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Sustainable by design

British fashion designer Stella McCartney played a role in the launch of the Audi e-tron GT quattro and Audi RS e-tron GT. Time to catch up with her and hear her story of sustainability.

09/17/2021 Text: Angus Frazer – Photo: Jules Esick – Video: Nadia Hallgren Reading Time: 6 min

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney’s London studio is a treasure trove of beautiful things. Swathes of gorgeous fabrics, stunning dresses, fabulous trainers, glittering accessories and handbags to die for are everywhere. Even in these days of antiseptic gel and constant handwashing, one feels wary of touching anything, lest the tiniest of marks should sully its magnificence.

 

Naturally, McCartney has no such qualms, diving straight in to make a series of minute adjustments to the dress, handbag and hair of model Dahan, who is being photographed, and frequently checking she’s comfortable during the shoot. Spend some time with McCartney and you soon realise just how hands-on she is with all elements of the fashion house that bears her name. And we’re not just talking about ensuring the launch of her A/W 21 collection is running to schedule. She exhibits an in-depth understanding of every single aspect of the operation, so that the two pillars that serve as the foundation of both her life and her company, creativity and sustainability, stand firm. By her own admission, she was very fortunate to grow up with those values. They were pivotal to her world-famous parents, photographer and animal activist Linda, and musician Sir Paul McCartney.

Sustainability is essential for drawing young creatives into your company.”

Stella McCartney

“I was very privileged to be in a family that was just super-conscious,” she recalls. “We travelled a lot, and we had creativity everywhere around us. I grew up on an organic farm as a vegetarian. My parents chose nature and elected to view the world from a completely different perspective when it was entirely unfashionable to do so.” While it was, without doubt, a life of great privilege, not many people in the 1970s shared the family’s sustainability ethos. “As a child, I was embarrassed at times,” she admits. “People would make fun of me, or get very aggressive, angry and defensive.” However, the experience clearly put steel in her spine. When she embarked on her chosen career as a designer, she was determined to hold onto those ethics, even though sustainability was virtually an unknown concept within the industry back then. “I knew from day one that I couldn’t be a hypocrite. I couldn’t make leather bags and leather shoes and wear fur coats,” continues McCartney. “It was ethically completely against my belief system. I was just fortunate that, because of my privilege, I didn’t have to compromise on my values.”

The hands of Stella McCartney feel the texture of a fabric.
When Stella McCartney launched her luxury fashion house in 2001, sourcing sustainably produced materials was near impossible. Years of working intensely with suppliers has helped to develop numerous solutions.

But even good fortune, a strong sense of self-belief and a desire to preserve the planet for the next generation will only take you so far. Sheer hard work, meticulous and unwavering attention to detail, and a passion for creating alternative solutions were also required to progress with sustainability in the fashion industry. And, listening to McCartney’s story, it’s clear she still considers those values as essential today so as to keep on track and ensure yet more progress tomorrow. “We founded the company in 2001. And the word ‘sustainability’ didn’t exist then – certainly not in the fashion industry. It took time for people to take us seriously. At first, in every interview, people just wanted me to talk about my father and his music. But there’s been a transition, and now the conversation is very much about sustainability.” Getting to the point where sustainable luxury fashion items could be created without compromise required McCartney to adhere to the adage ‘if you can’t find a way, make a way’. The big problem was finding sustainable materials to work with – there simply weren’t any, and no one seemed awfully keen to create them.

To deliver sustainability, you have to be on top of everything all the time.”

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney, graduated in fashion design from Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London in 1995, constantly develops new, improved sustainability practices and materials to create a better world for everyone. This life commitment, to always push for seismic advances while never taking her eye off the smallest detail, made her the ideal choice to collaborate with Audi. McCartney played an active role in the launch of the e-tron GT quattro and RS e-tron GT – available with a leather-free interior – and relished the opportunity to share her message of ‘today for tomorrow’ with a new audience.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi e-tron GT quattro: Power consumption, combined*: 19.6–18.8 kWh/100km (NEDC); 21.8–19.9 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

“We started asking ourselves, what would organic cotton look like in a garment? So, we’d take fibre or yarn to one of the best supplier mills in Italy, and we’d say, ‘Look, can we have the same product but made with this organic yarn?’ And we’d get so much resistance. They’d say things like we were asking them to compromise the proud heritage of their mill. “Back then, we really had to push and push our suppliers, otherwise we’d have had nothing to work with. But now we have a much broader choice of materials to work with.”

 

The deeply impressive thing about those artificial materials, which replace leather and fur, and which McCartney describes as ‘faux’, is that the quality is so convincing. Unless customers were told, they would never guess. “We’re always pushing to make more progress, because it’s still tricky to find what you want for every solution. It took me years and years to develop my faux leathers in a way that I could drape them to make coats. I could only ever make a shoe or a bag before. I could never get to big scale.” Happily, with supply driving demand, industries have risen to the challenge. McCartney speaks with passion about some of the great companies she has had the privilege of working with to develop solutions such as animal-friendly alternatives to fur.

A selection of shoes, bags and clothes.
Rigorous policing of the supply chain and management of forests and fields is key to getting sustainable luxury fashion items onto shelves that customers not only desire, but also trust.

So, some 20 years after founding her company to create sustainable luxury fashion items, is it a case of ‘job done’? Far, far from it, says McCartney. “To deliver sustainability, you have to be on top of everything all the time. Things are constantly changing, and the challenges never stop. So many things can go wrong! You’re reliant on nature. What if it rains continuously in the part of the world you get your organic cotton from? What if insects destroy the crop because you can’t use pesticides? What if suppliers don’t put the nutrients back in the soil? You have to police everything.” Being in the vanguard of progress is not for the faint-hearted. Yet McCartney believes delivering on sustainability is a challenge every industry must undertake – and not just for the sake of the planet, but also for their own survival.

 

“Sustainability is essential for drawing young creatives into your company – whether that’s to design clothes or to engineer electric cars as increasingly at Audi. It’s their future, and they won’t compromise on it. And nor should they,” she concludes. “For me, it’s the most exciting thing you can do. If you can couple creativity and sustainability, you’re on to a winner.”

Let’s make sense

Discover the Audi RS e-tron GT in your country

Discover the Audi RS e-tron GT in your country

Trendsetting in design and technology: Learn more about the Audi RS e-tron GT.

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Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

Audi RS e-tron GT: Power consumption, combined*: 20.2–19.3 kWh/100km (NEDC); 22.5–20.6 kWh/100km (WLTP)CO₂ emissions, combined*: 0 g/km

Stated specifications apply only in Germany and are not applicable in other regions.

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