The Elephant Project founder Kristina McKean
Celebrating Earth Day With The Elephant Project
What do you get when you dress plush elephants in spring florals? A charming conservation project we’re incredibly proud of.
Our sweet collaboration with The Elephant Project has a mighty purpose: to raise awareness about conservation, which is urgent for these gentle giants. The Project’s founder Kristina McKean shares our passion for animals, which made her the perfect partner for Chantecaille. Kiki and Tembo, the darling stuffed elephants that our Creative Director Olivia has designed limited-edition floral outfits for, are the Project’s mascots. They serve as symbols of how important advocacy around conservation is—they have inspired countless children and grownups alike to spring into action. It was a treat to chat with McKean about her mission and our shared love of elephants.
How did these darling stuffed elephants become your passion project?
I’ve always been a big animal advocate. Since I was born, I’ve been really passionate about helping animals. The inspiration came when I went to Thailand, and I saw this baby elephant in the street, and I came back and I was trying to figure out how to make a difference in the way elephants are treated. It started with protesting the circus. And the people that were most affected by the abuse and wanted to learn more were young girls. When I realized that that was is my market, I thought, I’ll just create a stuffed animal and I’ll donate all the proceeds. My mom was actually a toy designer when I was younger, so I had some understanding of how to do it. I always thought it was gonna be really big for some reason, and right out of the gate, it was. I can't even tell you how many kids contact me every week, saying they did a presentation about the Elephant Project, or that they used their allowance to buy one of the elephant toys because they want to help the elephants. It’s become not just a sweet gift, but a tool for awareness.
Tembo and Bèbè collection
That’s so inspiring! You’re teaching the next generation about how to make a difference.
Whenever I talk with the conservationists at the elephant sanctuaries who are concerned, or have lost hope, I tell them not to worry. Because Gen Z and this next generation are on it. I’m seeing it firsthand with my daughters—they are not fearful, they are taking on these issues. They want to make a difference and they are not waiting for older generations—they’re doing it themselves.
Is there one single standout moment that you see as a turning point?
There have been a couple that have been game-changers. People magazine covered us and that was really like a huge push. And the Today Show, those were really significant. One of the biggest drivers though was when Lek Chailert, an elephant conservationist based in Thailand, who has become a friend of mine, come to Santa Barbara. I wanted to screen Love and Bananas (Ashley Bell’s film about rescuing a 70-year-old Asian elephant) but I didn’t have a lot of time to make it happen. I found a theater with 450 seats, and I thought, ‘there’s no way we’ll fill them all’. But it sold out, which was amazing! And it was all these kids that came and it made such an impact. They wrote papers about it, they wanted to be a part of what we were trying to do. I had a mom from Wisconsin write to me about her daughter, who was in first grade and loved elephants, so she Googled ‘how to help elephants’ and my site came up. She saved up all of her allowance to buy an elephant toy, and then did a presentation about it for her class and it went viral. And so the school had her talk to the whole K-12 student body at an assembly and then I Zoomed in and we did a video on how to save elephants. Making an impact like that, with little kids that I don't even know, is just amazing.
“It’s become not just a sweet gift, but a tool for awareness.”
Tell us about Earth Day. Is that a big voice moment for Elephant Project?
Definitely. I feel really happy that I’m in Santa Barbara because that’s where Earth Day started.
So many people here in this community are so passionate about saving the ocean, and the environment and animals. The town is so amazing on Earth Day, there are festivals and so much recognition—I feel like I’m sort of in the hub of it all.
Kiki and Bèbè collection
How did you get connected with the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust?
I had been following them for a while, and I reached out to them because I also wanted a partner in Africa since we had an Asian elephant partner in Thailand. They used to host this race called the Enormous Elephant Run in Los Angeles, which is a fundraise and I did that for a few years, and it was such a great, energizing event to get people excited about conservation. One of my neighbors actually used to live in Africa and knew the Sheldrick family personally, and he told me about all of the work that they’ve been doing. I still have not visited yet, we had all these big plans and then Covid happened. We’ll get there.
Is there one big picture message that you want people to take away from The Elephant Project?
I’m hoping it inspires people everywhere to think about how they treat animals and what they can do to make a difference. I want them to to consider it all: how they shouldn't ride elephants, maybe re-think how they feel about about going to zoos. I want people to understand that there are so many ways that they can make a difference, even if they don’t buy a stuffed animal. Just do what you can do—even if you don’t have a ton of money, you have your voice.