Eileen Fisher

From Cotton Fields to High Street Racks, Fashion Bids to be 100% Sustainable

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Conservation charity WWF and the fashion industry aim to make desirable clothes that have zero impact on the environment

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Why Luxury Brands Still aren’t Embracing Sustainable Fashion

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eileenfisherfactorybigDesigner Eileen Fisher made an eight-year commitment to sustainable fashion four years ago, after having “an epiphany about the earth” and her responsibility as the owner of her own company. In the years since, the brand has been vocal about these efforts.

“We made a commitment that, by the year 2020, we would eliminate our top volume fabric, viscose,” said Amy Hall, director of sustainable consciousness at Eileen Fisher. “The only thing was, we didn’t know how to do that then.”

During the WGSN Futures conference on November 10, Hall said that pushing Eileen Fisher’s brand to become more sustainable meant figuring things out along the way. Eileen Fisher has always been upfront about this journey, choosing to call itself “sustainably conscious,” not sustainable, because it’s still putting out waste into the world. The company lists the factories it works with and the fabrics it uses, plus it lists plans for future innovations. This month, it will launch Remade, a recycled line of clothing made from past designs that customers donated back to the brand rather than discarding. A dress in the collection, for instance, could be comprised of three pairs of used pants.

Right now, transparency in fashion is trendy. As they figure out the future of sustainability in retail, startup retail disruptors like Everlane and American Giant lay bare their pricing models and supply chain partners in an attempt to rope in conscious customers and keep them along for the ride. Mass companies like H&M, Zara and Gap Inc. have adopted similar habits in order to do the same; for fast fashion brands, speaking out about transparency and sustainability helps keep protesters at bay.

Among luxury brands, though, there’s some hesitancy to display company practices when it comes to sustainability and transparency. Hall spoke to an experience a member of her team had with her counterpart at a British brand, which Hall wouldn’t name specifically.

“We asked the counterpart if the cotton they used was organic, and she said no,” said Hall. “She said even if it was, we wouldn’t say, because organic doesn’t sell in the luxury market. To us, that’s a call to action.”

Hall said that this mindset emphasizes the idea that sustainably made clothing has to be, above all, good product. But she pressed that brands have a responsibility to educate and engage customers on sustainable measures so that they can take further action as individuals.

Marco Lucietti, the global marketing director of Isko Textile, said that sustainable brands can’t “force-feed people with what they’ve done.” Instead, they should just make commitments and stand by them. Sustainability in fashion can still carry the mindset of burlap, rather than luxury.

“People have a conception about what sustainable means in fashion,” said Marco Lucietti, global marketing director of Isko Textile. “But it’s not granola, hippy shit.”

Lucietti said that, as customers grow accustomed to brands being more transparent about their supply chains and efforts to improve workers’ rights and the environmental impact of production, this mindset will shift, both of the consumer and of the legacy brands.

On the factory level, the shift has already begun to take place. Jag Gill, founder of Sundar, a digital materials sourcing platform, said that most brands, even high-end ones, are beginning to open up their factory lists in order to find ones with cleaner supply chains.

*This story first appeared on Glossy

What you Should Know about Circular Fashion

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Glossy 101: Circular fashion, explained

As fashion brands continue to identify ways to use recycled materials and curb emissions, the term “circular fashion” has been popping up more and more. So, what in the world is it?

In a nutshell, circular fashion is a product of the circular process, which involves integrating recycled resources into supply chains. It’s a nice idea, but for a lot of brands, going there is easier said than done. Levi’s has been successful at converting plastic bottles to denim, but most fashion brands have experienced great difficulty navigating the circular fashion model. Many have offered standalone recycled fashion lines—think Eileen Fisher’s Remade line, which is produced using discarded designs, and TopShop’s Reclaim effort—but very few have actually started integrating recycled materials into production.

The reason? It’s complicated. That’s why we decided to break it down: Here’s what you should know about the circular fashion movement—specifically, how brands are working to join it in order to change the system.

What is a circular material, exactly?
A circular material is a recycled material, part of the larger circular economy founded upon the traditional concept of “reduce, reuse, recycling.” These materials are designed to prevent the introduction of new resources into the supply chain by reimagining those already in the mix as new garments—high-quality garments, that is—using volume collaboration.

Volume collaboration? Give me the short version.
Volume collaboration is the result of multiple brands sharing materials—such as dyes, chemicals, trims, yarns and base fabrics—that they use to create fully designed garments. H&M, Stella McCartney and Tommy Hilfiger are among brands that are working together by sharing materials. In doing so, they are ensuring that those they use are as environmentally friendly and recyclable as possible.

