ter­view were about fash­ion,” she tells me soon af­ter we meet. “I can’t think of any­thing more fuck­ing bor­ing. ‘Oh, my God! Yel­low!’ ”

She’s fond of say­ing that fash­ion isn’t modern. “I have great re­spect for the his­tory and the craft of what I do,” says Mc­cart­ney, who, in ad­di­tion to study­ing fash­ion de­sign at Cen­tral Saint Martins, in­terned at age 16 with the lux­ury de­signer Chris­tian Lacroix, and later with her fa­ther’s tai­lor on Sav­ile Row. “That’s my ca­reer foun­da­tion, in that most me­dieval for­mat, and I love it. But the way things are done, the fab­rics used—they haven’t changed in a cen­tury. Silk has been made the same way for 6,000 years! There’s a re­sis­tance to innovation. I’m not just a fash­ion de­signer. I’m a busi­ness­woman. In some ways, I feel more con­nected with ar­chi­tects and prod­uct de­sign­ers.”

Mc­cart­ney doesn’t get much op­por­tu­nity to in­dulge her pas­sions for science and tech­nol­ogy with fash­ion jour­nal­ists, who “mostly thought I was a fool for be­ing a veg­e­tar­ian de­signer,” she says. “I mean, what kind of id­iot does that?” Which is one of the rea­sons she waited to an­nounce the Bolt col­lab­o­ra­tion un­til the yarn was ad­vanced enough to re­sem­ble the re­fined, eth­i­cally sourced silk she al­ready uses. “I’m not in­ter­ested in pro­claim­ing new­ness just for the sake of it, or to be the first—that’s not what mo­ti­vates me,” she says. “This is not about pub­lic re­la­tions. My in­ten­tion is to cre­ate real change in an in­dus­try that des­per­ately needs it.”

Re­call­ing her Novem­ber 2016 visit to the Bolt Threads fac­tory in Emeryville, Cal­i­for­nia—where large vats cre­ate a pro­tein-based mi­cro­bial goop that is then stretched and rolled into fibers—the 46-year-old de­signer as­sumes the wide-eyed look of Veruca Salt at Willy Wonka’s choco­late fac­tory. “It blew my brains!” she says. Mc­cart­ney of­fers a touch of her beige, loose-knit tank top, hand­made with the silk she cur­rently uses for her la­bel. “It felt re­ally close to this. It’s so kick-ass,” she says. “Ev­ery­thing about lux­ury fash­ion comes down to touch, how some­thing feels. And God knows what Bolt can do next.”

Mi­crosilk might not end up be­ing the fiber that trans­forms the fash­ion in­dus­try, but Mc­cart­ney’s ef­fort rep­re­sents a new wave of think­ing about ap­parel, just as the rise of Whole Foods sig­naled a new at­ti­tude to­ward food. And the pos­si­bil­ity of sci­en­tists mim­ick­ing ev­ery known ma­te­rial or de­vel­op­ing en­tirely new ones has her fall­ing in love with fash­ion all over again. “A shift like this,” she says, “it’s mas­sive . . . . The re­al­ity is that if Bolt and other com­pa­nies like it can re­place silk or wool or cot­ton, we have a planet.”

“In the be­gin­ning, we were just dudes in an

of­fice full of spi­ders try­ing to make silk,” says sci­en­tist and Bolt Threads CEO Dan Wid­maier. Spi­der silk is one of na­ture’s tough­est sub­stances, com­bin­ing the pli­a­bil­ity of rub­ber with the ten­sile strength of steel, and sig­nif­i­cantly tougher than that cre­ated by silk­worms. It doesn’t take a bio­engi­neer to un­der­stand how those qual­i­ties might ap­peal to man­u­fac­tur­ers of ev­ery­thing from ma­chine parts to cloth­ing—pretty much any­thing meant to last. The prob­lem: You need a lot of spi­ders to pro­duce enough strands to cre­ate fibers. Live spi­ders tend to kill each other; so much for mass pro­duc­tion. Bolt’s so­lu­tion: a syn­thetic ver­sion, molec­u­larly the same as spi­der silk, made of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied yeast fer­mented in sugar and water.

