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Stella McCartney sustainable store london bond street
Courtesy of Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney on the importance of being sustainable in fashion

The designer’s new Bond Street store comes complete with fur-free-fur lined elevators and the cleanest air in London

We all know by now that fashion can be pretty terrible for the planet and people on it – but not everyone is resigned to this as an unchanging fact of life. Stella McCartney’s commitment to ethical and sustainable practices is well-documented – she famously turned down a job at Gucci because she wouldn’t work with leather, and refused to sell her fragrances in China because of demands around animal testing. Founded back in 2001, her company is a testament to the fact that being fashionable doesn’t have to cost the earth (or any animals their lives).

First launching a vegan-friendly fragrance and starting to power all her UK stores with wind and other renewable energies way back in 2003, McCartney has watched as the rest of the industry has become more aware of the impact it has – with brands as huge as Versace, Tom Ford, and Armani all joining the cause to go fur free. Her own groundbreaking moments include when she worked with biotechnology company Bolt Threads on the Mylo Falabella Prototype 1, a handbag constructed of an alternative to leather made from mycelium – the root structure of a mushroom. Yes, really.

This commitment to innovation is woven through every inch of her new flagship retail space on London’s Bond Street, which, through its construction, pushes her vision to new heights. From crystals buried under-foot for good energy, to fur-free-fur lined elevators recycled from seasons bygone; from a papier-mâché wall made from her office’s waste-paper, it’s Stella McCartney’s ethos, plus her aesthetic, from floor to ceiling. It also, FYI, has the cleanest air in London.

The designer tells us more about the relocation, how to be a sustainable brand, and why choosing the environment is so important in fashion.

Why do you think so few brands commit to sustainability?

Stella McCartney: I think there are many reasons for brands not to commit to sustainability in the way that I do. I think my core belief system is about how you live your life and how you reflect that in everything that you do, whether it be fashion or food or travel. Everything that I do is a commitment to sustainability and to being responsible and ethical. I don’t eat animals, so why would I kill them for fashion? I think that very few people start coming into a room with that starting point, so that conversation doesn’t always come about.

But I think that it’s also incredibly difficult to be sustainable in fashion. It’s the second most harmful industry in the world to the environment, and there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason that, up until now, it’s continued being incredibly harmful because that’s all that people know, and there’s a lot of money to be made in that way. I’m here to question it, I’m here to challenge it.

Is the challenge of being a sustainable brand exciting, too?

Stella McCartney: It’s one of the only punk rock things that’s really happening in the industry now; to actually stop and say ‘No, this isn’t acceptable, and we need to work together as a team, as a collective to make change’. And to actually create policies that benefit and encourage people to be better in practice and better in business. You have to commit, you have to believe in it and you have to care, and the problem is most people don’t care.

Do you think the only way to be truly modern is to be sustainable?

Stella McCartney: For me the future is technology, it’s also that the youth of today won’t stand for a lack of transparency and they won’t stand for the incredible destructiveness of the fashion industry. They’re going to demand more mindfulness, more sustainability and more ethics. If you want a business and you want to connect to a young customer – which it seems is what everyone wants to do – you have to do it in a way that responds to their needs. The fashion industry cannot ignore that, and needs to deliver more for this new and future customer on every level.

“I don’t eat animals, so why would I kill them for fashion?” – Stella McCartney 

So much about fashion is at odds with sustainability, how have you carried your ethos into the building of an entirely new space?

Stella McCartney: Sustainability is a massive part of the store. We have purposefully made an effort to use more handmade, organic and sustainably sourced elements in the store design. It’s the cleanest air in London, thanks to the breakthrough filtering technology of Airlabs that removes 95% of the air pollutants and harmful gases. We brought nature into the space with all the trees and moss and even a bespoke internal rockery, which for me is just so exciting.

We’re using reclaimed timber in some furniture and even the fur-free-fur from my previous collection has been re-purposed for the interior of the lift. We also have pieces from other stores that we’ve brought into this store; like the ceramics made of all natural ingredients. The actual collections are obviously incredibly mindful and sustainable, there’s no dead animals in there which obviously is the most sustainable, kind and ethical thing that we do as a house.  

How did you ensure that the look of the store would translate across seasons?

Stella McCartney: The idea of seasonality is really interesting in this store because we have nature, we have life – we’re working with mosses and stones and trees, therefore you’re going to feel and see the seasons. There’s an outdoor garden in the courtyard upstairs; we could have done anything up there, but for me to be able to have a garden inside a building in Bond Street, just feels so luxurious.

What do you want people to feel when they enter the space?

Stella McCartney: We’ve got so many different emotional experiences. I want to engage with people who may not (usually) come into the store and don’t even know who Stella McCartney is, as well as of course take care of our loyal clients. I want the people that come to Stella McCartney to feel special because they are special to me.

How are you planning to make people feel special?

Stella McCartney: So we have the ‘Members and Non-Members Only’ club which you are invited into via a code on your mobile phone. It is a really personal and curated space – it will allow customers to connect with me and the brand in a more intimate way. We will have a different experience each time like showing the inspirational journey that I go through with my team every season when we have to create a new collection. The customer will be able to see what it is like to be in my studio with me, creating that collection.