Last week in a webinar hosted by Fashion Positive, H&M sustainability expert Cecilia Brannsten said that working together is vital to instigating change, since it can often be difficult for one brand to move the needle on issues like dye pollution. “The change will happen a lot quicker if there are more of us trying to do it, working on this in parallel, because we can do a lot of good together,” Brannsten said.

Who writes the rules on circular fashion?
Fashion Positive Plus—it’s an extension of an initiative led by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which was founded in 2014 to increase the use of circular materials by identifying, certifying and scaling them for the fashion industry. It’s focused on sharing insights and best practices around circular materials as well as integrating them into supply chains.

What does it take to get the “circular” label?
Fashion Positive has a Critical Materials list featuring the “high-priority, critical materials needed for circular fashion,” according to the site. These materials are assessed with five categories in mind: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness.

“We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular”
– Cecilia Brannsten, H&M sustainability expert

Does Fashion Positive work with any big-name designers?
Stella McCartney, a designer who has been a vocal proponent of sustainable fashion, is working to create a Cradle to Cradle Certified material to use in her knitwear collections. Likewise, participating brands like H&M, are working with the group to introduce such materials into production in order to reach lofty goals, like becoming a fully sustainable company. “We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular,” Brannsten said in the webinar last week. “What that means is we want to have a circular approach to how products are produced and will only use circular or sustainably sourced materials.”

What’s next for circular fashion?
Recycled fashion can be difficult to scale, since most garments aren’t designed with circular materials in mind. In the future, organizations like Fashion Positive, in tandem with brands dedicated to the mission, may be able to help promote the use of materials that are most conducive to recycling.

*This story first appeared on Glossy

Rethink the Runway: Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion

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Eileen Fisher is just one of many designers working to push sustainable fashion into the mainstream. Image credit: Flickr/Matt Dunham

It is becoming increasingly clear that the public wants to make greener fashion choices. As more people learn about the impact of their clothing, they want to be empowered to make more informed shopping decisions. According to the Savers State of Reuse Report, more than half of North Americans report they are more likely to practice reuse after learning about the clothing industry’s environmental footprint.

But there’s a problem: People can’t choose sustainably-sourced clothing if it’s not available on the shelves.

The clothing industry has quietly become one of the biggest polluters in the world. The public is only now starting to hear about it through the recent wave of events, films, dialogues and research studies. With the production of a single cotton T-shirt requiring over 700 gallons of water, the fashion industry is now being confronted with the strain it puts on our planet’s finite resources.

Eileen Fisher is one industry leader to publicly acknowledge the devastating environmental impact of the fashion industry, and has unwaveringly pledged to change. Eileen Fisher’s Vision 2020 initiative is guiding her business toward 100 percent sustainable practices while still creating high-quality, timeless and fashionable garments.

Although it may not be apparent that Fisher is blazing a trail when you walk into the nearest mall or department store, she is one of many designers and organizations that remained committed to eco-friendly and sustainable fashion for years.

Take Eco Fashion Week, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to discovering solutions and innovations to help advance the fashion industry in a sustainable and responsible direction. Founder and President Myriam Laroche uses her deep understanding of retail buying to empower designers, retailers and stylists to embrace sustainable fashion.

And after 10 successful years in Vancouver, Canada, Eco Fashion Week brought the world’s largest sustainable fashion show to Seattle this year to further its mission – highlighting fashion rooted in zero-waste production, eco-friendly textile treatment and development, and the environmentally conscious disposal of unwanted clothing. Two days of runway shows celebrated unique collections fashioned from sustainable materials as well as reclaimed materials.

These efforts are pushing the fashion industry in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done. With high price tags and limited selection, sustainable fashion can seem unattainable to the average person. To truly move the needle and minimize our clothing footprint, sustainable fashion must become mainstream.

From how cotton is grown, fabrics are dyed and garments are manufactured, to how owners care for these items and whether unwanted garments are repurposed or recycled to ensure a second life, sustainably-sourced fashion begins long before a garment is placed on a shelf. And it ends far after a person no longer wears it. Both shoppers and retailers must acknowledge that the real cost of clothing is more than what’s printed on the price tag.

When over 95 percent of textile and clothing waste sent to landfills is recoverable through recycling or reuse, it’s a huge loss to simply toss these goods away.