If it pans out, the re­sult could be as revo­lu­tion­ary as Dupont’s dis­cov­ery of ny­lon, the first ar­ti­fi­cial fiber, in the 1930s, which led to the petroleum-based pol­luters of to­day—ly­cra, polyester, Kevlar. “We were in stealth mode for roughly five years,” says Wid­maier, who co­founded Bolt in 2009 with fel­low sci­en­tists David Bres­lauer and Ethan Mirsky. “It’s only in the last two that we even [ac­knowl­edged] what we were work­ing on.”

The Bay Area–based com­pany is at the fore­front of a hand­ful of bio­engi­neer­ing star­tups de­vel­op­ing eco-friendly tex­tiles (in­clud­ing Spiber, in Ja­pan, and Modern Meadow, in Brook­lyn, which is cre­at­ing a bio-fab­ri­cated leather out of the pro­tein col­la­gen). “Con­sid­er­ing the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem of evap­o­rat­ing re­sources, the num­ber of peo­ple work­ing to change the ma­te­rial we put on our bod­ies is shock­ingly lim­ited,” says Wid­maier.

Bolt emerged from its stealth mode in June 2015. That fall, Wid­maier re­ceived a call from Claire Bergkamp, Stella Mc­cart­ney’s head of sus­tain­abil­ity and eth­i­cal trade. It’s Bergkamp’s job to en­sure that the la­bel’s gar­ments are en­vi­ron­men­tally and eth­i­cally ac­count­able across the sup­ply chain—from hu­man toll to en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact—and mon­i­tor­ing and de­vel­op­ing innovation in ar­eas such as syn­thetic bi­ol­ogy.

Bergkamp hails from Mon­tana, where she grew up with en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious par­ents. Af­ter fin­ish­ing a de­gree in de­sign tech­nol­ogy, she worked as a pro­fes­sional shop­per for the TV and film in­dus­try in Los An­ge­les. “I lit­er­ally drove around the Val­ley to dif­fer­ent malls buy­ing cloth­ing. I was in­volved in consumerism in a way that no hu­man should have to be,” Bergkamp says with a laugh. “You could say my in­ter­est in sus­tain­able fash­ion is a re­ac­tion to the malls of L.A.”

Seven years ago, she heard about a master’s pro­gram at the Lon­don Col­lege of Fash­ion, which in­cludes the Cen­tre for Sus­tain­able Fash­ion, one of the few places in the world with a re­search hub ded­i­cated to the topic. When Bergkamp grad­u­ated, in 2011, sus­tain­abil­ity wasn’t a ca­reer op­tion

“I have great re­spect for the his­tory and the craft of what I do. But the way things are done, the fab­rics used— they haven’t changed in a cen­tury. There’s a re­sis­tance to innovation.”

in fash­ion, but she didn’t have to wait long. Mc­cart­ney had re­cently cre­ated the first job in lux­ury de­voted to it, for­mal­iz­ing ini­tia­tives that her com­pany had been work­ing to­ward since the la­bel’s in­cep­tion, and she hired Bergkamp in Jan­uary 2012. Soon, the two had de­vel­oped a sus­tain­abil­ity man­i­festo.

What ex­cited Bergkamp about Bolt was the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to eth­i­cal prac­tices in solv­ing per­for­mance and sus­tain­abil­ity prob­lems. “Most tech that ex­isted be­fore now, that was not part of the con­ver­sa­tion,” she says. “It was just, ‘Let’s cre­ate some­thing new! Who cares how many re­sources it takes!’ ”

