“Nothing We Put Out There Is Without Purpose”: Gabriela Hearst On Creating Luxury Out Of Waste
Gabriela Hearst weaves a sustainable concept throughout her autumn/winter 2020 collection, celebrating clever craftsmanship that transforms what we’ve already got...
Gabriela Hearst is at the forefront of a new generation of sustainable designers – case in point, last September at NYFW, when she staged the industry’s first ever carbon-neutral show. This season, however, she’s looking to the past to safeguard fashion’s future. “We have to go back to how we used to do things, before polyester invaded our lives,” the New-York based designer, who grew up on a ranch in Uruguay, tells Vogue. “We have to look at how things were made in the past. [Nowadays], there's this pressure for growth all the time – what's the real cost of that?”
“I'm trying to be really diligent in making sure that nothing we put out there is without purpose,” she says, acutely aware of the world’s limited resources. “If it's not repurposed, it has other elements: supporting craftsmanship, [or] a mill that still wants to produce beautiful fabrics.”
As Hearst explains, there’s no quick fix for a more sustainable fashion industry; here she shares the developments she is making this season in an effort to get her brand there.
What’s the concept behind your autumn/winter 2020 collection?
“The parameter of the collection is that it would have to work with waste, because we have limited natural resources. We believe we live in this endless cornucopia, which is not the case. Designers [have the] ability to use what is available and transform it into something that still has a standard of design, luxury, quality and craftsmanship.”
Tell us about the pieces you’ve upcycled.
“We've taken broken Turkish antique rugs and parceled them together to make outerwear pieces that are lined with bouclé cashmere. Each of these pieces is going to be one of a kind. We've taken old pieces from our stock, like two coats that we love in two different colourways, and disassembled and reconstructed them. It’s a lot of hand labour, but you're using something that's already in existence; you didn't take something new to make it.”
What other textiles have you used this season?
“We're using around 30 per cent recycled cashmere; this is the first time we have had so much availability of really interesting recycled cashmere. It's aesthetically a little bit different than if it was new, but you can still make it work; if something's a better option, why not? [The] recycled yarn comes from a supplier in Italy. And we have this beautiful twill that's in cashmere for tailoring; it’s incredible. I love things that look very unassuming, but are tremendously luxurious.”
There’s a lot of hand-knitting in this collection. Was that a conscious decision?
“I love the natural intelligence of something that's done by humans, versus AI [artificial intelligence]. It’s about not forgetting how to do things with our hands. I like the hand interpretation; I like the human error.
“We’ve used two hand-knitters this season. I work with a not-for-profit, Manos del Uruguay, which has been employing female workers for over 15 years; it's a very empowering institution. We're also working with Magdalena, who is our hand-knitter locally. She does a lot of the macramé and recruits some other ladies to work with her. They do an amazing job; it’s real artisans’ work.”
The leather has been hand painted as well. Why is recognising the value of craftsmanship important to you?
“We're hand painting on a lot of textures, including leather (a by-product of the meat industry). It's one of the oldest techniques that we've used. I have a huge respect for craftsmanship and artisanship, and collective work. It’s really [about] trying to conserve quality. I feel like a lot of quality is going down the drain these days because not a lot of people are fighting for it. So, I try to.”
You held the first carbon-neutral show in the fashion industry last season. What other elements of the production have you considered in terms of environmental impact?
“It wasn't an intention to be the first. We needed to understand how much carbon footprint to put on a show; to get a number to be able to lower it. So, of course we're measuring the carbon footprint of this show as well and offsetting [the carbon emitted]. But offsetting is not the solution; it’s like adding a tip.
“The show itself doesn't have much of a carbon footprint; we are pretty conservative energy wise. No appliances are used backstage, it's more about the flying of the collection. The set is [made from] recycled and repurposed [materials], and everything gets repurposed afterwards. We’re using recycled paper bales as decoration [this season]. The aim is to be less wasteful.”
Following your show, Burberry and Gucci also announced they were making their shows carbon neutral. What do you make of the progress the industry is making?
“I applaud the big brands that take initiative, because I think sometimes people are scared to say or do something because it's not perfect. A bigger company has higher risks of being exposed; people are quick to judge. If there's a true intention for improvement and [there is] the data to show what you’re doing is actually efficient, I think doing something is better than nothing. There's no quick or simple solution, but there is a lot to be done.”
You’ve spoken in the past about your sustainability goals, including using 80 per cent deadstock within three years and no virgin materials by 2022. Are you on track to meet them?
“We're mostly on track when it comes to using deadstock. It's harder than I thought to get that stock of a high-end quality. It's challenging, but it's what motivates me; if you have passion for something, you want to solve [the problem]. I think you can really use your creativity with a laser [focus], with more purpose.”
By Emily Chan