Committing to the affordability, availability and increased visibility of sustainable garments is only part of the solution. As Runway Reimagined at Eco Fashion Week demonstrated, it’s also important for designers, artists and manufacturers to consider what happens to their discarded garments. When over 95 percent of textile and clothing waste sent to landfills is recoverable through recycling or reuse, it’s a huge loss to simply toss these goods away. Runway Reimagined challenged designers and stylists to use unsold secondhand clothing and textiles to create new looks, because the most sustainable fashion is fashion that already exists.

From the production of a garment to its disposal, we must continue to seek out innovative solutions. Given that over 80 billion new pieces of clothing will be purchased this year alone – 400 percent more than we consumed 20 years ago – Savers feels this is an important challenge. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to create a sustainable fashion future, one that fosters sustainable production and distribution while also addressing waste as a part of the fashion industry. How our industry chooses to respond to these challenges is up to us.

*This story first appeared on The Triple Pundit

Eileen Fisher’s Bold New Path

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Eileen Fisher designs from her heart. Long before sustainability really got going as a business movement, this giant of the fashion world created clothes inspired by her love for natural fibers and her desire to make pieces that were timeless and long-lasting. As her company grew, she began educating herself on the environmental impacts of the fashion industry and decided to do more. For over a decade, Eileen and her 1,200 employees have gradually transformed Eileen Fisher Inc. into one of the largest sustainable fashion brands anywhere, yet the company’s frank marketing materials are the first to tell you that more action is needed. Focusing on six key areas – fibers, colors, resources, people, supply chain mapping, and reuse – the company’s Vision 2020 initiative promises that all of its styles will be sustainable by the year 2020, or it won’t sell them.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Eileen for several hours at her home in New York about everything from her personal story to the value that mindful breathing at meetings adds to her company. She also opened up about the struggles and sacrifices required to integrate sustainable practices throughout her company, the tension between minimizing her impact and selling products, and how her search for purpose led to success.

Can you tell us about the conceptualization of the Eileen Fisher brand? Was there a moment that you remember that you actually decided to really go for it?

Eileen Fisher: I started in 1984, so I’m going to say it was 1979 when the idea was forming. I’d been working in design and graphics at that time and actually doing some branding work – logo design and packaging and things like that. I had a Japanese partner and had the opportunity to travel to Japan, and while I was there, I got really excited about the kimono – the whole idea of a garment that they wore in only one shape for a thousand years. The whole idea of timeless clothing intrigued me. The simplicity in the whole Japanese aesthetic just really attracted me. So, this idea began to form and it was just about really simple clothes – simple shapes and natural fibers. I was into cotton and linen and silk at that time. It just had to be natural fibers. That was clear to me.

When I first decided to do it, I
 had a friend who was a jewelry designer. He took me to a boutique show where he showed his jewelry to small stores. I just remember walking around there and seeing these little booths and seeing other designers presenting their work and small companies presenting their wares to little boutiques around the country. I remember looking around going, “Oh, I can do this.” I felt like I could see my idea there and it felt whole. I could picture it.

I’m probably not a good salesperson, so I couldn’t picture going around to stores and standing in line at Bendel’s or Bloomingdale’s to talk to the buyer and then being rejected. That was too disturbing to me, plus I didn’t know if they would understand what I was doing. And I guess I never saw myself doing runway shows – I wasn’t that kind of designer. It was more like I wanted real clothes for me to really wear. It wasn’t about the show or red carpets or anything glitzy. It was simple.

Was there any fear involved in that decision?

EF: I think it was foolish non-fear. 
I really had nothing and so I had nothing to lose. It was coming through me, this idea. It was clear to me. I was sort of uncomfortable and not a confident person, but a shy, introverted person. But this idea was powerful and I was confident about it and I was sure about it. I would talk to people about it with confidence. It was almost like I didn’t recognize myself because I felt so sure of myself in that arena. So I would say I had no fear – maybe foolishly had no fear.

Was it your intention from the get-go to make Eileen Fisher a sustainable brand or was that a gradual awakening?

EF: I would say it was gradual in
 terms of deepening the work around sustainability. In the beginning, it was all about natural fibers, and I was under the impression that natural was biodegradable and natural was safe
 for the environment. What happened over the years is that I drew in a lot
 of people who had similar values 
and cared about natural fibers and probably even understood things that I didn’t. I remember this woman, Sally Fox, who was one of the first organic cotton people. She was growing organic cotton in these subtle, natural colors close to 20 years ago. People like that found us because they knew we were on the same wavelength somehow, even if we weren’t fully understanding organic yet.