Wid­maier had been qui­etly hop­ing for that call from Bergkamp. “The sec­ond you go down this path, Stella quickly fil­ters to the top of the mind,” he says. “She sees pos­si­bil­ity where many would not.” By the time Bolt un­veiled its first fin­ished project us­ing Mi­crosilk—the Bolt­spun tie was un­veiled last March at SXSW and quickly sold out in lim­ited quan­ti­ties on Bolt’s web­site at $314 apiece—bolt and Mc­cart­ney were al­ready work­ing to­gether. Their de­but project, a pro­to­type Mi­crosilk dress de­signed by Mc­cart­ney and hand­made by Bolt’s knit­ters, was re­vealed in Oc­to­ber at New York’s Mu­seum of Modern Art as part of an ex­hi­bi­tion called Items: Is Fash­ion Modern? (open through Jan­uary 28). Wid­maier ex­pects Mi­crosilk to be avail­able to con­sumers within four years.

Jamie Bain­bridge, Bolt’s VP of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, calls scal­a­bil­ity “the buga­boo of bio­engi­neer­ing.” A lot of peo­ple can make things in a test tube, and not a lot of peo­ple can take them be­yond that. The chal­lenges in­clude man­u­fac­tur­ing and dura­bil­ity. “The yarn is very del­i­cate,” she says, “so there are is­sues in han­dling it through ma­chin­ery and how it’s go­ing to be cared for—can it with­stand use, and is it a wash­able prod­uct?”

Bolt landed $50 mil­lion in fund­ing last May. Two months later it ex­panded into an 11,000-square-foot fiber-spin­ning fa­cil­ity and ac­quired the Best Made Com­pany, a Man­hat­tan­based out­door-ap­parel re­tailer. (Bolt is also col­lab­o­rat­ing with Patag­o­nia on an undis­closed prod­uct.)

Bain­bridge says that Mc­cart­ney was in­volved at ev­ery step in the cre­ation of the MOMA pro­to­type, be­hav­ior fa­mil­iar to Adi­das’s VP of de­sign, Robert Lee, who has worked with Mc­cart­ney over the course of her 12-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with the sports­wear com­pany. “Stella cre­ates the ini­tial con­cept, all the way down to the last fit­ting,” he says. “She’s in ev­ery meet­ing, see­ing the prod­uct through to when the con­sumer gets it. That’s more than I’ve ever wit­nessed in our [other] part­ner­ships. It’s the sort of at­ten­tion cre­ative teams love—they thrive off her en­ergy.”

For a long time, “Adi­das were the only peo­ple I worked with who were as turned on and in­vested in tech­nol­ogy as I am,” says Mc­cart­ney. “If you’re work­ing with an Olympic ath­lete, you have to have cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy, the cloth­ing has to per­form. It’s just dif­fer­ent from other cloth­ing.”

She gives Adi­das credit for school­ing her in sus­tain­abil­ity. The com­pany made her aware of the dan­gers of PVC, or polyvinyl chlo­ride, also known as vinyl, widely used to coat hand­bags and out­er­wear. “I didn’t know there was any­thing wrong with PVC, but there’s a lot wrong with it, and many fash­ion busi­nesses hap­pily work with it,” she says of the world’s most toxic plas­tic (among other things, it’s a hu­man car­cino­gen). “Se­quins are gen­er­ally made with it, and any time you see a clear heel or a clear bag, that’s PVC.”

Adi­das’s de­vel­op­ment team in­tro­duced her to engi­neered knit­ting, in­jec­tion dye, and the re­use of waste prod­ucts. Af­ter the com­pany re­leased its Adi­das x Par­ley shoe, a 2016 col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Par­ley Ocean Plas­tic Pro­gram, which cre­ates tex­tiles from ocean waste (roughly 11 re­cy­cled plas­tic bot­tles per pair of shoes), Mc­cart­ney went on to cre­ate a run­ning out­fit for Adi­das us­ing Par­ley’s ma­te­rial for the fall 2017 sea­son. And she’s ap­plied what she can to her lux­ury line.

