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Gabriela Hearst, Tracy Reese, Maria Cornejo and Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour Share Visions for a Future of Conscientious Luxury

By Emily Peagram 18 Dec 2020

At the virtual fashion experience Discover the SDGs, convened by the Conscious Fashion Campaign in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, fashion designers Gabriela Hearst, Tracy Reese, Maria Cornejo and Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour joined Lucie Brigham, the Chief of Office at United Nations Office for Partnerships and Sarah Willersdorf, the Managing Director and Partner and Global Head of Luxury at Boston Consulting Group to discuss their brands future plans and specifically rethinking New York Fashion Week.

“Our main goal now—which is by the end of 2021—is to be using at least 80% of materials [which are] recycled and repurposed. Then, we want to be able to ship as much as the majority of our production by boat.”

Gabriela Hearst, Designer and Founder of the eponymous label and the newly-appointed Creative Director at Chloe, shares how she is redefining what it means to create a “luxury” product.

As designers who are leading a sustainable revolution within the industry, Hearst, Taymour, Cornejo, and Reese touch on several common threads during their conversation. Mainly, the designers vocalize the need to reimagine what constitutes a “luxury” item, as well as the need to educate consumers about sustainability.

Discover the SDGs, accessible until December 30, aims to advance knowledge and strengthen engagement from the global fashion industry to further support the Decade of Action and the deliverance of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The online educational experience, powered by Arch and Hook, Artistic Milliners and Lenzing; and supported by Interwoven, ITL Group and Orta, includes on-demand conversations featuring United Nations representatives and fashion industry leaders from Kering, Allbirds, PVH, CFDA, the British Fashion Council, Messe Frankfurt and the Swarovski Foundation.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated much of the industry and the global economy, Cornejo sees a silver lining when it comes to how the fashion world is being forced to assess its contributions to pollution and environmental waste. She notes that the pandemic has held a mirror up to many within the industry, illuminating the very real cause and effects of irresponsible production. As a result of this heightened awareness, she advocates for her fellow designers and producers to fundamentally alter the way they design, produce, and advertise to their clients. Calling this new approach, “conscientious luxury,” a luxury which utilizes the Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap, Cornejo shares how Zero + Maria Cornejo is already implementing and communicating this shift to consumers:

“[We have] sweaters we make in Bolivia. I get every single knitter to sign the piece, because to me, that’s the new idea of luxury, that we’re sustaining a community of women knitters, women who are using this money to help their children to build, to bring up their communities…And I think the idea of luxury right now is things that have been touched by hand.”

Key features of this conscientious luxury, according to Hearst, are a closed loop of manufacturing and a smaller scale. “We need to teach young designers that small is the new big,” Hearst notes. Cornejo adds to this notion, stating, “We want to ask designers to produce less collections but make them count.”

Echoing this vision of redefined luxury, Hillary Taymour explains how the impact of the pandemic has furthered her own desire to promote a radical shift toward sustainability—both in her products and how they are displayed:

“If we go into working in fashion weeks and real shows again, how do we do it? How do we make sure it’s sustainable? How do we engage with our customers and think on a different level about what the “norms” of fashion [are]? Because it doesn’t have to be what it has been. We can still create fun content; and we can still create beautiful clothes that are conscious and made correctly, or made out of vintage t-shirts from the trash in Ghana.” Taymour cites the need for creativity and technology to be further utilized by the industry as it is being forced to evolve.

However, upcycling and using recycled materials is only a single piece of the puzzle. These innovations and calls for the industry to be more conscious must be supplemented by greater education and awareness. Tracy Reese explains that in order for the industry to have a true impact, it must also reach and educate consumers, empowering them to make conscious decisions:

“My mission here, in Detroit, is to educate my community, to talk to young people. We have to talk to the future, especially kids in urban settings who don’t have access to all of the science and intellect, and who are living sometimes on the poverty line or below. They don’t know what luxury is beyond what they can’t afford to have. I think explaining to them what it really means, where clothing comes from, who are the people behind the pieces that they’re craving, or the pieces that they’re throwing away. And what that means to other communities. I think it’s incredibly important when people have this knowledge and can make informed decisions.”

Empowering young consumers and young designers, alike is a consistent call-to-action from these designers. By using the present global health crisis as a platform for urgent change and education, they are hopeful for 2021, and beyond. Ultimately, the industry has an opportunity to recover better together using the pandemic as a catalyst toward more sustainable practices rooted in the SDGs. However, these goals can only be achieved—as the designers noted—if there is immediate collaboration, education, and creativity within the industry.

To listen to the discussion “Sustainability by Design: Rethinking New York Fashion Week,” please visit for more information.

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