Before her red-carpet appearance at the Met Gala on May 1, eco-conscious designer Stella McCartney spoke with Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT, in front of a packed audience in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre. McCartney offered candid and generous responses to questions from Steele and students about growing up in a creative household, the challenges of sustainable and cruelty-free design, and the importance of timeless, well-constructed clothes.
She credits her parents, Paul and Linda McCartney, for her interest in fashion and her gender-fluid aesthetic. Her mother wore Savile Row suits, which prompted McCartney to study tailoring there, and her father’s rock star costumes gave her a taste for glamour.
“My mom and dad shared a wardrobe, I remember, when I was really young,” she said. “A lot of my early memories were sitting on the floor in their wardrobe, and I couldn’t tell whose [clothes were] whose.”
McCartney also discussed her ethos of designing clothes without leather, feathers, or fur. For her, limiting herself to sustainable materials is both challenging and enlivening. “You have to work much further in advance, you and have to commit much more,” she said. “But for me it is the most rewarding thing I do.”
Often, she creates her own vegan materials that are not petroleum-based—investing in startups developing mycelium-based textiles and an enzymatic recycling process that separates out blended fibers.
She also advocates for legislation that favors sustainable design. She was disheartened to learn that her non-leather goods are taxed 30% when shipped to the U.S., when leather is not subject to that tax. “How is any brand supposed to be incentivized to work in a sustainable way if your margins are murdered?” she asked. “We should be the ones having tax cuts.”
Her advice to students was both to work hard and study sustainable design: “You all will have a better chance of getting your foot in the door if you can claim a knowledge or a true, honest interest in a better world.”