Gabriela Hearst is a proponent of longevity, in all interpretations of the word.
The Uruguayan designer uses it as a guiding principle for most areas of her life — from the way she designs her pieces, to the professional and personal relationships she cultivates, to the environment she keeps. Creating styles that last, using high-quality, sustainably sourced materials, has been a core tenet of her eponymous brand since it launched in 2015. Over the last three years, Hearst has continued to focus on building long-lasting pieces that are timeless, but with her signature flair.
“We don’t follow trends. I try to take as much time to design everything as I can. In a very funny way, we don’t follow trends, but end up setting the trends,” she said.
Now she’s setting her sights to philanthropic ventures, in a partnership with Save The Children in which Hearst will both donate $600,000 to fight famine in Kenya. To promote the cause, she will offer her handbags for the first time ever on luxury retail sites like Net-a-Porter, rather than exclusively on the brand site. (Given the intricacy of the handbags, consumers are typically asked to send a request for a product on the website, and Hearst’s team then follows up with additional information and pricing.)
“I don’t see another way for me to be in this business, unless I work to avoid creating a negative impact and ultimately create a positive impact,” Hearst said. “We all know that fashion as a business is the second largest polluter in the world. I think it’s about not being dormant and trying to do something about it.”
Here’s how Hearst managed to build a successful luxury brand based on sustainable and ethical principles.
Champion causes you care about…
In July, Hearst took a trip to Kenya with Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, to learn more about the growing rate of famine in the region and how to combat it. While Save the Children has helped numerous people in need by providing funding for food, livestock and clean water, Hearst learned the organization lacked the money required to help all the struggling families. In response, she pledged enough money to provide cash grants of $55 per month for the 1,000 families remaining without aid.
“I have been worrying about this cause for quite awhile,” Hearst said. “The U.N. has called this famine the biggest crisis since World War II. I just thought this was one of those things that’s going to get worse with time. I was able to identify a mission that we were able to accomplish.”
Following the Women’s March on Washington in January, Hearst also designed a “Ram-Ovaries” sweater, donating 100 percent of sales of the $699 style to Planned Parenthood. The cause was close to Hearst, who has lost family members to breast cancer.
Gabriela Hearst’s Ram-Ovaries sweater
…and make it count.
Companies often get pegged as disingenuous for donating money as a mere press-generating ploy. For Hearst, she said the Save the Children effort is more than just “writing the check, but also traveling back to Kenya and figuring out Phase 2, [in order] to craft continuity and establish a long-term effort.”
She said she hopes the effort will also hold longevity by building support through her consumers. While seeing the severity of Kenya’s hunger crisis firsthand inspired Hearst to pledge her own money, she also wanted to compel shoppers to join her. The decision to open sales of her latest handbag collection to both Net-a-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman (from October 1-8), a significant deviation from the way Hearst typically runs the bag sales, is a reflection of that.
Don’t skimp on quality (but own up to the price).
The Gabriela Hearst brand is no doubt high-end. This is in part a result of the materials Hearst uses; she said selling at the current price point (all of her dresses cost more than $1,200, and outerwear sells for as much as $5,000) allows her to continue to improve the quality and sourcing of her fabrics. In many ways, her approach was cultivated during her time growing up in a remote part of Uruguay: Rather than buying several cheap things, her family focused on purchasing fewer, high-quality items that would last, she said.
“I call it honest luxury. We never have a strategic price point; we determine it based on the materials used,” she said. “I try to buy the best of the best. I keep away from polyester and from cotton that’s not organic. We buy materials that are made by the top quality people.”
Share tricks of the trade.
For Hearst, sustainable practices should not be shrouded in secrecy or used among fashion brands as a competitive advantage. She said that sharing best practices, and ultimately even resources including factories and production tools, benefits all involved parties.
“I do wish everybody would have a sustainable plan and speak more openly about their initiatives,” she said. “For example, if we’re going to be the first fashion brand to use compostable packaging, and that’s our goal, I want everyone to know that. I want everyone to know the supplier, and then we can all work toward that.”