The sports­wear com­pany is also where she first learned about syn­thetic silk. Last year, Adi­das part­nered with Am­silk, a Ger­man out­fit that pro­duces a syn­thetic spi­der silk called Bios­teel. The re­sult, the Adi­das Fu­ture­craft Bio­fab­ric shoe, re­leased as a pro­to­type in Novem­ber 2016, can be dis­solved in your sink af­ter two years of high­im­pact use. A light­weight, durable shoe that you can then re­turn to the earth (with the help of an en­zyme so­lu­tion) is about as big a sus­tain­abil­ity win as you can get. But the ma­te­rial for a sports shoe doesn’t have the re­fine­ment or sup­ple­ness nec­es­sary for high-end cloth­ing. “The tech has got to get to the point where con­sumers don’t mind it at all,” says Mc­cart­ney. “In lux­ury, you can’t ac­cept down­graded qual­ity.”

Adi­das, mean­while, has ben­e­fited from Mc­cart­ney’s abil­ity to turn tech­nol­ogy into cov­etable de­sign. Mc­cart­ney spear­headed what is now the norm in women’s sports­wear: high-per­for­mance gar­ments fash­ion­able enough to wear out­side the gym. “Stella cre­ated a mar­ket,” says Lee. “She has a real sense for what makes women feel com­fort­able.”

De­signer Tom Ford rec­og­nized this abil­ity of hers early on. It was he who en­cour­aged her to leave Chloé in 2001 and start her own brand along­side him at the Gucci Group (which later be­came Ker­ing). Mc­cart­ney “speaks to women in a way other de­sign­ers don’t,” Ford says. “You in­stantly feel that what she is say­ing is hon­est and true.”

“Af­ter all the years of be­ing ridiculed, I’ve

fi­nally ar­rived at a place where I can be the first per­son to ac­cess Bolt’s prod­uct,” says Mc­cart­ney. She picks up her cof­fee cup, and with a wicked eye roll adds, “It makes it al­most worth it.”

The de­ri­sion—for be­ing a veg­e­tar­ian and for her cru­elty-free cloth­ing, par­tic­u­larly when she aligned her­self with PETA at the out­set of her ca­reer—was at times pun­ish­ing. Not that the hos­til­ity sur­prised her: As the sec­ondy­oungest child of Paul and pho­tog­ra­pher Linda Mc­cart­ney, she grew up with it. Her par­ents chose to raise their four kids, in part, on a rus­tic farm in Scot­land. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ism was a din­ner-ta­ble topic, the din­ner was made from veg­eta­bles grown in the gar­den, and the horses were treated like fam­ily mem­bers. Her mother, an an­i­mal-rights ac­tivist, who died of can­cer in 1998, was par­o­died mer­ci­lessly. “She got more flack be­cause she was a woman, be­cause she was mar­ried to my dad, be­cause she wasn’t afraid to speak out on be­half of an­i­mals in a time where peo­ple didn’t have any care what­so­ever for an­i­mals’ lives or well-be­ing,” says Mc­cart­ney. “And she was will­ing to sac­ri­fice part of her pri­vacy, part of her con­fi­dence for that. It wasn’t nice, she didn’t en­joy it, no­body likes be­ing ridiculed. But she didn’t let it pen­e­trate her skin.”

When I men­tion to Mc­cart­ney that, af­ter re­search­ing this story, I now feel guilty about ev­ery ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing in my closet, she grabs my arm: “But I don’t want you to! Some­thing my mum used to say, that I think is sort of my mantra, is, ‘It is al­lowed.’ It’s not any­one’s fault. It’s okay.”

Her re­sponse is kind, if some­what disin­gen­u­ous. Mc­cart­ney is plenty ir­ri­tated with peo­ple who should know bet­ter, par­tic­u­larly politi­cians and gov­ern­ment lead­ers who ben­e­fit from thwart­ing ev­i­dence or un­der­min­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. “For ex­am­ple,” she tells me, “Stella Mc­cart­ney gets taxed as much as 27% more when we bring non­leather ac­ces­sories into Amer­ica. What the fuck is that about? Be­cause I’m not cut­ting down trees or killing your an­i­mals, I’m pun­ished for mak­ing a su­pe­rior prod­uct? Who ben­e­fits from that?”

