You may already know that Julie Gilhart is the Senior Vice President and Fashion Director of Barneys New York. What you may not know is that she also takes on the role as a mainstream eco-fashion advocate. In a sustainable fashion focused conversation hosted at the Fashion Institute of Technology last week, Gilhart shared the various ways that she – and Barneys – are striving to be more eco.
Gilhart opened the discussion by stating that just two-years-ago, you would never find her talking to FIT students about social responsibility in fashion. She quickly segwayed into the various campaigns that Barneys New York has been running since about 2007 with social responsibility at its core. Through designer collaborations including upcycling, ethical outsourcing to developing countries, organic cotton initiatives and sustainable fiber production, Barneys is quickly becoming a green beacon for the fashion industry.
Enthusiasm for eco-fashion awareness is high, yet Gilhart tempers that consumers are still learning about sustainable fashion. “We asked Stella McCartney to do a line and source only organic cotton. The label read: ‘Stella McCartney Organic’ and it really turned the customer off. They thought that since the garments were produced with organic cotton, their quality was less than,” stated Gilhart.
There is a fine line when educating the consumer. If a brand boasts about its green credentials too loudly, consumers are put off, yet they simultaneously need those green flags to go up, otherwise they don’t know what they are buying. “It is important to get the consumer to understand that what they are buying has an impact,” asserts Gilhart.
Perhaps what we need are a few role models to show us the ropes. So how does Gilhart incorporate eco practices into her lifestyle? She shared a few tips:
– Be proud of your clothes and wear them over and over. It is okay to wear the same shirt or pants two days in a row or multiple times in a week.
– Buy expensive pieces that last and are of higher quality.
– Take good care of your clothes. Have them dry cleaned, and repaired when needed.
– Don’t buy cheap clothing that you have to keep replacing.
– Buy less.
– Know where your clothing comes from and support locally, or even domestically, produced brands.
Julie was quick to admit that based on her job and involvement with designers, it is quite easy for her to make educated purchasing decisions. Luckily, for the rest of us, we can head to Barneys and shop eco-fashion that is seamlessly integrated into their fashion offerings. “You have to put design and style first,” says Gilhart. “Start with the front story and then you can share the backstory.” When you shop at Barneys, the staff are trained on the different lines and will be able to share those backstories of a more eco-friendly nature with you. The idea is that you will pick out a piece because you like it, and then learn of its eco-added bonus. At the moment, this is Barneys working an eco-fashion integration model. What do you think? Should designers and stores clearly advertise their eco-backstories or let the consumer passively discover them through their shopping?
Let’s continue the conversation.