Fashion and food seem like vastly different industries, but to designer Gabriela Hearst and chef Daniel Humm, there are surprising similarities—from the principles of prioritizing quality materials (or ingredients) to the cadence of working on a seasonal schedule. Another big commonality? Both see themselves as having a responsibility to innovate and use their voices to make their industries more sustainable.
“There were times where it wasn’t clear if we could reopen Eleven Madison Park [during the height of the pandemic],” Humm, chef and owner of the New York-based hospitality group Make It Nice, which is behind both Eleven Madison Park and Eleven Madison Home, said on a panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival Tuesday. The iconic fine dining eatery, once named the best restaurant in the world, was closed for 15 months and nearly went bankrupt.
“When it was clear that there was a path forward, there was no way I would go back to what we did,” Humm continued. “I didn’t think, creatively, the world needed another butter-poached lobster or suckling pig or lavender-roasted duck. The world really needed innovation, because you don’t need to dig very deep to know that we’re running out of our resources.”
Animal products are more resource-intensive than plant-based foods, with meat and dairy requiring more land, using more water, and producing more emissions. That’s why when Eleven Madison Park reopened after its pandemic closure, it did so with an entirely vegan menu.
Resources are top of mind for Hearst, too. As founder and creative director of her eponymous brand, Hearst has shifted her operations to include biodegradable packaging; moved away from cotton because of the pesticides involved, which impact biodiversity; and focused on using merino wool—sourced from her own ranch in Uruguay.
Hearst is also the creative director of luxury fashion house Chloé, where she has collaborated with the nonprofit Sheltersuit to produce a line of bags and coats made from upcycled materials. Chloé used sales to finance Sheltersuits and its wind- and waterproof jackets, with a sleeping bag attachment, for people experiencing homelessness.
As of October 2021, Chloé had become the first luxury fashion house to earn a B Corporation certification.
Though Hearst and Humm have both accumulated various creative successes in their respective industries, they’ve also both faced criticism for their innovations. Initially, Eleven Madison Park’s plant-based menu was panned by some critics. When Hearst used deadstock fabric in her namesake brand’s first runway show, “People were like, ‘Don’t use the word deadstock with luxury,'” she said at the Festival.
These days the use of deadstock fabric is common in the fashion industry, even at luxury brands. Veganism is reportedly growing in popularity, too, as more people realize meat production, at its current level, is unsustainable.
Change is hard, though—and incremental. “I think we live in a world, unfortunately, where you start making change, the critics come at you saying, ‘Well, you’re changing this, but why are you not changing that?’ And that’s the whole thing about change. You can’t be perfect from day one,” Humm said.
Although they are aware that not everyone can afford a meal at Eleven Madison Park or a piece of clothing from Chloé, Humm and Hearst believe they can use their prominent positions to help shape a more sustainable future.
“I think people do aspire for beauty and magic, and therefore certain companies—luxury companies—have a real voice and a real role to play and a responsibility,” Humm said. “The more creatives [we have] thinking about this, the more beautiful and delicious our future will be.”