Since launching her eponymous label in 2015, the Uruguayan-born, New York–based designer Gabriela Hearst has become known for her sincere, forward-thinking approach to sustainability; her slow-growth business ethos; the long waiting lists for her limited-production handbags; her impeccable tailoring; and her high-quality collections that, season after season, have consistently been hailed as critics’ favorites. For her, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword or an item to tick off a list; it’s something essential and, most importantly, actionable.
Last year, Hearst presented the industry’s first-ever carbon-neutral runway show. A collaboration with Bureau Betak and EcoAct, the presentation was done completely sans blow dryers, straighteners, or curling irons, models were sourced locally, and a carbon-offset fund for the energy-related production costs was donated to the Hifadhi-Livelihoods Project in Kenya. Hearst regularly uses deadstock in her collections. She recently made all of the brand’s packaging biodegradable and compostable, and also tweaked her supply chain to ship by boat instead of by air freight. Hearst’s new eco-conscious store in London’s Mayfair neighborhood, designed by Norman Foster, includes custom furniture made from a tree that fell in a storm and herringbone oak flooring reclaimed from a military barracks. Her preferred word for sustainability? Accountability.
Raised on a ranch that has been in her family for six generations—which her father bequeathed to her in 2011 when he passed away—Hearst, early in her life, became interested in where things come from and how they’re made, and in understanding the true value of utility, namely that making well-constructed things that stand the test of time matters. Now, in the age of climate change, her less-but-better mindset has become all the more relevant and pressing. Creating timeless, long-lasting clothing, she says, is the only reasonable (and yes, sustainable) way forward. Eschewing a trend-driven outlook in favor of one that’s about creating fewer, better items that her customers will keep forever, Hearst continues to be informed by her upbringing on the farm. It’s an approach that appears to be working: The company had a turnover of between $15 and $20 million in sales revenue in 2018, and last year LVMH Luxury Ventures bought a minority stake in it (the majority is owned by Hearst and her husband and business partner, John Augustine “Austin” Hearst, a TV and film producer and media executive who is the grandson of William Randolph Hearst).
On this episode of Time Sensitive, Hearst speaks with Spencer about everything from her youth on a ranch in rural Uruguay, to her personal definitions of sustainability and luxury, to her roundabout path to becoming a fashion designer, to her mother’s Zen Buddhist teachings.