The McCartney surname is typically associated with rock ’n’ roll royalty but in the fashion world, it reigns supreme among the ranks of fashion maisons. In the two decades since launching her own luxury fashion house under her eponymous name, Stella McCartney has rightfully cemented her highly respected status as one of the most coveted and progressive fashion designers of this millennium. Fans of the luxury lifestyle brand adore her signature sharply tailored pieces, but it’s more than McCartney’s keen eye for design that attracts her cult following among celebrities and fashion lovers alike.

At the heart of the Stella McCartney design and brand ethos is a staunch commitment to sustainability, and ethical and socially responsible manufacturing practices. A lifelong vegetarian, McCartney never uses leather, fur, skins or feather in any of her products. But sustainability extends far beyond barring the use of animal products—the designer believes in taking responsibility for the resources her brand uses and the impact it has on the environment. The brand prides itself on being an ethical and modern company, and is continuously exploring innovative ways to grow its sustainability practices and reduce its environmental impact in multiple areas including product design, store practices and manufacturing. Taking it even a step further, McCartney hopes to reimagine the fashion industry by moving to a circular economy—one that focuses on eliminating the concept of waste with restorative and regenerative products that stand the test of time. And because it’s no longer enough to simply declare your brand is sustainable as people demand accountability, the Stella McCartney website devotes an entire section to its commitment to sustainability, with a comprehensive mission statement and explanations on the materials used in its products, social responsibility and how it measures its impact.

For McCartney, luxury doesn’t need to equate with indulgence and excess, and her products are a shining example that beauty and superb quality can be achieved with creativity and innovation driven by more than an eye for design and style. Her proactive foresight on the vital changes needed in the fashion industry is leading the movement in sustainable luxury fashion, especially as consumers grow more eco-conscious with the products they buy. It’s quite an ambitious mission, but Stella McCartney is determined to inspire and challenge the future of fashion. Her passion radiates throughout her product collections, especially with her new eyewear venture with Thelios. McCartney shares her sustainable vision with 20/20 and how it translates to her debut eyewear collection.

CY: The Spring/Summer 2021 eyewear collection is your most sustainable category offering to date. Tell us more about the bio-based materials used in the collection and their importance in achieving your sustainable vision for eyewear.
SM: This collection marks our first collection with LVMH’s eyewear experts Thelios, our new long-term eyewear partner, so it was an amazing opportunity to really push the boundaries and make great change, especially when it came to sustainability, which is something that has been at the forefront of the brand for 20 years now!

I’m so proud of the results. With this eyewear collection, we were able to go even further into our sustainable approach: We used bio-acetates, which are made without the use of fossil fuels, introduced bio-lenses made of 40 percent castor oil and developed new sustainable and vegan packaging options. With the aim to contribute to market transparency, we commissioned the independent third-party UL to confirm our environmental claims, which resulted in the reception of their Environmental Claim Validation (ECV).

What was your design inspiration behind this new collection? How do you weave your sustainability goals and vision into the pieces you design?
The new Spring/Summer 2021 Eyewear collection is our most sustainable eyewear collection to date, which is an incredible achievement. When designing, we are always very conscious of the materials we can use to ensure we are as sustainable as possible. This season we took a lot of inspiration from the Summer 2021 ready-to-wear collection—expressing a desire to reconnect with nature, travel and the joy of athleticism as escapism—and chose a color palette that felt classically “Stella.” I love how progressive and optimistic this season feels, with our signature elevated effortlessness brought to life in conscious materials that reduce our need to use plastic made from fossil fuels.

What is your favorite style in the new collection?
As this is our first collection with our new partner, the whole collection is really special to me, but if I had to pick one style, I must say I love the chain styles, inspired by our iconic Falabella handbag that we launched back in 2010. The chain has become somewhat synonymous with the Stella McCartney brand, so I love seeing the chain translate onto our other products so seamlessly.

