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Stella McCartney Is Making The Best Athleisure Out There

For Stella McCartney, a sustainable, ethically conscious, eco-minded ethos is just as important as the design itself. Her 15-year-old eponymous label refers to itself as "the world's first and only vegetarian luxury brand," producing high-end alternatives to fabrics like leather and fur; McCartney herself grew up on a farm in the English countryside and has adhered to an animal-free diet since childhood (she also tells Refinery29 that she exercises "six times a week"; and her now 12-year-long women's fitness-wear partnership with Adidas preaches these fundamental values as well.

In 2004, when McCartney and Adidas first connected, the term "athleisure" was just a twinkle in the fashion industry's retail eye. Sure, the concept may not be anything new — in fact, it dates back three decades — but its impact in 2016 is unrivalled, with a £80 billion market attesting to its popularity. Today the arena may be highly lucrative, but it's also heavily saturated at all tiers: There are the quintessential sports-oriented mega-corporations like Adidas, Nike, Puma; there are the indie labels that emerged toward the beginning of the phenomenon, such as Bandier and Outdoor Voices; there are the celebrity-backed collaborations, like Beyoncé's Ivy Park and Kate Hudson's Fabletics; and there are big-name designers, like Prabal Gurung and Tory Burch, who've launched offshoots.
Photo: Courtesy of Adidas.
Competition is, of course, a good thing. But where does McCartney's line for Adidas, one that's been at the forefront of the movement, fall into an equation so many other brands are becoming a part of, and how does it stay ahead of the curve?

"Today I was looking [at the new collection], and I was like, 'Wow, it still looks really great,'" the designer says at the Los Angeles debut of her SS17 offering. "I think we deliver great design, technology, and performance, and that we’re at the top of our kind of competition. We do have a lot more competition now — and I do think that we sort of brought that upon ourselves. But I think the reality is, when we started, nobody was doing really chic, fashionable, and cool performance sportswear, and nobody knew where to sell it."

"For us to keep ahead of the curve is definitely in the technology," she adds, "and that’s something Adidas is really at the forefront of. We have amazing things in this collection that we can bring to the customer, and each season we’re just getting better at that. But I think that this marriage, a true marriage between fashion and sportswear, is what we do, and we do it very well. Our quality’s high and our price points are actually really competitive. I think people look at our stuff and they’re like, 'Oh, I can’t afford that,' because it looks so expensive and the quality is so good. But actually, it’s completely in line with our competitors, if not under some of them. I also have an amazing opportunity through this to work with great athletes [this summer, the duo dressed Team Great Britain for the Olympics], and I think there’s very few collaborations for women that are even focusing and looking at female athletes, you know? That’s something that I take very seriously, and luckily Adidas does, too."
For McCartney, the ultimate success of the collaboration lies in not compromising on either style or performance potential. The former, of course, is clear in the line's design, particularly its inclusion of colour and print in a way that feels thoughtful. "I would never want anyone to sacrifice style for sport," she says. "We all fall back on black, black, black, black, black, and it hides a lot of things we don’t really want to bring to the forefront in exercise. But I want to really encourage new palettes; I really encourage variety in your sportswear. Because I think, why not? You do it in your fashion, why would you not do it in your sportswear?" The latter comes through Adidas' continued innovation. In this offering in particular, bright purples, pinks, maroon, and highlighter orange are married with advanced knitwear, neoprene, and spandex. Basically, it looks good but works even better.

And then there's the environmentally conscious factor, something that's impossible to ignore, especially when considering McCartney's legacy as a designer. Her latest collection for Adidas, she notes, is 38% sustainable. "We have tons of recyclable polyester in the running, and we have a lot of organic pieces and a lot of engineered pieces that create zero waste when we make them," she says.
"I'm always keeping women in mind and how I want them to feel about themselves; trying to encourage them to be their best and to be a conscious consumer," McCartney explains. "We’re always considering the environment. That's important to us. It’s important that when you buy and invest in a Stella McCartney x Adidas piece that you know it’s gonna be with you, hopefully, for life. We make the quality of what we do. It’s not throwaway sportswear, and there’s a lot of that out there now that can become landfill."

"And I’m always considering how I can help in a workout. I mean, how much time do you allow yourself to work out in your day? So I think the way I start the collection is always with that emotion. It’s always that feeling that I’m trying to make this a bit easier and a bit more fun for women. I want them to feel good and look good. I don’t want them to go, 'Ugh, I’ve got to work out,' and 'Ugh, I’ve got to wear that again.' I want them to have the technology. I want them to have everything they need. I also want to educate them. Because men are really treated with high regard when it comes to sports, and I think women are less so. For me, I want to give and deliver to women the same technology and information. I want them to know that we deserve the very best."