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July 29 2014

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Julie Gilhart’s Next Act

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On Friday, the audience at the Sustainability and Philanthropy panel at the AFINGO Fashion Forum got to hear Julie Gilhart speak—her first public pronouncements since her departure from Barneys, where she’s been senior VP fashion director these past 18 years, and where every fashion-loving New Yorker fell in love with her.

“I’m super-excited,” she said. “All those things I wanted to do at Barneys I can now do.” Such as? Gilhart has been talking to “the big guys” about sustainable fashion—but in a practical way. “I don’t think there’s enough philanthropy in the world to save the world,” she declared, explaining how it’s the mass brands like Wal-Mart that ultimately need to change. “But I have lots of hope. [Luxury fashion groups] LVMH and PPR are working up to it. I just heard [François-Henri] Pinault speak at a sustainability conference in India. It was a bit disappointing—it was not about sustainability, it was about sustaining your business in India. But he’s super-smart, and he’s committed to it. His wife is committed to it.” (That’d be Salma Hayek Pinault.) “He sees it as the future of cross marketing, thinking of new ways for people to buy things. He’s going to up the ante.”

At Barneys, Gilhart always had an eye out for fresh design talent—particularly fresh, conscious talent. And AFINGO, a new social networking site-cum-marketplace for the fashion industry, is especially concerned with new designers. So, asked the moderator, how do young designers struggling to be green and putting so much sweat and thought into their lines get ahead in fashion? “You have to have great design,” said Gilhart. “Work on your craft. I can make brownies and put a whole lot of thought into it. But if they don’t taste so great, nobody’s buying.” Eighteen years at Barneys didn’t go to waste.

Kate Sekules is the founder of the haute-cycling swap site www.refashioner.com .

Photo: Courtesy of AFINGO

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