At one point, we get into the topic of China, a mar­ket Mc­cart­ney en­tered in 2015. Over­all, she’s im­pressed by the coun­try’s open­ness to sus­tain­abil­ity—“it’s an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion for them”—but she re­fuses to bring Care, her 100% or­ganic beauty line, into the mar­ket, po­ten­tially for­go­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue, be­cause Chi­nese law re­quires an­i­mal test­ing. “No­body talks about this, but ev­ery sin­gle beauty brand in the world that is sold in China is tested on an­i­mals,” Mc­cart­ney says. She flicks her hand dis­mis­sively. “That’s every­one.”

Her frus­tra­tion can ex­tend to con­sumers as well. She ges­tures to the peo­ple out­side the res­tau­rant. “You walk out there,” she says, “and no­body has a clue. It takes your breath away.” A mo­ment later, though, she takes a busi­nesslike view. “Some­one told me re­cently that by 2050 there could be more plas­tic bot­tles in the ocean than sea life. Part of me thinks, What a hor­ri­ble stat!” She dra­mat­i­cally clamps her hands to her

head. “I don’t want that in my brain! But the other part of me sees op­por­tu­nity.”

In 2011, Yvon Chouinard, the co­founder of

Patag­o­nia, pub­lished an ad in The New York Times. It was Black Fri­day, the open­ing bell for Christ­mas shop­ping, when com­pa­nies can make their big­gest sin­gle day of profit. The ad, which read “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” was Chouinard’s way of bring­ing aware­ness to the global cri­sis of over­con­sump­tion.

Chouinard is some­thing of a god within the sus­tain­able uni­verse. “Patag­o­nia walks the fuck­ing walk,” says Mc­cart­ney. He re­minds her of her mother, es­pe­cially in his non­judg­men­tal ap­proach. (“An­other thing she used to say,” Mc­cart­ney re­lays: “‘It’s not should, it’s could.’ ”) Cer­tainly no com­pany has done a bet­ter job at trans­parency—of gen­tly ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers about tex­tiles and ex­plain­ing that im­pact doesn’t end with the fabric used to make their fleece vest; it ex­tends all along the sup­ply chain.

“Stella doesn’t have quite the same ap­proach,” says Bain­bridge, “but she’s not in the same busi­ness as Patag­o­nia. She’s not serv­ing the mass mar­ket.” Mc­cart­ney’s au­di­ence is smaller and de­mands aes­thetic ex­cel­lence; you might buy hik­ing pants that aren’t fash­ion for­ward, but you won’t spend four fig­ures on a dress un­less it will make an In­sta­gram state­ment. But her en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­forts could have an even deeper im­pact: Clothes like hers set an artis­tic stan­dard. “I don’t think you should com­pro­mise any­thing for sus­tain­abil­ity,” says Mc­cart­ney. “The ul­ti­mate achieve­ment for me is when some­one comes into one of my stores and buys a Fal­a­bella bag think­ing it’s real leather.”

Fast fash­ion of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to spread her gospel wider. When Mc­cart­ney’s wildly suc­cess­ful 2005 cap­sule col­lec­tion for H&m—made with sus­tain­able and or­ganic fab­rics—quickly sold out, the Swe­den-based com­pany be­gan to in­tro­duce its own sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tives. In 2014, H&M part­nered with Mc­cart­ney and in­ter­na­tional tex­tile la­bel­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion Gine­tex for the Clev­er­care la­bel­ing sys­tem, which ed­u­cates con­sumers on how to lower im­pact when car­ing for a gar­ment—two words: less wash­ing—so that you can keep them longer. (Other brands, such as Agnès B. and Es­prit, have since signed on.)

