Staring back at you on this screen is the second official outtake from our “Interview Issue” — which officially hits the well paved streets of America today — between Outerknown’s John Moore and international fashion consultant, Julie Gilhart. We asked the two thoughtful (and beach-wandering) humans, who are not just working hard in the fashion world, but working hard to better the fashion world, to go on record about their unique relationship, work, and outlook on the industry. What we got back was an robustly insightful conversation that ventures into an under-explored dimension of creative responsibility, environmental awareness, and purpose.
John Moore: Julie, I remember being told I had to meet you about five years ago. It was the middle of the summer, and I literally went out to Montauk to look for you, and we ran into each other by chance walking on the beach. There’s something I really like about looking for your future mentors on the beach. Would you agree?
Julie Gilhart: You are so right! When you find someone that shares your love of surf, it’s very special. You know right away they understand that other “dimension.” No matter who you are or what you do, it creates this beautiful common ground. I have this thing if you want to discover something new or even shift things a bit, just take a beach walk. It’s as simple as that.
JM: So true. A walk on the beach can really clear your mind. Talk to me about your love of the ocean. For so long I knew of you as the Barney’s fashion director, but also a surfer. I’m enamored by the idea that you understand the upper echelons of fashion, but you’ve also got sand in your toes. That’s so rare. How has your love of the ocean influenced your professional decisions?
JG: I grew up in Dallas, Texas so the ocean to me was pure fantasy. It was a big screen dream. Fast forward to moving to NY, and then spending 18 years mostly as the fashion director of Barneys… East Coast surfing was a dream come true. I had always been environmentally aware, but surfing physically immerses you in the water, so it gave me an even greater awareness. More than anything, it taught me about the power of nature and gave me even more humility for it.
How has it informed my decisions? Well, these days I think every decision we make we need to think about the environment and what impact it has. We, including myself, have been ignorant to most of our actions. If I choose a new designer support or to work with a new client, I always think about what they stand for, and do they have the potential to make positive changes in the world.
What happens when 2 #ocean #activists meet? I become silent and try to listen as much as possible‼️ #SusanRockefeller and #GregDonohue at the #MontaukOceansInstitute talking about solutions ??????? @susanrockefeller @montaukoceansinstitute #montauklighthouse #protectwhatisprecious
A photo posted by Julie Gilhart (@green_flash_hunter) on
JM: Yes, this world could certainly use some positive change right now. On that note, you were a pioneer of responsible practices in fashion long before most even gave it a consideration. How long have you been surfing and what came first? Julie the surfer who thinks with the highest regard for the environment? Or a career in fashion that informed you wanting to make better decisions in your life for the greater good?
JG: Haha! Dreaming of surfing came first, desire for more responsibility in fashion came second and actual surfing came third!
I grew up in fashion. I worked for one of the greatest buyers at Neiman Marcus when I was 20. She was 70 years old and took me to Europe as her assistant. It was a fluke, and I had no idea the long-term implications of it. She set a groundwork for me that I still think of today. Then there was no talk of “responsible fashion,” but she did speak of being a responsible “fashion” person. Years later, right before the recession when fashion was at its peak of excess, Al Gore came out with his book/film, An Inconvenient Truth. I realized I was part of creating that inconvenience for nature. I wanted to say goodbye to fashion and do something more “worthwhile.”
Then a friend told me my power was staying in fashion, a world I knew so well, and helping to make the changes I wanted to, but in fashion. My surfing became the great equalizer. It was something that I could do that would always give back to me. When you are in the water surfing, you can’t think of anything else other than catching a wave, dodging a wave or getting out of the way of other surfers!
JM: I agree with your friend who told you that “your power was staying in fashion” because now you inspire all of us. You are a beacon of bright light, and I turn to you when I need to hear the truth. I’m not the only one. So many aspiring designers look up to you and turn to you for guidance on all aspects of their business, not just product. And you are always so positive and encouraging, even when you are saying what not to do. Is there a method behind keeping this positive outlook after such a long career in the fashion grinder?
JG: Haha, I have such dark moments sometimes! I think there is no formula and fashion is a constant puzzle. Like surfing, you never quite figure it out. When you look at the world today, it’s hard to have answers. I think more and more we just have to serve the earth the best we can and do what we can to help others. I have a friend that says life is like a book, a fast read, and just keep turning the page and don’t get stuck.
JM: So flipping the pages then, you’ve also told me it’s not okay to just be good, you have to be GREAT! I remember speaking with you a few seasons ago, right when you were landing from three weeks of fashion shows and presentations, and you said the best designers of tomorrow are the ones with this “other dimension?” We spoke about art, music, dancing and streetwear, but we also spoke about responsible fashion practices. Can you tell us about this “other dimension?”
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JG: We have so much knowledge today about what effect our actions have on the planet and people, I think anyone who is creating something new has to think of the actions they are taking. My experience allows me to see the high and low of fashion. I have just as much respect for that street kid doing his own thing to the Haute Couture designer who is catering to the fantasies of the wealthiest. On every level, this other dimension is responsibility in the supply chain, materials and labor just to name a few.
To give you an example, when Outerknown was just starting and I asked the question if the brand would be produced responsibly, Kelly’s answer was, “If I don’t want to put anything bad in my body, why would I want to put anything bad on my body?” This is the essence of the “other dimension.” It’s how we think of every action we do. For many of us, including myself, it’s our new thought process.
JM: [Laughs] You are what you eat, and what you wear. There’s a reason Kelly’s still competing at the highest level. So Julie, can you tell us a little about some of the organizations you work with and why?
JG: It’s a bit random and not the least strategic. Sometimes I think what’s supposed to come to you does. We only have so much time in a day so however little or much one can do is all good effort. I love the Edible Schoolyard, Fashion Positive, Montauk Oceans Institute, NRDC and their Clean By Design program, Oceana, Parsons/The New School, A Walk On Water, Waves For Water, Surfrider. There are so many more. It just goes to show you that in amidst all the chaos of the world there are a lot of people doing great things! Myself and a few other girls started our own organization, Fashion Girls For Humanity, and we have, in the past, raised money for disaster relief.
This was a crazy good nite in Feb ’16 at a London fundraiser organized by power women @nat_mass #AnnaWintour @mindyparis!?#ChelseaClinton spoke about her mom being pregnant with her as a working lawyer in Arkansas. The law firm had no maternity leave policy. So what did Hillary do? She wrote one. It was adopted by the firm and soon became policy for many others and soon a law‼️ #imwithher #alltheway #HillaryClinton #ILookTired #MyNecklaceIsCrooked ??
JM: So many good causes, so little time. This is sort of silly, but I want you to waive your magic wand. Fashion is about feeling good and moving forward. Paint a picture for us of what you see in the future? Can fashion fix our problems? Is everyone stylish in a sustainable way?
JG: [Laughs] I have to look to the heavens for magic, I have no magic wand! I would say it’s cool to dream about “no waste.” What if everything we created from this point forward never had an end of life because it was always up-cycled into something else? And even dreamier, what if we were able to use all the waste that’s just sitting in landfills or floating in our oceans for something more purposeful? Is it possible to recreate the Goldrush of the 1800s, but have it be a “Trashrush” of sorts? I also think, John, that you are onto something when we were speaking about how we all have to collaborate with each other. And that means beyond borders! Can you keep dreaming about that? I think you are onto something!