LONDON — Stella McCartney has headed back to her alma mater Central Saint Martins as part of a project with Lenovo that challenges 38 MA Design Course students to come up with sustainability solutions in fashion.
As part of an eight-week “live brief,” the students will each be asked to explore the relationship between fashion and technology, and to create a sustainable solution that “pushes the boundaries” of where those two fields intersect.
McCartney described the brief as “open-ended,” and she and Lenovo want students to think outside the box.
Lenovo is providing cutting-edge Yoga tablets to each student who takes part, while McCartney has donated deadstock materials. She will choose the winner, and offer them a three-month internship at her brand.
McCartney said the goal is for students is to develop something “entirely new” in sustainable fashion. “What I would really love to see is innovation that could actually become something that replaces a traditional way of working and, in turn, reduces the overall impact” of the original process.
Simon Fraser, course director MA Design, Central Saint Martins, said a key part, of course, is about “understanding that the sustainability and ethicality of production is an urgent challenge to each of our disciplines: ceramics, furniture and jewelry,” and said the students and the staff have embraced the challenge.
In an interview over email, McCartney argued that the fashion industry “still typically uses the same 10 materials it’s been using for hundreds of years. Through my curiosity and research over the years, I know what sort of impact these traditional materials have on the planet,” she said.
The designer has long been working with traditional manufacturers and mills as well as start-ups. She said she’s been helping the start-ups get to a stage that allows them to scale.
“Only in the last few years have we really seen innovation ramp up, which just shows me how timely this (student) project is,” said the designer, who has recently been making clothing and accessories out of Mylo mycelium leather, and also working with grape-based leather alternatives.
Brian Leonard, vice president of design innovation at Lenovo, said his company strives to create “innovative and smarter solutions to build a more sustainable future,” which is why collaborating with McCartney and Central Saint Martins was the right move.
“We are setting the stage for the future generation of those who are looking to change the world,” he said.
Lenovo has recently outlined its vision to become net zero by 2050, and by fiscal 2025-26, the company said 100 percent of its PCs will contain post-consumer recycled materials, while 90 percent of plastic packaging will be made from recycled materials.
Asked how the partnership came about, McCartney said Lenovo approached her a couple of years ago, wanting to work with her team on a sustainability project.
“It’s interesting for me being a fashion designer and having the opportunity to take (our) big supporters, like Lenovo, and funnel their support into projects that could eventually benefit the future generations. We talked about what we could do together, and my intention is to spread the message of sustainable practice and to integrate it into people’s education as early as possible.
“Ultimately, (these students) are the ones who we are passing the baton to, so it was very important to me that we involved them in this project. Of course, my alma mater seemed like the most natural fit. It’s such a wonderful thing to be afforded to come home and learn from the CSM students as much as they will learn from me.”
McCartney said she has “really high hopes” for the outcome of the challenge.
“It was fascinating being on the other side of the lecture theater, hosting a session and answering the students’ questions that were coming my way. I was really impressed by how intelligent their questions were and their hunger for information. This project comes at crucial time, because we are living in the decade of change.
“Right now, if we all work together, we have the power to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius as set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. When it comes to my industry, importantly, we need government to set clear policy and regulations, and also introduce incentives for brands to work responsibly.”
She noted that for more established designers, “innovation is something they need to learn how to work with. We’re playing catch up.”
By contrast, “the new generation is learning how to incorporate a responsible way of working from the outset. It’s ingrained in these young designers, and so they continue pushing innovation throughout their careers.”