The new collection also includes vegan crocodile patterned eyewear cases with leaflets and hang tags and temple covers created with recycled materials. Tell us why other little details matter beyond the frame itself.
Yes, the little details have always been hugely important to me. We can’t shout about how sustainable our eyewear is and then forget to mirror this when it comes to the packaging that eyewear comes in. We come as a complete package. The vegan cruelty-free crocodile eyewear cases are inspired by the Summer 2021 ready-to-wear handbag collection, which is a fun touch!

This collection is your first with Thelios. Please share with us the importance of partnering with a company who shares your vision of creating eco-friendly eyewear using sustainable manufacturing practices.
We only want to partner with companies that are working to genuinely advance change or are willing to take on the challenge with us and ones that are pushing to change the status quo… to really and radically shake things up and address the serious issues we are facing as humans and as an industry. Thelios was exactly that from day one and completely understood our vision and what we wanted to achieve with our eyewear. With their unrivaled expertise and our mission in sustainability, we managed to create our most sustainable collection to date.

You are a leading example that a luxury brand can create beautiful sustainable and socially responsible products that don’t compromise on quality and style. How can you help other luxury brands and fashion houses follow the example you are setting with eyewear?
Hopefully our eyewear collections will show other houses that you don’t have to compromise style for sustainability, and that you can still be creative and produce unique, beautiful designs but be kind to the planet while doing so.

You are known for offering kids’ eyewear styles in “mini-me” versions to complement the adult styles. For the first time, the kids’ eyewear collection will also be made with bio-acetate. How will the sustainability aspect resonate with the younger generation wearing these frames?
Being able to bring the bio-acetate styles into our kids’ eyewear collection is a real milestone for me. Kids these days are now taught about the things like climate change from such an early age; they understand that our house is on fire, and that we need to act now. They are the ones asking questions and telling their parents to be more sustainable in all areas of life, so it just made sense to offer the bio-acetate for kids too. Creating a mini-me offering to complement the adult styles was certainly influenced by our customers who were asking for this more and more.

You graced the cover of 20/20 in November 2009 when you launched your first eyewear collection. Since then, optical frames have become an even more coveted style accessory in addition to being a medical device. How does this play into the design of your optical frames?
Optical frames these days need to be functional AND fashionable. Our customers love to mix and match their opticals depending on what they are wearing or what they have planned for the day. It’s rarely the same pair all week so this is reflected in our designs more so than ever before—we have styles that are more simple for everyday and styles that have an exaggerated CatEye, or thick rims in an array of bold colors, or the addition of a Falabella chain that are great for the evening. Customers want eyewear that they can have fun with and really show off their personality. That said, creating products that are timeless is such an important pillar of the brand, I don’t want to create products that are so trend driven that they are thrown away after one season. It’s important that my products can be worn forever and not feel dated.

When it comes to sustainability in fashion, many eco-conscious consumers have already adapted with faux fur, vegan leather, etc. How do you hope to expand awareness for sustainably made eyewear?
Education is key. All of our wonderful store staff around the world receive extensive training when new products are introduced so they are armed with knowledge that they can pass onto and impress our customers with.

“Each decision we make is a symbol of our commitment to defining what the future of fashion looks like.” This statement is on the Stella McCartney brand’s sustainability page. What is your overall vision for sustainability in fashion and the responsibility to reduce environmental impact with manufacturing?
I truly hope that one of the things the pandemic will bring us is our sense of values around sustainability. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is burned or landfilled every second, and for the first time in history, we can truly measure the damage done by human activity. We have seen in such a short period of time how incredible nature is and how she bounces back so quickly, so I really hope this causes a turning point.

If anything, this period has only strengthened my belief in the way we work at Stella McCartney and has also pushed us to challenge ourselves more in all aspects of our brand, including our eyewear, but of course we still have a long way to go and are constantly exploring new innovations in both fabrics and manufacturing that are kinder to the planet and will ultimately be the future of the industry!■