Designer Eileen Fisher is a sustainability pioneer. She shares some innovative and artistic new ways she's cleaning up fashion.
By Tessa Trudeau
Eileen Fisher's sense of sustainability started as a young girl. "It began with a simple observation of my mother, who would hold onto everything as long as possible to be economically efficient on a tight budget with seven children," she tells us. Her mother's conservation entered her company's values.
"Having built a business from the ground up, I've seen firsthand the waste that exists in our industry," says Fisher, reflecting on her 35-year-old company. Since 1984, Fisher's designs have valued simplicity and longevity. She gives women the essentials to build a wardrobe that's flattering and comfortable and timeless; pieces they'll keep for years to come. She also long ago made the decision to make these clothes as eco-friendly as possible.
In 2015, Fisher kicked off aggressive new company-wide standards and processes to become an even more environmentally and socially aware manufacturer—in just five years' time; it's called Vision 2020. "One-hundred percent sustainability is impossible for any brand, but we have ambitious goals," says Fisher. "It's a big job to balance the needs of our business with the needs of our planet," she says. Yet she manages to do just that. Now close to Vision 2020's endpoint, Fisher was eager to share some of the targets they've hit.
"We are very proud that in our spring 2019 collection, we've shifted to 99 percent organic cotton and organic linen and are on track to achieve 100 percent for both fabrics by 2020," she says. At present, 79 percent of spring 2019 pieces are made with eco-preferred materials, which is the highest percentage they've ever had for this season. "We are also on target for 40 percent of our garments to be bluesign® certified by then," Fisher explains, "meaning they're made with only low-impact dyes."
The brand has also made great strides through Renew, their dynamic clothing recycling program based on the term "circular fashion," which means that garments are not simply discarded at the end of their lives but, instead, repurposed. "In 2009, our employees began turning in their old EILEEN FISHER clothes," she tells us. "And it turns out that our customers wanted to bring their clothes in, too. Our comprehensive program finds diverse solutions for reusing and even redesigning with used fabric, rather than throwing it away," Fisher explains. Clothes with minor flaws are mended or redyed and clothes in poor condition are taken apart and turned into completely new designs. Clothes in good shape are simply cleaned and resold at a discount. "To date, we have collected over one million garments," she shares.
The company has even found a unique approach to repurposing clothes as artwork. Using garments collected through their recycling platform, Eileen Fisher began an international art installation called "Waste No More." "Utilizing felting [a technique in which fabric fibers are separated and reassembled into new fabric], we use our Renew-recycled garments to create distinctive, abstract patterns that take the form of wall hangings, garments, architectural elements and home decor," she explains. "The 'Waste No More' exhibition was first featured in the prestigious Salone del Mobile [an international furniture fair] in Milan during Design Week."
This year, "Waste No More" will be previewed at the Eileen Fisher storefront in Brooklyn, New York, from April 4-7 before showing in Milan from April 9-14. To create the exhibition, artist and creative director Sigi Ahl sifted through thousands of brought-back pieces to assemble what will be an all-white installation meant to symbolize simplicity, transformation and the ideology of "less is more." Curated by world-renowned trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort and business partner Philip Fimmano, "Waste No More" will be presented in the courtyard of Milanese gallery Rossana Orlandi, which will be transformed into a spiritual space filled with works of white, including wall hangings and other textile artworks.
Vision 2020 was shaped by the hopes that, someday, these types of programs will no longer be implemented as initiatives but as a new standard of conduct for the fashion industry. With this particular journey culminating in the coming months, what lies ahead for the brand? "We are beginning to look toward the next five years and asking, what will the next iteration of Vision 2020 be?" she says.