Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Julie Gilhart, the Fashion Director and Senior Vice President of Barneys, in conversation with Colleen Hill and Jennifer Farley, the curators of FIT’s Eco-Fashion: Going Green Exhibit.
Not only was Gilhart a sight to see, dressed in an embellished leather jacket and leopard boots, but she was also very intriguing to hear. She talked about sustainability in regards to Barneys and initiatives that the high-end luxury store has been associated with in the past, and present, and will be in the future.
Some of my favorites included Lauren Pierce, a sustainable designer known for her knack for social responsibility. All of the fabrics in her collection are hand dyed by women in the Congo, and Pierce tracks which woman dyes what garment. The end result is a highly personalized, and beautiful piece.
I was also at the edge of my seat while Gilhart talked about a project called Plastics is 4Ever. This basically started out as a partnership between Loomstate and Christie’s, for which Loomstate designed a line of T-shirts that were sold through Christie’s, and 100% of the profits went to four different sustainable organizations. With 5,000 shirts produced, 60% were sold as a result of the partnership with Christie’s. Plastics is 4Ever took care of the other 40%.
Gilhart told the audience about a woman who collects plastic scraps that she finds on the beach and creates jewelry out of them with fishing wire. So, she took the leftover Loomstate t-shirts and had Ecuadorian workers sew her plastic jewelry onto the shirts. The colorfully cool shirts will be sold in Barneys come spring, for $150.
Gilhart also mentioned YSL New Vintage, a mission that tackled high-end designers and their tendency to generate exclusive fabrics that often go to waste, i.e. they are burned when the designer is done with them. Gilhart and her team at Barneys had YSL designer Stefano Pilati, use his unique fabrics to create a special collection of iconic styles that sold well in the past. Great thinking, huh?
As for the future, Gilhart talked about some super cool things to come in the sustainable fashion world. My favorite was artist Greg Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s nephew, who has started designing jackets out of army duffle bags. Unbelievably impressive.
So all in all, Gilhart was a real delight. An awesome question was asked by one of eco-fashion’s big names, Greta Eagan, who also happened to be in the audience. Having founded Fashion Me Green, she inquired about the best way to go about educating consumers who aren’t aware of sustainable design and how fashionable it can be.
Gilhart’s response was quite intelligent, so I have divided it into 4 parts.
1. It is important to wait for a customer to be sold on a product’s design before telling the sustainable backstory.
2. Targeting the top three fashion designers and having them do some sort of sustainable capsule collection, would help to open up the customers’ eyes.
3. High-end designers collaborating with ethical organizations can only be a good thing.
4. The prevalence of celebrity culture in America. Gilhart would love to see someone like Michelle Obama wear sustainable brands, because that would really be a call to change.
So there you have it, highlights from FIT’s talk with Julie Gilhart. Advice for the future—-DO NOT miss her next appearance, wherever and whenever that may be!