Stella McCartney on Building a More Sustainable Fashion Industry in 2023

The brand unveiled its Frayme bag made from Mylo, an alternative leather made from mushroom

The brand unveiled its Frayme bag made from Mylo, an alternative leather made from mushroom roots, during its spring 2022 show in 2021. 

Courtesy of Stella McCartney

As well as backing new innovations in the field of sustainable textiles, the designer has been focusing on the importance of improving biodiversity, whether her own organic farm—where she has launched a new rewilding project inspired by her theme for spring 2023—to her latest pre-fall collection, where she used regenerative cotton for the first time. McCartney worked with Söktaş, a family-run farm in Turkey, on a LVMH-backed pilot to transition five hectares of land from growing organic to regenerative cotton. (The latter not only ensures no fertilizers or pesticides are used in the process, but also that the soil and ecosystem helping to grow the cotton are actively cared for and replenished.)  “It’s really exciting; it took about three years [to achieve],” she says of the brand’s latest milestone. “I really hope that one day this sort of thing will be subsidized by governments.”

While McCartney has been pushing for these changes within the designer community, however, she’s clear that legislation is what is really needed for significant progress to be made. It’s why she attended the G7 Summit in Cornwall in 2020 and is among a number of designers to have backed The Fashion Act in New York—a proposed bill that would require any fashion brand that does business in New York and has an annual global revenue of over $100 million to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their energy, water, material and plastic usage, and chemical management.

“We’re not a policed industry,” the designer explains. “We’re not subsidized in a positive way. I get taxed 30 percent on my non-leather goods going into America—I take that into my margin, I don’t put that onto my customer. If I put five millimeters of pig leather onto that exact same product, the tax disappears. To me that is shocking; I’ve spoken to people like Biden at the G7 and John Kerry [about it]. These are the kinds of things we have to change. We have to set in place penalties in our industry—the automotive industry has it; the airline industry has it.” 

It may be unusual to hear a top designer waxing lyrical about the intricacies of changing government policy around these issues—but as McCartney makes clear, that’s exactly what we need to be doing going forward.  “I just thought I’d go to [Central] Saint Martins and be a fashion designer,” McCartney jokes. “But there’s a lot of work to be done. I have my political hat on or my fashion hat on; I’m a bit confused as to which one to wear half the time.”