The events of the last few months have prompted much reflection. The pandemic has forced the fashion industry to take stock and review systems that are outdated, unethical or morally wrong. The traditional catwalk show has been questioned – no longer does it feel relevant or environmentally sound to fly thousands of editors round the world to the various fashion capitals. Racial tensions have prompted the industry to face up to uncomfortable, dark truths about how it treats people of colour. Shoppers have have had cause to reconsider their spending habits and whether or not we really wear all that hangs in our wardrobe.
Gabriela Hearst, whose sustainably-made, timeless collections have made her a hit among critics and consumers alike, says it’s fashion’s duty – now more than ever – to drive positive change and to abandon existing systems that no longer serve us.
“In the short-term, the pandemic has caused us to pivot quickly into new ways of approaching and communicating with clients, because you can’t do it in person as much as we used to,” she told us. “I think we’re becoming more interested in products that are better for the greater good. In today’s world, if you are an individual or a company that is in a position to help, you must do so because that’s a duty. The awareness of becoming more sustainable and becoming a company who focuses on social impact for the greater good is important for everyone who is in business.”
The industry, she says, is in a unique and powerful position in terms of influence: it can entice consumers into more sustainable practices and mindful shopping just by creating covetable items using the right processes and materials. It faces a captive audience in which to impart crucial messages.
“Fashion is an incredible vehicle for positive change because we are very good at telling stories and creating beauty and imagery that attracts people,” she says. “We are a crossover between creative and business, so there is always that reach… We can bring in people if we can make them desire a certain product.”
Hearst is not someone who talks the talk without walking the walk. Sustainability is at the core of her brand, and it’s an ethos that is integral to creating her elegant, timeless clothes and accessories that accrue waiting lists. In September 2019, she staged the first carbon-neutral fashion show during New York Fashion Week, minimising carbon footprint through working with EcoAct and making a sizeable equivalent donation to the Hifadhi-Livelihoods Project in Kenya. Around 25 per cent of her collections are made from dead stock and she works with 600 women across Uruguay who hand-make her designs.
In November 2019, she worked with Save The Children and donated 100 per cent of her brand’s net proceeds to the charity’s relief efforts in war-torn Yemen from 2 to 9 December – a time when most brands are cashing in on Christmas sales. Her latest initiative sees her working with the foundation again, this time partnering with Net-a-Porter to donate 20 per cent of proceeds from her new bag collection to Save The Children’s global relief efforts in the fight against Covid-19. The project will span a two-week period, starting on 29 June.
“I’ve seen Save The Children’s work in person and in the field, as well as the global reach that they have,” she says, “They are always the first on the ground in the case of a crisis. With the pandemic hitting everyone worldwide, Save the Children has focused on giving relief to children that need so much. We do not think about the repercussions that children face by missing school. Hundreds of millions of children are out of school and families have lost income, so they are really suffering. As always, the most vulnerable suffer the most during crisis, and Save the Children is trying to bring relief. It’s very important for us to support them.”
The Baez bag is the latest addition to the Gabriela Hearst family fold, joining the sell-out Nina, as well as the Diana and Demi. First seen on the label’s spring/summer 2020 catwalk, the style gently unfolds and can be worn folded or styled as a small tote.
“The Baez is not only a beautiful object, but incredibly practical, as you can put a lot of things inside,” says Hearst. “It looks aesthetically very sharp, in the way that the closure works, and I like that you can choose between two silhouettes. I always like bags that can do more than one thing.”
The designer has spent lockdown in New York with her husband and three young children, and like, the rest of us, has experienced highs and lows. “It’s been a challenging time,” she says of the past few months. “I tried to keep a strategy to maintain day-by-day and also to keep myself positive. I’ve also tried to make sure that I’m practising self-care because I am a mother and a businesswoman. It’s been a difficult period for everyone, but I’ve tried to be grateful for everything that I have and with that gratefulness I hope that I advance forward in order to support my team and my family.”
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