Sylvie swimming with a whale shark off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Photo by Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid

Saving the Ocean’s Gentle Giants

Sylvie Chantecaille’s journey to swim alongside whale sharks inspired this summer’s color collection, Vibrant Oceans, and a partnership with WildAid.


In July 2019, WildAid founder Peter Knights and his wife Corie invited Sylvie and Olivier Chantecaille and a few select conservation activists to Isla Mujeres, an island off the Mexican coast near Cancun. Here, whale sharks—which are not actually whales but the largest fish in the sea—migrate in summer in schools of 300 to 400. The travelers, who were taken several miles out to find the sharks as they surfaced to feed on plankton, donned snorkel gear and jumped in two at a time, protections set by the Mexican government. For a few memorable minutes, they were able to swim right up beside these so-called gentle giants of the sea, which can reach the length of a school bus. “It was extraordinary,” Sylvie recalls. “They’re so calm and sweet.”

DIVING IN TO A CAUSE
But the trip to experience the magnificent beauty of these creatures had another purpose: to call attention to the growing crisis of the illegal wildlife trade, a multi-billion-dollar global industry driven by consumer demand. Some marine species are particularly at risk. Fins from up to 73 million sharks, including the massive whale shark, are used each year to make shark fin soup, considered a delicacy in some Asian countries. And manta rays—said to possess incredible intelligence—are overfished by the thousands for their gill plates, which are dried and ground up in health tonics that are unproven to have any effect. On land, pangolin scales, rhino horn, and turtle eggs are stolen, traded and consumed, posing an existential threat to these endangered species. But as we are seeing from the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have originated in a bat or pangolin at a wet market in China, consumption of wild animals also poses a threat to human health from zoonotic disease outbreaks.

"It’s clearer than ever that protecting wildlife also means protecting ourselves."

WildAid—an NGO founded by Knights in San Francisco with small teams in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America—works with governments to fight this problem, building public support to end the global consumption of wildlife products and to help reinforce Marine Protected Areas from illegal fishing. You may have seen their powerful PSAs featuring NBA star Yao Ming and actors Lupita Nyong’o and Leonardo DiCaprio on buildings and in airports across Asia blaring the motto, When the buying stops, the killing can too. Their efforts have led to an 80 percent reduction in shark fin consumption in China, as well as an 81 percent decline in the country’s shark fin imports and sales in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Meanwhile, their marine programs have helped prevent widespread poaching and illegal fishing within MPAs in Palau and the Galapagos; partnerships like the one with Isla Mujeres have benefitted whale sharks by leading fundraising excursions like Sylvie’s. Most recently, WildAid has helped strengthen protections for whale sharks, the giant oceanic manta ray and the reef manta ray in Taiwan, which as of June 1 will be uplisted to “endangered” with full legal protection.

SUMMER COLORS THAT GIVE BACK

The products we created to support WildAid, our Radiance Chic Cheek & Highlighter duos, are the perfect one-and-done hint of color you want for summer, reminiscent of the kind of pure, dewy glint of light you might get off the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. The Whale Shark duo contains a brightening rose pink cheek color with a soft gold highlight, whereas the Manta Ray is a coral cheek with a warm peachy gold highlight. “During the summer, I never want to look or feel like I’m wearing makeup—I want to look bright, dewy and radiant,” says Creative Director Olivia Chantecaille. “These powders are much lighter than a cream and look completely natural on the skin.”

Our partnership could not be more timely, with the pandemic continuing to sweep the globe and calls to stop the illegal wildlife trade more urgent than ever. Just last month, in fact, 26 tons of dried shark fins were seized in shipping containers in Hong Kong, the largest volume ever reported. “Our work is never finished and we need WildAid more than ever,” Sylvie says. “I love them because they do not give up, and their ability to get in front of consumers is unparalleled.” And because it’s clearer than ever that protecting wildlife also means protecting ourselves.

Watch Sylvie Chantecaille on swimming with whale sharks

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