I guess you could relate it to food. People who eat healthy just instinctively wouldn’t eat at McDonald’s because it just wouldn’t feel right or they wouldn’t want to 
eat a lot of packaged foods. They would eat real food. To me, it was real clothes. That was where I was coming from without fully understanding the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton, and not understanding how damaging conventional cotton is to the planet.

So, we hired Amy Hall. We actually hired her to be an assistant at first and then she moved into being Director of Social Consciousness 15 years ago. She became passionate about some of the human rights work in the factories, how we monitored the factories, and how we ensured that our people were treated fairly. That was really how we entered social consciousness. We got involved with Social Accountability International, which does the SA8000 standards 
for operating in factories around the world. Amy is now on the board of directors there.

From there, things would just happen. For example, the first cotton I did, I just didn’t like the finish. The vendors told me there was some kind of chemical finish that they put on the cotton, and I didn’t like the way it felt. I had them not put the chemical finish on it, and I felt that the fabric just came alive. It was much more organic. It was just an intuitive thing that I liked it better.

Another time we got involved with this group in Peru that was doing organic cotton. We just fell in love with the yarn, but their capabilities weren’t great in terms of design. Even though in the beginning we were offering some products from them because we wanted to support this idea, the garments didn’t necessarily sell and they were more expensive. It was probably 30 percent more for the organic cotton at that time and we were troubled by that. Some of our designers got really excited about this yarn and they went down there and they started really designing into the product and working with the people down there to actually create what we wanted and making the product really compelling. Today this is an amazing project. It has some of my favorite pieces that I go to because they’re so beautiful and this cotton is just 
so compelling. People today will pay the price for those pieces, probably because the design value is there. It’s not just funky, hippie clothes. It’s something really beautiful and really special.

I think this whole thing has kind of been a building process over the years. A few years ago, we started doing organic linen and trying to bring in more organic cotton. We’re on a path to try to move more of our products to be more local – back to this country. We’re not there yet. We have a long way to go, but we’re trying.

I think there’s just so much passion and it’s so deep in the company.
 It’s not that we just have a Director of Sustainability or Director of
 Social Consciousness. Now we have somebody mapping the supply chain. That’s her whole job. We have a Director of Human Rights. We have these different positions. What’s actually happening is that throughout the company lots of people are really encouraged to be passionate about these things and are given permission to care. At our company meetings, we do things like talk about the
 water crisis and ask everyone what they might do, and get the company engaged.

“Throughout the company lots of people are really encouraged to be passionate about these things and are given permission to care.”

Was there something that really inspired this shift?

EF: A few years ago, I got involved in the Gross National Happiness project with Otto Scharmer. I ended up going to Bhutan and the Amazon and started really thinking about purpose – my own purpose and the company’s purpose.

It’s interesting because we’re a clothing business, and although we’re not a typical fashion business, we 
are still caught in that thing where the customer wants new – she wants to feel special. We want her to feel great and give her something new, but we also want to create things
 that are timeless and that last a long time. These are weird lines that we’re walking.

I don’t think of myself as leading this company. I never call myself CEO or anything like that. It just feels like it’s such a collective, group effort. And a few years ago, when I started on this project, simultaneously there was work going on in sustainability and there was a whole team building around that asking, “What else can we do? How can we get rid of the plastic hangers? How can we use less paper? How can we ship more by sea rather than by air?” These conversations were happening everywhere and there started to be these large gatherings at off-sites.

So, after I started doing my own purpose work with the Gross National Happiness project, I was on a boat in the Amazon and I met this guy, Marcelo Cardoso, who blew my mind. He was talking about purpose and companies having a larger purpose and individual purpose and how that works together, and personal transformation. I was like, “Yes, I want more of this. How can you help me do this?”

I started bringing him in and we were doing these prototype workshops. One of them was around purpose and I had this really powerful experience. He does these exercises where you just sit in a chair and you embody your purpose. You sort of talk to yourself as your purpose, like, “What are you doing with your life? Why are you doing this? What really matters? Why are you forgetting about me?”

I had this really interesting experience in which I recognized 
that I just needed to be more fully 
me. Actually, I used the stools in my kitchen, and I found that when I would sit in this purpose chair, I was sort of embodying my purpose. I just started to take that into my daily practice of sitting on a stool and feeling that I’m in my purpose rather than just my ordinary me.

