By Jennifer Merritt
Updated Nov 20, 2014 @ 4:30 pm
Credit: Barbra Kinney, Clinton Foundation

Chelsea Clinton wants to talk about the elephant in the room. That's not a figure of speech. Clinton, along with the Clinton Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, and TOMS shoes, is on a mission to raise awareness about the elephant-poaching crisis in Africa, which—if it doesn't end soon—may mean that elephants would be extinct by 2020. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with Chelsea and the Wildlife Conservation Society for the second iteration of the TOMS Animal Initiative, says Heather Mycoskie, TOMS chief animal lover. “Our partnership brings purpose; and grants everyone the opportunity to be a part of a solution to a cause that plagues our world’s most majestic animals.”

Now you may be thinking: Wasn’t that problem solved in the 1980s? Clinton thought the same, until she did what any self-professed animal lover would do and dug a little deeper. We recently caught up with Clinton, where she gave us an education on the far-reaching—and devastating—effects of the elephant-poaching crisis, how the fashion industry has aided her cause, and a bit of banter on where the day would take us if we were to walk in her shoes.

How did you first become aware of the crisis?I first became aware of the crisis a couple of years ago when I was reading an article about something else. I was really shocked that we had reached that crisis point in elephant poaching and rather embarrassed that I didn’t know about it. In the ‘80s, the last time we faced a serious elephant crisis, the world made a series of decisions to help shift the tide that allowed the elephant population to rebound. I just thought foolishly, “Oh, the world checked that box,” but unfortunately that wasn’t true. It touches so many things that we (the Clinton Foundation) care about—conservation and the environment of course, but also economic development in east and west Africa, women’s rights, not to mention human rights, because ivory now is a main revenue source for many of the worst terrorist groups on the African continent, so many of whom target women and girls, as we’ve seen with Boko Haram, which is a major elephant poacher.

Why elephants, and why the fashion industry?We have been working on the elephant-poaching crisis at the Clinton Foundation for more than a year and a half now. It’s something my mom (Hillary Clinton) and I care intensely about, and we have organized our efforts around trying to help stop the killing of elephants, stop the tusking of ivory, and also to stop demand. When we think about that third part—stopping the demand—we immediately thought of the fashion industry for a couple of reasons: one, just to help raise awareness about the severity of this crisis. I’m not proud of this, but I’m willing to admit that I did not know that elephant poaching was still such a crisis until a couple of years ago. It’s still legal to buy ivory here in the United States, which I find appalling. We also know that in the largest market for ivory, Asia, American fashion icons are really popular there. So in raising global awareness about the crisis and also raising awareness about how important it is to not buy ivory, we knew that the fashion community would be a natural partner if they were interested, and thankfully we’ve been so humbled and inspired by the response that we’ve gotten.

What has the response been like?Everyone I’ve talked to has been receptive and supportive in different ways. They really recognize that they can make a positive and tangible difference in this to raise awareness about the crisis, and also about the organizations that are doing important work to stop it. At Oscar de la Renta's spring show, he put an adorable little elephant on the runway and on each seat of people who came to the show. Karlie Kloss and other models tweeted about that and raised awareness among their community. It’s been a really moving echo. More and more people from the fashion community are joining and we’re just so excited to see where it will go next.

Did you have any input in the TOMS designs?They asked me for my opinions and I quickly said that that was not where I could add the most value (laughs). I appreciated being consulted, but I would trust the TOMs professionals to make the design choices.

Credit: Courtesy

By purchasing a pair of these limited edition TOMS (pictured, above) you can join Clinton in the fight. For each pair purchased, funding will go to efforts by organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect of elephants.

If we could spend a day in your shoes where would they take us?The answer to that question is rooted in this particularly magical moment in my life of being a new mom. (Daughter Charlotte, with husband Marc Mezvinsky, was born Sept. 26.) At the moment, my shoes walk in that my daughter’s room, which I am so blessed to be able to do right now.

How has your style changed since becoming a mom?Certainly my style changed when I was pregnant. All of sudden I had a deep appreciation for why there is a maternity wear world, which sounds so silly and self evident, but it wasn’t anything I focused on until I realized I needed clothes that had a completely different construction. It’s funny that you ask about footwear, because that’s probably what has changed the most. I just wear comfortable shoes all the time. I had never though about what this experience would be like in a practical sense, instead of making sure I had everything that What to Expect When You’re Expecting told me I needed to have for a newborn. I wear far more tennis shoes than I ever have before.