‘We’re not perfect, but we’re trying’: Gabriela Hearst from Chloé on making fashion sustainable

Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

When Uruguayan fashion designer Gabriela Hearst was announced as creative director of luxury fashion house Chloé in December last year, those familiar with her work knew it meant a change for the 70-year-old French brand, especially given the CEO. of the maison, Riccardo Bellini. , had already indicated that it was looking to take the label in a new, purpose-driven direction.

Hearst had long made a name for herself as a thoughtful designer concerned with making beautiful clothes, but not at the expense of our planet. The launch of his eponymous brand in 2015 came a few years after Hearst inherited his family’s ranch from his father, an experience that has shaped his commitment to sustainability.

Taking control of the farmland she grew up on and childhood memories of growing up off the grid deeply influenced her approach to fashion design – slow, small, and with an emphasis on creating handcrafted items. Many of Hearst’s leather bags, for example, are made to order or in small batches.

Based in New York for many years, Hearst now divides his time between the US and France, designing collections for both Chloé and her namesake brand. And while there are clear distinctions between the two labels, their design spirit remains consistent.

During an interview at Chloé’s Paris showroom, just days before he sat on a COP26 panel alongside artist Dustin Yellin and Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm, the designer spoke openly – and urgently. , on the role of fashion in change. the climate crisis in what she called “climate success.”

“I grew up on a farm,” he said. “Everything is used on a farm, so that’s where I learned utility skills for sustainability.

“We live in a (world) that is overproducing things that we don’t need,” he said, explaining that his three-point design approach focuses on fossil fuels, wasteful consumption and the need to rehabilitate the environment. “What is this product doing with these three points?” is one of the questions you ask when creating a new garment or accessory, he said. “Are you saving water? Are you using less fossil fuels? Can we transport it by boat (rather than by plane)?”

This ethic is, in part, why her clothing is so expensive: a handmade cashmere poncho from Gabriela Hearst is priced at over $ 3,000 and a leather skirt (already sold out on Chloé’s website). ) costs $ 5,895. Price tags may seem excessive, even for luxury fashion, but Hearst said he wants customers to think before they buy. You want your clients to see your designs as family heirlooms or at least as investments for life. If it looks that way, a pair of boots priced over $ 1,500, for example, can be seen as a more acceptable cost of $ 60 a year if worn for 25 years.

At the Met Gala in September 2021, Hearst dressed actress Gillian Anderson in Chloé. Credit: Arturo Holmes / MG21 / Getty Images

“I always tell my clients: ‘Don’t buy a lot, buy what you need, what you want, what you want to convey.’ It’s a mindset he learned from his mother, whose clothes, made by the family’s tailor, were meant to last a lifetime.

Hearst was drawn to Chloé because she had an aesthetic that she understood. “It was natural for my vocabulary,” she said, joking that the job had to be for her because she shares a name with the label’s founder, Gaby Aghion.

On a more serious note, the designer said she was motivated by the opportunity to implement the research and development that she and her Gabriela Hearst team had been conducting over the years. Could he expand it into the larger, more established house, he wondered? The answer seems to be: yes.

Hearst has created three collections for Chloé since taking the creative reins last year. His first designs were produced in two months, an extremely tight turnaround time. The Autumn-Winter 2021 collection, which was shown in March this year, featured a collaboration with Sheltersuit Foundation, a nonprofit organization that makes warm clothing for the homeless. Transforming From a duffel bag to a waterproof jacket and then to a sleeping bag with a few zippers, the charity’s Sheltersuits of the same name are made from recycled materials and dead material. Hearst invited founder Bas Trimmer to the in-house workshop to make a backpack using a similar spirit and some of Chloé’s stock materials. The label later announced that for every backpack sold, it would make two outerwear suits for those in need.

As for the rest of the collection, Chloé issued a statement stating that “it can be considered to have four times as many lower impact materials compared to last year.” Polyester and viscose were disposed of, recycled or reused, denim was organic, and vintage bags were reused. “New is not always better,” read a statement from Hearst, who is simply referred to as “Gabi” in press materials.

Gabriela Hearst cheers in victory after her last show for Chloé during Paris Fashion Week, where almost 60% of the materials used were low impact.

Gabriela Hearst cheers in victory after her last show for Chloé during Paris Fashion Week, where almost 60% of the materials used were low impact. Credit: Kristy Sparow / Getty Images

Their third and most recent collection for the label came with an announcement that more items than ever would be handcrafted by independent artisans under a new sub-brand, Chloé Craft.

“While Chloé Craft is innately low impact, the challenge is finding ways to make bulk-produced items more environmentally friendly,” reads a statement that also details how staples like the Nama tote bag and sneakers ( that are sold at a comparative price in larger quantities) have been upgraded to use lower impact materials.

The open-air show was held along the Seine River in Paris, and the guest seats were made of bricks by a French organization called Les Bâtisseuses (The Builders), which teaches green building skills to refugee women.

Hearst stands out in an industry rife with symbolism and “green washing.” His motivations are deep and personal. Regardless of her position in the fashion industry, she approaches the subject as “a human being, a mother who is concerned about my children and other people’s children,” she said.

Several years ago, a trip with a British charity, Save the Children, to northeast Kenya gave Hearst a first-hand look at the human cost of the climate crisis. Serious drought in 2017 he had devastated the people he knew. It’s experiences like these, she said, that motivate her to use her platform to act. “I see too clearly what the result is, if we don’t act, and I can’t turn a blind eye.”
This chunky white knit dress from Chloé's Fall-Winter 2021 collection.

This chunky white knit dress from Chloé’s Fall-Winter 2021 collection. Credit: Zoe Ghertner / Chloé

Last month, Chloé announced that it had officially achieved B Corporation status, a rigorous certification process that assesses a company’s social and environmental impact, a first for the luxury fashion industry (although Hearst hopes it will not be the last).

The designer acknowledges that despite her and her team’s best efforts, there is much more work to be done. But, Hearst said, time is running out and this is not the time for perfectionism. “I’m from the belief system that everyone is nervous about doing things perfectly, but … we have to go with ‘good enough’. You have to be able to say, ‘We’re not perfect, but we’re trying.’ .

“We are all trying to find a way to do business in a new economy, and if you are not trying to do this, you will be left out.”

Days later in Glasgow, Hearst, flanked by Daniel Humm and Dustin Yellin, told a small audience of COP26 delegates, “It will be the artists and scientists who get us out of this, not the politicians.”

“It will take ingenuity to believe that something can happen.”


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