WOW! Great article by Michaella, and way to go Gabby! What you are doing to raise awareness for these endangered animals is so inspiring. So proud of our Coke Scholars!
A first-year veterinary student at Cornell, a genetics research assistant, and the founder of her own non-profit, Gabby Wild’s schedule is always packed. But this self-described “thrill-driven, wind-blown,” aspiring wildlife surgeon is now wearing (quite literally) another role as well—as the freshest face on the animal activist scene.
Combining a love of fashion with her passion for animals, Wild recently launched the “12 in 12 for 12” campaign. During each month in 2012, she will wear only one outfit—an originally designed, eco-conscious ensemble inspired by an endangered species.
Why would someone commit to only wearing 12 outfits over the course of an entire year? To raise awareness for 12 animals—ranging from the Blue Morpho butterfly to the Kakapo parrot to the red panda—in grave danger of becoming extinct. (January’s look is a dress inspired by the amur leopard, a species which has only 30 to 35 animals still existing in the wild.)
The project has garnered the attention of major designers, with Wild’s wardrobe featuring several outfits from Project Runway names like Gordana Gehlhausen. With all that attention, Wild aims to raise $10,000 each month for the animals’ conservation efforts.
We caught up with the kind, sincere, soft-spoken, and yet ferociously passionate Wild to learn more about the inspiration behind her cause—and why she chose to target women to help save the animals.
What was your inspiration to run this campaign?
The first time I went to Thailand, I was 16. The adventure was actually planned by my incredible mother, who knew of my fascination with elephants. I went to an elephant conservation center where I learned how to train elephants, monitor their basic health, and understand their behaviors.
I returned to Thailand when I was 20 to learn about elephant veterinary medicine from Thai elephant veterinarians from one of the hospitals of His Royal Majesty, the King. (I was the only female and only Western student!) Several times a week, I would travel in the mobile clinic to visit farmers with sick elephants, conservation centers, and even take care of some wild elephants that were stirring up trouble for locals.
This led me to meet Khun Chai, a baby elephant who had been “calf-napped” from his mother in the jungle. The hospital saved him from his captor, who had taken him in the hope that he could train the wild elephant, rather than have to buy one.
This campaign was inspired by seeing the increasing number of animals being classified as “endangered,” but what sparked this pain within my heart to truly do something was Khun Chai. Khun Chai became very attached to me, and sadly, his health declined after I left Asia. I wear Khun Chai’s tail hair every day, so I don’t forget him.
I wanted to reach out to the demographic that aids animals most, which is primarily women. I asked myself, “What could draw women into saving animals even more, and how can I help empower them with something that already makes them feel powerful?”
And that’s when it hit: fashion! Fashion is a brilliant and creative art form of self-expression, and my mother was actually was a fashion designer herself. Although I more inherited my father’s scientific genes, I decided to delve a bit into my mother’s field to save these animals.
What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned working on the campaign?
1. Always do what you believe is right. If you do, you’ll never let yourself down in the end.
2. Passion will take you farther than mere rationalization.
3. The best part of life is the adventure that you can’t plan. I never thought I’d meet such wonderful people and be influencing the world like this. I just let my sneakers take me here, even if sometimes I should be wearing hiking boots or high heels, instead.
4. Don’t freak out when your path gets muddy—just keep your rain boots on and start trudging with more determination.
What were the greatest challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
The greatest challenge has been balancing life, but you learn to force yourself to sleep (or sleep will force it out of you!). I also learned to tackle little rock-climbing challenges rather than trying to take on the entire Mt. Everest climb at once.
It’s also been difficult to convince people to believe in me when they’ve never heard of me. Now that people understand that I’m truly making a difference and not merely talking about it, I am finally mustering support for both awareness and fundraising. The first step to making people believe in you is to completely believe in yourself.
In addition the 12 in 12 for 12 campaign, the Gabby Wild Foundation is also selling tote bags and silk scarves (which can be worn 12 different ways!) to raise money for endangered animals. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations like the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence Programme, which will use the funds for conservation of the animals’ habitats.