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Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney@stellamccartney via Instagram

Talking sportswear and sustainability with Stella McCartney

We speak to the designer as she unveils her adidas Team GB kit for Rio 2016 Olympics

Yesterday, Stella McCartney unveiled her adidas Team GB kit for this summer’s Olympics in Rio. The event took place in a sun-dappled gymnasium at the Seymour Leisure Center in Marylebone, where press gathered to see Olympic athletes model the collection for the very first time. Among them was gold medal multi-eventer Jessica Ennis-Hill and diver Tom Daley, who both worked closely with McCartney throughout her rigorous two-year-long design process.

McCartney is no stranger to sportswear, her long-running collaboration with adidas is now in its tenth year and she designed the uniforms for the 2012 London games. The British designer put her signature high-fashion spin on the sports pieces through contemporary silhouettes and innovative textures, graphics and embroideries. The collection also featured the Union Flag colours and a brand new British Coat of Arms, designed to unify the athletes across all the various disciplines. Here McCartney tells us about her passion for sportswear, what it means to be British today and how she’s applied her sustainable ethics to the Olympic collection.

Why is sportswear important for you?

Stella McCartney: When I first started designing sportswear, I felt that women weren’t represented in sports performance. I felt that men were dressed really well both technically and visually, and women were almost like an afterthought. We didn’t have anything nice to wear that worked for us – so I felt a bit offended and that’s what spawned my passion for sportswear.

What does it mean to be part of team GB?

Stella McCartney: I wouldn’t say I’m part of Team GB, but honestly it is amazing and I find it to be an incredible experience – on a personal level it is such an honour and from a design perspective it’s an exciting challenge. I’m so out of my comfort zone and I love it. I’m also just blown away by the athletes, their level of commitment and discipline is so accomplished and extraordinary. 

What does Britishness mean today?

Stella McCartney: My main concern is making the nation proud and doing everyone proud, because I’m British and I know what that means and I want the team to feel unified and good about themselves. I was very involved in the design of the coat of arms and my intention was to create something that would live beyond the 2016 games. It was really important for us that it represented Great Britain and the Olympic Games. There is so much detail in the design and a tonne of symbolism – the roses, the lions, the leeks – and all these elements are there to represent different parts of the British Isles.

As a designer, what’s attractive about taking on an Olympic-related project like this?

Stella McCartney: On a personal level, the number one thing that is very attractive to me is that I’m the only fashion designer in the world to have done that. I’m kind of weird like that, I’m like ‘oh that’s never been done before’ and people are like ‘oh but fashion designers don’t do that’ – yes they do – and that’s what I find very attractive. It also makes me feel very patriotic, I’m half American but when it comes down to something like this I’m very British. There’s also the challenge, it’s not what I do everyday and I love the idea of doing something different.

You’re one of fashion’s most environmentally-conscious designers, how has this played out in this collection?

Sustainability goes across everything I do with adidas and everything I do with my own house, so the Olympic kit is no exception. It is incredibly environmental in the way that it is manufactured, for example there’s no leather, it’s free from PVC, there’s lots of woven materials, which means a lot less waste. 

When I say I don’t do fur or leather in my world it’s a massive shock, but when it comes into the sporting arena it goes without saying. It also influences what I do on the runway, I get really excited when I discover an environmentally-friendly print process that doesn’t use water and I’ll try and mimic that in my ready-to-wear. Or we have our adidas engineered pieces, which have zero waste and I’ll try and apply that to my lingerie – there are many crossovers when it comes to sustainability.