A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For designer Gabriela Hearst, her genius plan to use her hero handbags as a vehicle to raise awareness for the severe drought in east Africa—which has left vast swaths of the continent from South Sudan to Tanzania parched and on the brink of famine—came when she traveled more than seven thousand miles from her home in New York to Turkana County, Kenya with Save the Children. This week only you can skip the (miles long) wait-list to purchase Hearst’s ultra-covetable Nina bag and other sculptural leather totes on Net-a-Porterand at Bergdorf Goodman, where they are available for the first time, and support her pledged $600,000 donation to Save the Children towards food, livestock and clean water to see more than 1,0000 families through the next harvest. Here she talks with Harper’s Bazaar exclusively about her experiences in Kenya, the looming hunger emergency, and why fashion must be more conscious.
HARPER’S BAZAAR: How did you decide to get involved with Save The Children’s famine relief efforts in Kenya?
GABRIELA HEARST: I’ve been very worried about the drought in the semi-arid region of Africa because there are around 20 million people at risk of famine. Camels are dying. When camels are dying, it’s a problem. Dying of hunger is not a good way to die. The way I see it is the big picture: this is our future. Climate change is the number one threat to us as a species. We live in our bubbles of comfort, of air conditioning and pre-made things and don’t like to think about it, but what’s happening there, it’s going to happen to all of us.
HB: And so you went there?
GH: I wanted to go see it with my own eyes. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew that I wanted to help because I felt like there was a direct connection to what I care about, which is women and the environment. I traveled with Save the Children president and CEO Carolyn Miles in July. We visited mobile health centers, which are basically huts, where every two weeks the field workers come and do mass screening for malnutrition where they measure the circumference of the head, the circumference of the arms. They give out these lifesaving Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food packets that are flavored like peanut butter and contain 500 calories. They also treat the children for respiratory infection and other illnesses that malnutrition can cause.
HB: What was the most surprising thing you witnessed?
GH: Some of the mothers said to me, “We’re going to go to the river,” and at the river, there was no river. It was just a dry riverbed where the women dig holes for hours to get water. I realized that women, we’re the same everywhere. We have to fight for our kids.
HB: Did your experience match your preconceptions?
GH: I thought I was going to feel a lot of sadness, but what I felt was admiration. One of the most inspiring things I experienced was home visits to children in recovery. These women lost everything, they have no more animals. Yet they are still striving and doing everything they can to survive. Save the Children also runs a cash transfer program that provides families with a $50 monthly stipend for the things they most urgently need, food and livestock. The problem is that in the region where I was there’s 1,000 families, and Save the Children only has funds to cover 100 of them. And so, I came back and I was like, “this is what I want to target”—because obviously the problem is so big, and it needs a lot of attention that it’s not getting and my hope is that more donors will step forward—but I could raise $600,000 to cover the rest of the families that Save the Children couldn’t cover.
Gabriela Hearst bags, $1,495-$2,795, net-a-porter.com. SHOP
HB: How did you devise your fundraising strategy?
GH: I asked myself what is my hottest commodity? And it’s the Nina and my other bags. When I talked to Net-a-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman, they really wanted to help, and so we thought of the idea of having the bags available for one week only, from October 1st and October 8th. I need to sell around 1,000 bags to cover the $600,000 I’ve pledged. I’ve signed the contract already, so I better come up with it!
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US