Mc­cart­ney doesn’t have much good to say about her fel­low lux­ury de­sign­ers. She can’t think of other la­bels that are “put­ting their money where their mouth is,” as she puts it, in the way that Eileen Fisher, Adi­das, and, of course, Patag­o­nia are. “I’m ob­vi­ously proud to say that Stella Mc­cart­ney is the only fash­ion house work­ing this way. I’m also dis­ap­pointed.”

The 50-50 part­ner­ship she ne­go­ti­ated early on with Ker­ing, which wholly owns its 15 other lux­ury la­bels, al­lows her the free­dom to pur­sue her mis­sion. Stella Mc­cart­ney cur­rently has more than 700 em­ploy­ees and 51 free­stand­ing stores around the globe, but the la­bel’s rise is steady rather than ex­po­nen­tial. Ker­ing’s su­per­stars are Gucci, Saint Lau­rent, and Bot­tega Veneta; their com­bined earn­ings pro­pelled Ker­ing to record growth in the first half of 2017. A bulk of the prof­its from those la­bels comes from the prices they can at­tach to goods like the python hand­bag Gucci sells for $5,900. (Gucci made 72% of its rev­enue from leather shoes and ac­ces­sories in 2016; Ker­ing formed the Python Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship in 2014 to im­prove ser­pen­tine trade.) Mc­cart­ney’s best-sell­ing bag, the Fal­a­bella, which tops out at $1,200, is made of veg­e­tar­ian leather and lined with a ny­lon made from re­cy­cled bot­tles.

“She sells fewer hand­bags be­cause of those ma­te­ri­als,” says Karen Har­vey, the CEO of Karen Har­vey Con­sult­ing Group, an in­ter­na­tional firm that works with lux­ury fash­ion la­bels (though not Stella Mc­cart­ney). Un­til there is a leather equiv­a­lent of Bolt’s Mi­crosilk—some­thing that du­pli­cates the rich tex­tures and dura­bil­ity of an­i­mal skin—sus­tain­able de­sign­ers will be at a dis­ad­van­tage. “That’s a choice Stella’s made,” Har­vey says. “On the other hand, her voice and vi­sion and be­liefs—that’s what makes her in­flu­en­tial and pop­u­lar. She has a very spe­cific but per­haps even broader fol­low­ing than Gucci.”

Ker­ing CEO François-henri Pin­ault does care about sus­tain­abil­ity. He has made it a core tenet of his busi­ness. Ker­ing also owns Puma, whose for­mer CEO, Jochen Zeitz, pi­o­neered the En­vi­ron­men­tal Profit & Loss (EP&L) ac­count in 2011. The ini­tia­tive put a di­rect mon­e­tary value on the neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive im­pacts Puma was hav­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment. These costs had noth­ing to do with net earn­ings; they sim­ply of­fered stock­hold­ers and the busi­ness a way of mon­i­tor­ing their foot­print. “Even those con­cerned only about bot­tom lines—and not the fate of na­ture—must now be­gin to re­al­ize that the sus­tain­abil­ity of busi­ness it­self de­pends on the long-term avail­abil­ity of nat­u­ral cap­i­tal,” Zeitz said in 2011.

Ker­ing adopted the EP&L, first with Stella Mc­cart­ney and Gucci in 2015, and later across its brands. It has re­moved all the PVC from its col­lec­tions, built a ma­te­rial-innovation lab, and launched the Ker­ing Award for Sus­tain­able Fash­ion (in which win­ners, from the Lon­don Col­lege of Fash­ion, re­ceive fund­ing for eco-friendly con­cepts and the pos­si­bil­ity of an in­tern­ship at Stella Mc­cart­ney or Gucci). Gucci’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Alessan­dro Michele, used Aquafil’s Econyl, a re­gen­er­ated ny­lon made from aban­doned fish­ing nets and other waste, in his fall 2017 men’s out­er­wear col­lec­tion. And Saint Lau­rent re­cently an­nounced the launch of an an­nual sus­tain­abil­ity-fo­cused cou­ture pro­gram. Ker­ing has also promised to re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print of all its la­bels, in­clud­ing green­house-gas emis­sions, by 50% by 2025, and to fo­cus on an­i­mal wel­fare. “Stella has re­ally acted as a role model,” says Ker­ing’s sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer, Marie-claire Daveu, demon­strat­ing “how you can be sus­tain­able and prof­itable.”

