Gabriela Hearst is as much an advocate for positive change as she is a fashion designer. During the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, we’ve caught sight of her “The Ram-Ovaries” sweater, a design of 100 percent merino wool with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. Through pieces like this and collections at large, her dedication to design and activism is further articulated by philanthropic work, along with responsible material, workplace, and pricing choices.
Whitewall spoke with the designer about her passion for change, and dedicating herself to quality, transparency, and sustainability.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your upbringing, and how growing up on a ranch in Uruguay inspired your label’s minimal aesthetic focused on quality.
GABRIELA HEARST: It really formed a very specific point of view—growing up in a remote landscape, in a place where my family has been for generations. I grew up with objects and structures that were made to last. Quality was a needed characteristic, while opulence was not. Things needed to last from a utilitarian perspective. Nothing got thrown out; things got repurposed. The objects and my surroundings had characters, formed by the lives that were lived and the testament of nature making its mark.
WW: Tell us a bit about your Fall/Winter 2018 collection, inspired by women in the workforce.
GH: Our Spring 2018 collection, where we looked at men of style and menswear, was a prelude to the Fall 2018 collection. For Fall, the main inspiration was women that had to dress like men to enter the workforce. Our research focused on female Victorian coal miners, and World War I and World War II factory workers. So many interesting facts came to life while studying the formidable power of women, and we tried to honor it with joy in our collection.
WW: In addition to being vocal about equality, you’re also an advocate for the awareness of climate change. Your knits are often made with deadstock fabrics, eliminating the carbon footprint of new materials. Can you tell us a bit about your dedication to sustainability?
GH: I am a mother, and I come from a culture where we have to leave our children better off than when we started. I don’t think we are doing a good job to secure our children’s futures. Climate change is the number-one threat that we are facing as a species. We are making our earth uninhabitable. This is the first time in the history of our planet that climate change is produced by humankind. I am passionate about it because I care about children and their futures.
There is damage that is not reversible, but it is worth working toward trying to change what is. The technologies to do this are all in existence. It will take education, policy, and the consumers to demand the shift. Climate change is happening now. The people that have the least are the ones that are suffering first. For example, the ongoing drought in Africa in the arid and semi-arid regions—there are millions of people at the risk of famine. I witnessed the severity with my own eyes last year. But at home in the U.S., the hurricane seasons are getting more destructive. The CEO of Save the Children said last year that in her life as humanitarian she has never seen so many crises happening at the same time. Most of them are a result of
climate change. It is my belief that it will produce mass migrations, social unrest, and we will all be affected by it sooner or later.
The one thing that makes me be positive is that renewal energies are becoming less expensive, and it is a good business practice. I know that that will make a shift special on developing countries.
In relation to what I do, I am very passionate about incorporating sustainable practices. My team is also dedicated in this subject. The resources are there if one is willing to just ask for a better alternative. I am excited about pursuing a sustainable way of creating luxury, which shouldn’t be wasteful.
WW: Everything you make is handmade in Europe and Uruguay. Tell us a bit about your dedication to quality, and how that affects sustainability.
GH: We work with Manos del Uruguay, a not-for-profit that is 50 years old and employs and empowers women. I am proud and honored to work with them. They are a successful blueprint in the not-for-profit world to see a self-funded co-op can thrive.
WW: For some of your accessories, you incorporate stones into the hardware (such as malachite, marble, and onyx in the heels of some of your shoes). Tell us about working with natural materials like this when designing.
GH: In some of the custom pieces, we use materials such as marble, lapis, wood, and raw rubies. These are usually for small closures, buttons, or buckles. I am fascinated by stones and the energy they emanate. Labradorite is my favorite right now. I have one in my office and I can lose myself staring at it. In certain pieces, like shoe heels, we mimic them in resin for durability purposes.
WW: Your philanthropic work is significant. What are some organizations or efforts you’re focused on at the moment?
GH: I am personally a fan of the work that Save the Children does. Also, Planned Parenthood. I dedicate my efforts to support them, but there is a lot to do. I want to do more for the ACLU. They need all the help they can get to fight for justice for the ones that can’t fight for themselves, especially in this challenging time.