How Stella McCartney Handles Design Challenges

Stella McCartney, as a brand, is animal-friendly. The house doesn't use leather or fur in its fashions. On the personal side, McCartney's parents, Paul and Linda (heard of 'em?), were known for their animal activism and vegetarianism, so it's no shock that that ethos permeates McCartney's clothing line and life. Stella McCartney's commitment to being cruelty-free is impressive, since luxe brands often make use of mink, leather, and a variety of exotic skins that once belonged to an animal. Still, Stella remains firm in not using any of these byproducts. No fur. No feathers. No nuthin'.

In a recent interview with Business of Fashion, McCartney offered a bird's eye view perspective of how she and her design team deal with the challenges of being a leather-free brand. It's not as easy as it might seem; you don't just find, make, or use a replacement, synthetic fabric and go! It has to mimic the other material the right way.

In the piece, the designer talks to her team about how "the non-leather thing was doing a bit of a leather thing," which, to me, sounds like non-leather goods were meant to look, feel, and act like leather, especially with shoes. That's pretty obvious!

"We always have this conversation about our non-leathers," McCartney told BoF.


She continued, "We are, of course, the most ethical and loving company in the fashion industry." The outlet notes that she said that with her tongue tucked in her cheek, indicating that she's not holier-than-thou about her cruelty-free stance, which isn't always the case with animal activists.

And while she won't adapt her stance and use leather, she does have empathy for her team, which has to learn to adopt other fabrics. "I always have to apologize to my designers and creative team for the limitations [this creates]," McCartney admitted.

It's clear that her group takes these limitations and conquers them, creating some seriously beautiful clothing in the process. That's how true talent asserts itself, since you have to work harder to come up with innovative alternatives.


"Material is hard," McCartney noted to BoF. "Clearly leather is a great material. It wears well. It moves. You can wash it. It’s real. One of the hardest things is to design something that is desirable and then to take that design and make it in a way that is not conventional. We're sourcing our own material, developing our own material — we’re not using PVC."


Interesting, right? I have worn vegan leather, and some of it is great and some if it is… not. Leather has always been one of my favorite fabrics, since I love how it looks. Of course I often think about the implications of wearing it, as I don't eat meat. But one doesn't really relate to the other as it may seem.

More importantly, the inspiring thing to take away here is McCartney pulling back the curtain and revealing the nature of the challenges she faces and how she overcomes them to create something beautiful is inspiring to me, since she doesn't ever bail on her commitment to being cruelty-free. While the brand uses wool and silk, McCartney has said they seek alternatives.

It's pretty damn miraculous that McCartney has created over-the-knee, legging-like, faux leather boots that are a billion times sexier than the real thing. Look up to see what I mean!

I have a pair of knee-high, wedge heel boots from the brand that look exactly like leather, that feel exactly like leather, but aren't.

So she is doing something right. Hearing her perspective on alternative fashion only deepens my appreciation for her work.

Images: Getty (4); Stella McCartney (1)