Hearst is happy to point to several achievements in this collection. Botanical dyes are part of it—like the shade of Gaby Aghion pinkish orange in the merino wool skirt-and-sweater set. There’s also biodegradable denim, which Hearst cut into a pair of high-waist flares and a matching jacket. “This is the third season we’ve been working with Adriano Goldschmied [the legendary denim expert] on this project to resolve circular denim, following the Jeans Redesign Guidelines published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,” she said. The production of the new Chloé jeans eliminates rivets, which never break down, and the fabric is a mix of 70% recycled cotton and 30% hemp, “which is grown in France. Hemp and linen cultivation emit less greenhouse gases and require less water compared to cotton,” she noted.
But to vegan and vegetarian customers—and anyone who’s read recent reports about fashion’s links with cattle farming and deforestation in Brazil—the noticeable amount of leather in the collection will raise eyebrows. “From the point of view of sustainability, I have a very specific position about leather,” argues Hearst. “Leather is biowaste of the meat industry. I am very against industrialization of meat—I’m really against the way livestock is being industrialized. I don’t think we can afford eating a high-meat-protein diet, and definitely don’t recommend it.” But while she accepts that moving toward plant-based diets “is better for the environment,” from her perspective, “the truth is nobody’s killing the animal for the leather. The price of leather is going down and people are wasting it.” That in itself creates an environmental disposal situation. “What are we going to do with the leather, other than just use it?”
The Chloé press release states how the sourcing of the Chloé leathers is certified by the Leather Working Group, which is “an international organization made up of stakeholders across the leather supply chain, working to promote environmental best practice within leather manufacturing and related industries.” The organization looks into the operations of tanneries, “meaning that the leather process is done properly, meaning not wasting water and not using harsh chemicals,” as Hearst puts it. Around 75% of the leather handbag offering is sourced from Leather Working Group–certified tanneries.
Nevertheless, there is always further to look into. A report in The Guardian on November 29 spotlighted research by Stand.earth, a supply-chain research company partnered by the Slow Factory and Model Activist, showing that the Leather Working Group’s remit stops at capturing what happens in tanneries and slaughterhouses. Its visibility doesn’t reach back to what happens at the farm level, and therefore “does not ascertain whether hides are linked to deforestation.”
Under normal practice, hides come into tanneries from multiple sources and are often mixed up, meaning that fashion brands—across luxury and mass manufacturing alike—are “at risk” of unknowingly buying into the destruction of the Amazon rain forest with the finished product. “As many Amazon leaders have warned,” the Slow Factory writes on its Instagram page, “this is a human rights/climate/biodiversity/public health crisis with consequences for the entire world.”
That’s a much vaster issue than Chloé. It spreads across the entire industry and puts question marks over every leather bag, shoe, and coat we buy (it’s also an issue in the auto industry, which is the second-largest user of leather after fashion.) Only diligent and widespread normalization of tracing and labeling, and the development of sounder alternatives, can solve this. Knowing Gabriela Hearst, she’ll be among the first to step up to working on finding those answers.