By Ruthie Friedlander
Chelsea Clinton has early memories of going with her parents, Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas and visiting the elephants. "[They\ were always my favorite part of what already was such a magical day," she says. Later, in the '90s, she was able to visit the elephants again in their natural habitat with her mother, and yet again a decade later with her husband. "Seeing different elephant families as my own family has developed has been such a privilege."
Clinton is speaking with ELLE.com about the animals not only because of her love for them, but because of the Clinton Foundation’s commitment to save Africa's elephants. Now, in partnership with TOMS shoes, you too can join the effort to help end this crisis.
"I’ve always admired Chelsea's philanthropic work and her passion for global awareness," Heather Mycoskie, chief animal lover at TOMS tells ELLE.com. "I'm honored to have her support for TOMS Animal Initiative, not only for the sake of the elephants that we’re fighting to save, but as a reminder to women all over the world that together, we can make a difference."
I’ll admit, before speaking with Clinton, I knew little about the elephant crisis. So here is one shocking fact: According to the World Wildlife Foundation, if serious action is not taken right now, elephants in certain parts of Africa could be extinct within 50 years.
Here, we speak to Clinton about the crisis, and her exciting collaboration with TOMS Animal Initiative, which will drive awareness and funding for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s protection of elephants.
How did you become so aware of this crisis?
I was actually reading something about the broader state of Africa today. There was this throwaway line at the end of an article about how the tourist industry, which is such a fundamental part of so many African economies, might be under threat because poaching was once again running rampant. It was something that I started looking into and something that I talked to my mom about and then all of a sudden it just become so apparent that poaching not only was an ecological crisis and a moral crisis, but also a real security issue. One of the ways in which poaching appeared on her desk—not just because it was something I started talking about—was because it was real revenue for the most nefarious terrorist organizations. So all of a sudden it became, 'How can we not care about this issue? How can we not do whatever we could to make a difference?'
So it wasn’t only the inhumane aspect of it, but economical and ecological component that really drew you in?
The economic part is really important and not just because that’s what initially raised this issue to me, [but because\ a majority of people who work in the tourist industry in these countries are women. So if that part of the economy falters, there are real implications for a woman’s abilities to support herself and her family. If someone cares about ensuring that elephants are there for our children or grandchildren or ensuring that women continue to be empowered in these economies or that girls are safe in these countries, we have to care about elephants.
You specifically looked to the fashion industry to raise awareness for this cause, teaming up with TOMS shoes. What inspired you to do that?
It seemed obvious to reach out to the fashion community. What we’re trying to do through the Clinton Foundation is to galvanize partners to work together to try to stop the killing of elephants, the trafficking of ivory, and then to really educate people about the demand for ivory product. Ivory is still used in luxury fashion, particularly in Asia where ivory is, unfortunately, a real luxury but also a mass consumer commodity. So although we don’t have the same challenge of the fashion industry using ivory products here, the fashion industry can really help educate consumers about why they shouldn’t be buying ivory.
[Working with TOMS\ was a natural collaboration. We have long been supporters and fans of TOMS' model. TOMS as a company was coming to the Clinton Global Initiative for years and have long been good partners through various efforts where they thought they could help make a difference. This was certainly one that we had hoped they would be interested in and they were. They designed these shoes, which I think are fantastic. I’m thrilled that we have shoes for all three members of my family—me, Mark, and Charlotte, although it will take a little while for Charlotte to grow into her shoes. They don’t quite come in a size small enough for her yet.
How involved were you in the design process of the shoes?
In so far as they asked my opinion and I always said, 'This is not my forte.' I'm so honored, but then I quickly said, 'I really think we should leave this in the hands of the professionals.' So, yes. They did consult me and I quickly kind of demurred.
To help save the elephants and be part of the TOMS Animal Initiative, visit TOMS.com.