The con­glom­er­ate, which was re­cently ranked the most sus­tain­able lux­ury-in­dus­try com­pany by Dow Jones for the third year in a row, has yet to pub­licly em­brace an­other Mc­cart­ney is­sue, how­ever: trees. An enor­mous num­ber of them, 120 mil­lion a year, are cut down to make the highly ab­sorbent rayon known as vis­cose, much of it sourced from an­cient and en­dan­gered forests. Mc­cart­ney was the first ma­jor de­signer to sign on to Canopy’s ini­tia­tive to ban such sourc­ing in fash­ion in 2014. She was also the first to can­cel a contract with a vis­cose pro­ducer. Canopy CEO Ry­croft sees a di­rect line from Mc­cart­ney’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ef­fort to the com­mit­ment by 90% of global vis­cose pro­duc­ers to stop sourc­ing from en­dan­gered forests. Now, 105 brands (in­clud­ing H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., and Marks and Spencer) have signed on, promis­ing to work only with con­sci­en­tious sup­pli­ers, which rep­re­sents about $130 bil­lion in rev­enue an­nu­ally. “That’s a rel­a­tively quick shift of the dial—three years,” says Ry­croft, and proof of Mc­cart­ney’s in­flu­ence across the in­dus­try. “But ob­vi­ously we’d like to see Ker­ing join Mc­cart­ney in mak­ing the same pledge. They are key to shift­ing the lux­ury space.”

Some­times Mc­cart­ney wor­ries that by be­ing

such an out­spo­ken en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, she’s scar­ing other lux­ury de­sign­ers away from the cause. “Our in­dus­try, like most, is fiercely com­pet­i­tive. So if some­one has own­er­ship of an area, like sus­tain­abil­ity, does that pre­vent other peo­ple from want­ing to do it? Does it then be­come ‘too Stella Mc­cart­ney’?” Such an at­ti­tude, she says, de­feats the pur­pose of innovation. “This is a time where you can’t be com­pet­i­tive.”

The onus, of course, isn’t just on de­sign­ers or fash­ion brands. “Con­sumers need to own this,” she says. “They need to bring the same holis­tic mind-set to fash­ion that they brought to food and health.” That in­cludes learn­ing how to prop­erly care for gar­ments to ex­tend their lives, how to read la­bels (as crit­i­cally as they might a can of soup), and how to pres­sure man­u­fac­tur­ers about the sourc­ing of ma­te­ri­als. And, if the an­swers are un­sat­is­fac­tory, press­ing brands for change. “Once com­pa­nies see an im­pact to their bot­tom line,” says Bergkamp, “sus­tain­abil­ity won’t be adopted briefly, as risk man­age­ment, or some­thing to ap­pease stake­hold­ers, or a way to stay rel­e­vant. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that com­pa­nies will be re­warded if they adopt sus­tain­abil­ity, but that it will be more of a pun­ish­ment if they don’t. Lux­ury is get­ting wise to that.”

It isn’t lost on Mc­cart­ney that it’s mostly younger con­sumers—mil­len­ni­als and gen-zers— com­ing up to her on the street, “thank­ing me for be­ing the only de­signer who cares about an­i­mals and the planet, for giv­ing them an al­ter­na­tive,” she says. “They’ll tell me they love my [cloth­ing], and whether they can af­ford it or not isn’t part of the con­ver­sa­tion. It’s what I rep­re­sent for them that they ap­pre­ci­ate.” With 4.3 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, Mc­cart­ney is clearly con­nect­ing with that younger au­di­ence, many of whom con­sider her a big­ger star than her fa­ther. Paul who?

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