A year and a half ago, I had just come back from two back-to-back conferences and I was tired, but there was a company sustainability meeting off-site. You could feel a lot of energy building around all this great work 
that was happening. I was supposed to go. I thought I was going to go for the first few hours and just kind of set it off, give permission, and let everybody know that I supported this whole initiative. I was sitting in my purpose chair that morning and I thought, “I have to do this. I don’t care if I’m tired. This really matters.”

I went upstairs and packed my bag for the whole four days. I went and while I was there it was amazing the work that was happening. This is where the Vision 2020 came out. It was not my idea, but it came up that we should make a radical commitment that we would make all of our clothes sustainable by 2020.

And whoa. I just remember realizing that I could say, “Yes!” My name’s on the door. Even if we don’t get there, saying yes gives people permission. It was just this powerful understanding that there was a place for me to really use my voice and that this was an important area for me to do that. The work was already happening and it was maybe going to happen if I hadn’t said yes, but me saying yes that day was another, deeper layer.

To see the full interview with Eileen, including her concerns about the apparel industry, her thoughts on leadership and growing her company sustainably, and what’s giving her hope for the future, purchase a digital or print copy of Issue 3 of Conscious Company Magazine in stores or online.  

**This post first appeared on the Conscious Company Magazine here.

Eileen Fisher outlines bold sustainability goals

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NEW YORK, March 19, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — EILEEN FISHER is taking a stand for sustainable business practices by announcing its new VISION2020 campaign, a bold new plan detailing the steps the brand will take over the course of the next five years toward reaching a goal of 100% sustainability. The brand will launch a national advertising campaign announcing its efforts, which will be supported through social media, PR, online, and their retail stores. Known for its commitment to responsible and eco-friendly business practices, EILEEN FISHER will outline the steps they will take over these next five years to work towards that goal in eight important categories: materials, chemistry, water, carbon, conscious business practices, fair wages & benefits, worker voice, and worker & community happiness.

“To create a truly responsible supply chain, we need to scrutinize everything we do, from the field to the factory to the landfill,” said Candice Reffe, Co-Creative Officer. “We need to take a hard look at what’s often swept under the rug — toxins, carbon emissions, and low worker pay, to name a few. It won’t be easy. We’ll need the help of our customers, our manufacturing partners, and like-minded brands. And we’ll do it with two simple words: no excuses.”

The brand plans to continue on its path toward fiber sustainability by using only organic cotton and linen in its clothing by 2020. Additionally, the brand plans to use only wool from sheep that are humanely raised on sustainable farms, and swap Tencel® for rayon. To improve its use of color, the brand will be continuing its partnership with bluesign® technologies working toward responsible chemical, water, and energy usage. By the year 2020, roughly 30% of all EILEEN FISHER items will be bluesign® certified. Further, the brand plans to reach out to other fashion labels to create demand for responsible dyes in an attempt to establish a new industry norm. To reverse the global resource consumption trend, the brand is pledging to use less water, emitting less carbon, and producing less fabric waste, as well as investing in alternative energy. In five years, EILEEN FISHER, Inc. pledges that its US operations won’t just be carbon neutral — they’ll be carbon positive.

The campaign isn’t just about energy and resources — from investing in alternative supply chains that pay fair wages to creating investment programs like The Handloom Project in rural communities — the brand is also committed to improving the livelihoods of the workers in its supply chain. In an effort to ensure only the finest natural materials are used in the best conditions, the EILEEN FISHER will also be mapping its global supply chain, investigating suppliers, factories, spinners, and mills and posting the progress for fans of the brand to follow online. Finally, EILEEN FISHER is pledging to continue its work to reuse clothing and reduce waste with its clothing recycling program. By 2020, the program is expected to hit 1 million recycled items, which the brand will resell. Those items that can’t be resold will be turned into raw material for new textiles or fashioned into new clothes. With its newly laid out goals, the brand hopes to work towards total sustainability, and envisions a world in which waste is a thing of the past.

About EILEEN FISHER:
EILEEN FISHER has been creating effortlessly chic clothes for the past 30 years. Designed with pure shapes and fine fabrics, the collections offer sophistication, comfort and style that lasts. As a socially conscious company, EILEEN FISHER is a pioneer in eco-friendly fashion and in supporting global initiatives that empower women and girls. The clothing is sold at more than 60 EILEEN FISHER retail stores in the US, Canada and the UK, as well as at major department stores and eileenfisher.com

This post originally appeared here.