Barneys’ Julie Gilhart to Fashion Industry: Do Things Differently to Save Our Planet

Julie Gilhart of Barneys at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, COP15

Photo by Nordic Fashion Association

For Julie Gilhart, senior vice president of Barneys New York, fashion has always been a reflection of our times. And in the past 18 years she’s been with the luxury retailer, Gilhart has seen many changes. “The big change now is that we must do things differently in order to save our planet, both from an environmental perspective and a humanitarian one,” she said on Wednesday at the Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, which coincided with Day 3 of the UN Climate Change Conference. “We need to work hard to make the business of fashion consciously cool, yet at the same time, not lose profitability.”

Julie Gilhart of Barneys New York at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Photo by Nordic Fashion Association


Gilhart admitted that about five years ago, she became disenchanted with her industry. “I felt for the most part it was wasteful and money-driven,” she said, adding that the millions of dollars that went to producing fashion shows could feed a lot of starving people.

“We need to work to make fashion consciously cool, yet not lose profitability.”

It took Al Gore’s game-changing documentary and a meeting with the Dalai Lama to present Gilhart with a new fashion mission, but one that had to be grounded in reality. “Barneys was my employer,” she said, “and as a retailer, we needed to create business to sell merchandise and make a profit.”

Discussions with the Barneys CEO led to the store’s “Have a Green Holiday” campaign, and for every tree-shaped, 22-carat gold necklace sold, the store planted 100 trees. “It doesn’t sound like a radical idea now,” Gilhart said, “but in 2007, in the high-end luxury market, it was.”

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