Stella McCartney profits from not using leather

Thursday, 29 November 2012
Faux snakeskin, leatherette, plexiglass: hardly the fabrics you associate with a luxury label, however at Stella McCartney they are the backbone of her accessories business, which does not use animal skins (read leather) or fur.

According to the McCartney's CEO, Frederick Lukoff, her social ethics have paid off dividends, as accessories now account for over a quarter of the brand's turnover, reports Pambianco.

François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of PPR, attributes the McCartney accessories’ success to consistency of message and matter, reported WWD: “It’s mainly due to the fact that they are true to the brand’s values,” said Pinault, who is very involved in environmental policies yet has no issue with leather goods. “Stella McCartney products reflect her principles, and people appreciate this. Not using leather or fur is part of that and creates a real point of difference. This commitment of Stella requires, as a consequence, to be even more creative and innovative, and she is.”

Handbags accounts for most of the label’s accessories business, but McCartney also sells shoes, sunglasses, jewellery and small non-leather goods.

“After a couple of years my then ceo James Seuss was like, ‘I’m not sure if you can have a really strong accessories business because you don’t use leather. It’s a real struggle and people can’t get their heads around it,’” said McCartney over breakfast at the Bristol hotel in Paris a few days before her spring show. The association between leather and luxury has long been ingrained in the consumer psyche — just look at Hermès — and in McCartney’s early days, few designers would consider working only with alternatives. “I was just getting to the point where I was kind of accepting that,” said McCartney. “I was like, ‘Wow. That’s why I can’t have a strong accessories business?’ The product’s great, it looks desirable, it feels desirable, it’s made as beautifully [as leather goods] and it takes as much time and consideration if not more, actually.”

“We have been so surprised at the business, quite frankly,” said Beth Kanfer, fashion and co-branding director of handbags, soft accessories and jewellery at Saks Fifth Avenue, McCartney’s biggest retail partner in the U.S. “We really thought our customers were leather- and exotic skin-focused, but the minute we bought the bags there was extreme demand."

“If you don’t have those sort of ethics built into your belief system, you probably won’t bother because it is so difficult each season just to find the materials and to find the colours and to find the wide scope of offerings,” said McCartney. “One season you can find incredible organic canvases that are price-point sensitive and can have the right look and that can deliver on quality and desirability, and then the next season they’re discontinued or the company went out of business because of the recession. It’s constantly moving and constantly changing,” she concluded.

Image: Stella McCartney AW/12

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