As world leaders, scientists, activists, and celebrities gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit taking place over the last two weeks, designer Stella McCartney was there to bring fashion, animal rights, and, of course, her beloved mushrooms front and center.
Stella McCartney is no stranger to the climate crisis. It informs her work, her personal ethos, her very existence. Whether it’s an A to Z Manifesto, opting for natural textiles, or spearheading innovative replacements to animal textiles, the designer is constantly working to remind her customers and contemporaries that nature matters, and, indeed, working sustainably has never been more critical.
Her visit to COP26 ticked all of these boxes. She took Vogue behind the scenes of her COP26 journey.
“I arrived at COP26 ready to represent the fashion industry—one of the most polluting in the world. I was on a mission to attract the attention of those who have the power to make real change through policies, incentives, and investments supporting nature-positive innovation,” the designer said.
“I also asked everyone to sign my petition urging people to stop the use of animal leather and fur, and pledge to consciously reduce the amount of animal-based products that they consume in order to combat the climate and biodiversity crises. Leathers, skins, and some furs come from animal agriculture, which contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a consequence, this is driving climate change and species extinction by clearing vital ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest.”
McCartney has long been an advocate for shifting away from animal textiles. While she uses wool and silk in some designs, she’s never used fur or leather, opting instead for innovative alternatives, such as mushrooms for the latter. Despite the growing number of leather alternatives, talking about it as both ethical and climate issues, doesn’t often go over well, even for someone as loved as McCartney. “Even now, I think I’m getting some negative backlash being here and talking about this,” she said.
Bolt Threads founder Dan Widmaier along with Baran Kayhan, vice president of Soktas, the label’s regenerative agriculture partner, and Stacy Flynn, founder of Evrnu, who works with McCartney on waste issues, all joined the designer on a panel. The experts discussed material innovations as well as the need for investments into novel tech and materials, a move McCartney says needs the support of brands as well as governments “in order for them to scale and become more accessible to all.”
“If we want to save all our skins from the consequences of the climate and biodiversity crises, we need to stop fashion’s use of animal leather and furs. Mushrooms present a vegan alternative that can be grown regeneratively, renewably and quickly. How can you not be obsessed with these fantastic fungi?,” the designer asked.
McCartney is one of the first to bring mushroom leather to market in a partnership with Bolt Threads. But other luxury labels like Hermès—known for its use of animal leather—are also hopping on the mushroom bandwagon.
“Mushrooms are the future of fashion! I was so inspired by our collaboration with Bolt Threads and their vegan Mylo mycelium un-leather, I wanted the center of my COP26 installation to be a living sculpture of mushrooms. We also showcased the world’s first Mylo garments and my Frayme Mylo bag, which featured on our summer 2022 catwalk recently, and I plan to begin selling it next year! I love that people got to see Mylo up close and discover how soft and realistic it is,” McCartney said.
“Honestly, the environmental benefits are basically endless. Leather production is a huge, huge contributor to the climate, biodiversity and human rights crises, with [research from 2017 finding that] 90% of Bangladeshi tannery workers [were] dying before the age of 50. This must stop. Mylo is proof we no longer need to compromise by using animal leather and fur.”
The designer also pointed to one of her favorite sustainable materials, viscose.
“Money may not grow on trees, but forest-friendly viscose does! Harvested without harming ancient or endangered forests, it is one of our most versatile innovations showcased at my Future of Fashion installation,” she wrote on Instagram.
McCartney, who’s been talking about environmental and ethical issues for two decades, says COP26 is in some ways validation. “Coming here to COP has been really great for me, because I’ve been laughed at for the majority of my career,” the designer told the British Fashion Council’s Caroline Rush during a UN panel at the summit.
One person who hasn’t laughed at the designer: Prince Charles. He too has pivoted his platform toward the environmental crisis, most recently with the launch of a climate channel on Amazon Prime.
McCartney snapped a photo with the Prince and Leonardo DiCaprio at her Future of Fashion installation.
“One of my highlights of COP26 was to present my Future of Fashion installation to HRH the Prince of Wales and @LeonardoDiCaprio, two people that have been at the forefront of our fight for a more sustainable planet Earth,” she said.
“His Royal Highness was excited to learn about our innovative technologies—including the first-ever vegan football boot, the Predator Freak, that we created with our partners Adidas and legendary footballer Paul Pogba. We also spoke about the need for fashion to stop using animal leather and fur; a cause I have been fighting for since day one and, if we want to hit our 2030 climate goals, we cannot wait another moment,” she said.
A sustainable future
For McCartney, the path toward a more sustainable and equitable future isn’t just about supply chains and material innovations, though. It’s also about conservation—about protecting the planet and its incredible resources for future generations.
The designer, an avid cyclist, showed off her new collaboration with bike company Cannondale.
“At #COP26 with my custom Stella Shared 3 x Cannondale bike, launching today! Celebrating our collaborating artists, while staying fit and taking care of Mother Earth’s health too,” she wrote.
“Our Cannondale partnership energises Stella Shared 3—a unisex collection available now, offering our platform today to three artistic talents of tomorrow. Their hand-painted prints feature on custom bikes, with only 18 made in total.” The bikes will be auctioned for charity after they come off display later this month.
McCartney appeared on a panel alongside former Vice President Al Gore, marine biologist and activist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, “all of whom I’ve long admired for their ongoing commitment to the planet,” she wrote.
“Meeting Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate for the first time was also major, especially after hearing about her ongoing campaigning to support the Congo Basin rainforest and Uganda’s urgent climate issues. What an inspiring reminder of the power of the next generation to be the voices of tomorrow – and they were out in full force at COP26!,” McCartney wrote.
“Younger people will suffer the consequences of climate change and are so much more aware of it as a problem, but also its potential solutions. When they speak, we owe it to them to listen.”