EILEEN FISHER has developed a multi-level approach to sustainability, involving changes big and small — from using more conscious materials and investing in renewable energy to innovative recycling programs.
Ever since starting her company in 1984, Eileen Fisher has been focused on simplicity, beauty and systems-thinking applied to fashion. The line started with four basic shapes and quickly expanded to a whopping eight pieces — featuring beautiful colors, great fabrics, shapes and proportions that worked together. Today, EILEEN FISHER employs 900 people and has 58 stores across the US, Canada and the UK.
Environmental initiatives are a major priority for the company, which has developed an impressive multilevel approach involving changes big and small, including developing eco materials and supporting renewable energy to recycling clothing. “It’s a commitment to our belief in honoring the earth and its connection to our well being,” Fisher states. “By seeking the best practices throughout the lifecycle of our products, we are creating healthier environments for farmers, supply chain workers and future generations.”
As part of that environmental push, the brand’s Ampersand collection consists of pieces that are sustainably made either in a domestic factory, by artisans, or using Fair Trade and organic materials. Whenever you see an Ampersand on the label, that means there is a sustainability story behind that garment.
The commitment to a healthy work environment starts right in the corporate offices in Irvington, New York, where cubicles have been replaced with open work areas that inspire collaboration and ample natural light shines through the windows. Happy workers are important on the home front, but no more so than in the factories that produce the clothing. EILEEN FISHER’s Social Consciousness team is dedicated to keeping track of human rights issues at the label’s factories — there are seven in China, one in India, three in New York and a few others around the globe — ensuring that real life conditions meet SA8000 workplace standards.
The label also emphasizes long-term relationships with suppliers, giving them further incentive to deal with problems in the factories. “I’ve come to realize that we are unusual in the industry,” says the Social Consciousness Team’s Luna Lee. “Many brands shift suppliers all the time.”
Although frequent audits are necessary, they are not perfect (as we’ve seen in the far too many deadly tragedies in overseas factories lately). EILEEN FISHER aims toward building factory rights from the ground up by training workers to be aware of and exercise their rights in vulnerable situations. Ten years ago, the brand began working with Verité, a nonprofit specializing in human rights, to hold workshops for workers at three China factories. “The first year was rocky,” says Amy Hall, EF’s director of Social Consciousness. “Managers were highly skeptical about letting Verité into their factories. Appointments were made and cancelled repeatedly. But once the trainings began, the workers began asking for them and we instituted separate ones for managers. We’ve expanded to all seven of our Chinese factories.”
As part of a push for domestic production, EILEEN FISHER manufactures all jeans in the United States — 80 percent in Los Angeles and the rest in New York City. On the label’s Ampersand site, you can read about Bobby Ahn, the owner of an LA denim factory, who drives a plug-in Prius, eats organic food and has a family story that mirrors the ups and downs of the US garment industry.
The benefit of not following trends–something Fisher has never done, is that the garments never go out of style. Recognizing this, the brand launched its first GREEN EILEEN store in 1997, reselling gently worn clothing. Today, there are four stores, where you can find everything from archive pieces like a knit motorcycle jacket to simple tees. The proceeds, which have added up to $1.3 million in the last three years, are all donated to nonprofits that work toward empowering women and girls.
In April (for Earth Month), EILEEN FISHER announced the start of their new GREEN EILEEN Collection Program, a recycled clothing initiative of the EILEEN FISHER Community Foundation whose proceeds will support women and girls. Bring back your gently worn EILEEN FISHER clothing to one of the company’s stores and receive a tax receipt and $5 in Recycling Rewards to spend at any EILEEN FISHER store or at eileenfisher.com.
It’s not easy for an established company to implement sustainability initiatives across the board. It’s never perfect right away, but the important thing is that things move in the right direction. EILEEN FISHER shows us a multitude of ways it can be done.
Images courtesy of EILEEN FISHER