Interview: Luxury sustainable accessories designer Gabriela Hearst on her upbringing in Uruguay and the Nina bag’s good fortune

Interview: Luxury sustainable accessories designer Gabriela Hearst on her upbringing in Uruguay and the Nina bag’s good fortune

Style serendipity

Text: Ho Guo Xiong

There are bags, and then there are bags that surreptitiously achieve cult status among the style set, resulting in mass mania. Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bag found such fame, so did Cult Gaia’s rattan Ark handbag, and Linjer’s Tulip bag, all of which can be filed as prime examples of fanaticism in fashion.

Gabriela Hearst’s Nina bag is another member of this exclusive club. Named after American singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, this It girl has courted many, including celebrity fan including Brie Larson, Meghan Markle, and Demi Moore. As a matter of fact, Hearst’s crowd pleasers and her dedication to sustainable luxury prompted LVMH to acquire a minority stake in her name earlier this year.

To unlock the secrets of Gabriela Hearst’s roaring success, we chatted up the Uruguayan-American designer to find out more about her childhood (she grew up on a ranch!), her big break (it involves serendipity in an elevator), and the social causes that she holds near and dear.

Did growing up in Uruguay shape you as a designer? 
Gabriela Hearst (GH): I grew up on a ranch that was very remote — the nearest city was two-and-a-half hours away. I remember making our own soaps and getting our first solar panels because the ranch is that off-the-grid. My upbringing made me conscious of sustainability and quality because everything had to be made to last. It also gave me crucial knowledge of where things come from and how they are made. Consequently, my aesthetics focused on quality and utility.

How did you decide to create bags?
GH: After we launched our ready-to-wear and shoes, a friend told me that I shouldn’t be carrying someone else’s bag. He was right, so I took my time to design a bag I absolutely loved. In October 2015, I was carrying a prototype around Paris and people stopped me on the street to ask about it.

Was that how the Nina came to be? 
GH: Yes. I was in a hotel elevator in London when a gentleman saw how the bag opened and told me how interesting it was. I told him it was my prototype and I had plans to only make 25 pieces. He wanted one for his wife and gave me his card. The gentleman turned out to be Jony Ive, the former chief design officer of Apple. It felt like a sign to bring this bag to market. A few months later, I sent him one of the 25. Brie Larson later carried one of the first editions on the night before she won her Oscar in 2016 and it really popularised the Nina bag.

What social causes should people pay more attention to? 
GH: There are two: the preservation of trees and the use of plastics. Trees help us combat global warming as they store carbon dioxide, which gets released into the atmosphere when it is cut down. Preserving them is extremely important as nature cannot regenerate itself. Plastic takes 500 years to biodegrade and by 2050, there will be more plastics in the ocean than fishes.

How does Gabriela Hearst hope to change how people consume?
GH: The brand was created with sustainability in mind. We create with the best materials and our products are meant to last for the rest of your life. We are always thinking about shipping and delivery and how to move from having a negative impact on the environment to leaving a positive one. That’s how we should consume — we should be conscious of how we consume and buy things we would like to have for the rest of our lives.