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Stella McCartney Is Taking Back Her Brand: What That Could Mean | Glamour

Stella McCartney Is Taking Back Her Brand: What That Could Mean | Glamour

Stella McCartney Is Taking Back Her Brand: What That Could Mean | Glamour
April 03
09:25 2018

Stella McCartney has made some trailblazing decisions throughout her career. She launched her eponymous fashion label back in 2001, in partnership with the major French fashion conglomerate Kering, at age 29, coming off a stint as creative director at Chloé (which she got only two years after she graduated from the prestigious London design school Central Saint Martins design college). In the 17 years since, McCartney has built an expansive, acclaimed lifestyle brand—one that’s been consistently innovative, particularly when it comes to sustainability and ethical practices. And soon it will be completely her own empire to run.

Last week the British designer announced she will buy back Kering’s 50 percent share of her brand. “It is the right moment to acquire the full control of the company bearing my name…. I look forward to the next chapter of my life and what this brand and our team can achieve in the future.” Stella McCartney (the brand) said in a statement.

That’s a big deal, for a variety of reasons—and one that has significant implications (and, maybe, offers major inspiration) for other female designers and executives.

The Fashion Awards 2017 In Partnership With Swarovski - Roaming Arrivals
PHOTO: Tristan Fewings/BFC

Stella McCartney on the 2017 Fashion Awards 2017 red carpet

“I can’t remember in my career a brand owned by LVMH, Kering, or one of the big luxury houses that was bought back by the designer,” explains Fern Mallis, the fashion consultant who created New York Fashion Week and hosts the Fashion Icons interview series at New York’s 92Y. “It’s great opportunity to fully own her name and her business. The timing, in this climate right now, makes a strong statement for women. What she’s doing at this moment in time, when women are stepping up, taking charge, and speaking out; bravo to her.”

By having full ownership of her label, McCartney could double down on certain tenets of her business that are important to her—the obvious one being vegetarian-friendly design. The designer is a lifelong vegetarian, and doesn’t use real leather, fur, or feathers in her collections, instead developing alternatives like her “fur-free fur” (unveiled in 2015) and “skin-free skin” (an alternative to leather, debuted in 2016).

“Stella’s DNA is rooted in sustainability, and this 100 percent control gives her the power to focus on this, and make her own design and business decisions,” says Hywel Davies, Central Saint Martins’ program director.

Stella McCartney - Runway RTW - Fall 2017 - Paris Fashion Week
PHOTO: Catwalking

A faux-leather look from Stella McCartney’s fall 2017 collection

McCartney has had certain advantages throughout her career: She’s Central Saint Martins educated, which opens up a pretty extensive fashion network; she’s also the daughter of a Beatle. (As to a report that Paul McCartney helped finance this deal, a brand spokesperson told Business of Fashion that he has “never been involved in the business.”) However, people who have started their fashion brands can attest to a series of challenges that are pretty universal—as Leanne Mai-ly Hilgar of the vegan brand Vaute explains: “The founder of a fashion apparel brand cannot scale, except very slowly, without an operations partner who has working capital to create inventory, so the options become: build a big brand and have a portion of control, versus keep your brand small and grow slowly and organically and have full control, with smaller impact.” If you do go with the former, it can be pretty difficult—and very expensive—to buy them out down the line. “Most designers don’t have the option of buying out their partner like Stella,” she says.

It’s important to note that, beyond a famous last name and a posh fashion education, McCartney had some very unusual circumstances working in her favor—like the fact that, back in 2001, the designer fought for an even 50-50 split ownership with Kering when she was launching her brand, as opposed to giving the conglomerate 51 percent. (This important distinction came as a piece of savvy advice from her uncle and lawyer John Eastman.) She’s also had a special clause in her contract with Kering, allowing her the option to repurchase the luxury powerhouse’s stake with a deadline of March 31, 2018.

Now that McCartney will successfully be taking over complete control of her brand, could this set a path to follow for other female designers who might find themselves in similar situations?

Vogue's Forces Of Fashion Conference
PHOTO: Dimitrios Kambouris

McCartney with Vogue fashion director Tonne Goodman at the ‘Forces of Fashion’ Conference in 2017

As in most industries, gender disparities still exist in fashion in the highest ranks. There are still fewer female creative directors at womenswear brands (40 percent female versus 60 percent male), as Business of Fashion reported in 2016. There are even fewer women in leadership or executive positions—only 25 precent or less, per the publication’s 2015 research. Mallis points out that there are indeed female designers who have control over their brands like McCartney shortly will (think Rachel Comey), though it’s still not a norm.

Clearly, more can and should be done to foster more female leaders, executives, and brand owners. That’s something that can start in the classroom at fashion institutions, much like the one McCartney found herself in back in the day, according to Davies: “Many of our successful fashion alumni and current tutors are brilliantly inspiring females, all who fly the flag as positive female role models; we are all feminists, and we have initiatives to support female leaders.” One of the most noteworthy partnerships is with Dior, through which Central Saint Martins offers mentorships to a selection of female students on how to navigate the fashion industry, a program the school hopes to expand further with other brands.

"Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala - Arrivals
PHOTO: George Pimentel

McCartney with Rihanna at the 2014 Met Gala

“Any positive message on females being successful should be applauded,” says Davies, noting a possible business takeaway for up-and-coming designers from the Stella McCartney news: “It suggests you do not have to be part of a conglomerate to be successful and grow your own brand.”

Now, there will likely be some trade-offs and added responsibilities that McCartney may be taking on, as full owner of her brand. “I would think that being part of Kering, there [were] benefits and opportunities, like shared resources, costs, human resources; there can be great synergy. So Stella is bringing on a lot more work and stress in her own life and business,” Mallis muses. “But on the other hand, there is something to be said for saying, ‘This is mine, my name’s on the door and the label, I want to wholly own it.’”

“She’s come up in an extraordinary way,” Mallis says of McCartney. “At the very beginning, people were just following her name, but she totally has proved herself as a top-notch designer with a great following, business, and business ethic. She’s formidable.”

Source: Stella McCartney Is Taking Back Her Brand: What That Could Mean | Glamour

About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

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