Gabriela Hearst, 42, is a fashion designer who grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch in Uruguay. She lives and works in New York with her husband and five children and stepchildren. Since launching her luxury label three years, the award-winning designer has put sustainability at the forefront of her business. Known for her philanthropic endeavours, she’s also on the board of Save the Children.
A small company can provide a blue-print
We’re a small company but I really see ourselves as a laboratory. Our goal is to try and not take new natural resources from the planet. I would like to find a way of transforming our business not only into a neutral position but a positive position. But it’s one step at a time. The end goal is to show that a sustainable business can be viable. I want people to see that sustainability is good for business.
Keep to your principles
My first principle when starting the business was to be very mindful and grow organically. I had a problem with the strategy of the handbags. It seemed that if we were to sell them wholesale, we would have had to manufacture double the amount to make the same money we would make from selling direct to customers. There are reasons to do that – you want your brand to be famous and create awareness by being everywhere, but that wasn’t the growth goal for me long term. I wanted to set a slower pace.
We’re going compostable
By April of this year we are planning to change to entirely compostable TIPA packaging. It was invented by two Israeli women and was seven years in research and development. I saw it early on when it was more geared to the food industry. I thought it was such an amazing solution to a big problem. First we developed packaging for everything that packs flat, sweaters, for example. Now we’ve designed and developed a hanging bag. It’s a bio-material that is compostable in 24 weeks, which is better than 500 years! I use them at home too. You can throw it in with your fruit and vegetable compost. We’re also using recycled cardboard hangers.
Sharing the lessons
I want to share what I learn. If other designers want to use our TIPA packaging that’s great. Copying and sharing isn’t a tradition in the fashion industry but initiatives and products like this are something that is good to copy!
I grew up on a ranch where nothing went to waste. Everything is re-used or relocated or recycled and used and used again. Our label makes a lot of product from remnant luxury fabrics. We work with the best mills in the world and I realised that they were always going to have beautiful fabrics in existence, which meant we didn’t have to produce so many new ones. At the start of each season I look at what fabrics we have in stock. We use them to make limited editions of things. We currently have an exclusive capsule at MATCHESFASHION.COM and that was made of 30%, maybe more, of existing fabric.
Climate change matters
We have 25 people in the company and we all feel inspired by the same things. We see what is happening. There are so many things that don’t even get to the news cycle – last year’s mudslides in India didn’t register in American news. These things are happening because of climate change and it’s going to get worse. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. In 2017 I went with Save The Children to the Turkana region of north Kenya where 20 million people were at risk of famine because of drought. It was devastating. All their stock had died. The women were spending all day digging dry river beds to try and get water. When you speak to a woman who had to choose which of her children to save because she could only take one to a doctor it changes everything. I asked Save The Children how much it would cost to support the community for 8 months, which was the estimated length of the drought. They told me $600,000. I came back to New York and said we have to do this. Our bags were really in demand so I thought we could make a limited edition of bags for a week and give all the wholesale money we made to Save The Children. You know what? We made the money in two days. It makes you want to do more.
Create the environment you want
We moved office in 2016 and when we were decorating we used a lot of furniture that we already had. Our showroom has our old sofas, that we reupholstered in fabrics that we already had. Our design table is our old dining table. We had very few new things. When we opened our New York store the main goal was to show that you could make a retail environment that was sustainable. There are no synthetic fibres, no-chrome paint, very clean wood, everything was thought out. We asked that 99% of the waste materials from the renovation were recycled. You can put that into your building contract. All businesses and individuals can do this.
Passing on the values
My personal values are the same as my professional values. At home, we have no plastic toys. My 10-year-old twins are fine with it. My 3-year-old keeps saying: but this isn’t plastic! I don’t win all my battles! But this Christmas all presents were non-plastic and the Christmas tree was made out of recycled plastic. Next year I’ve told them it’s all second-hand gifts.