For Designer Eileen Fisher, It’s About ‘More Than the Clothes’

The fashion icon talks about the challenges of moving her company ‘toward 100 percent sustainability.’

Eileen Fisher. (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

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May 29, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

Eileen Fisher is known for her use of fabrics and the simplicity of her designs. But in creating her clothing and home goods, Fisher has also become a champion for sustainability. TakePart caught up with the designer and learned more about how she’s leading the charge to produce sustainable fashion—and what that means for her employees and the planet.

TakePart: Why did you want to get involved in promoting The True Cost?

Eileen Fisher: Last year, director Andrew Morgan asked me to participate in the film. I was intrigued by his story, and after watching the film I was so incredibly moved. I knew in that moment I wanted to help spread the important message of the negative impact fashion has on human rights and the environment.

TakePart: For you personally, what was the impetus to be a pioneer in sustainable fashion?

Fisher: I have always thought of the company as being about more than the clothes. Creating meaningful impact in the world is at the heart of it. Business has the power to make a difference and can be a movement around social change. Our work with women and girls, human rights, and the environment and how we work as a company completes the circle—it’s about the product, people, and planet and the choices each of us makes every single day.

RELATED: Get More Coverage on the True Cost of Your Clothes

TakePart: How far do you feel the fashion industry has come in regard to sustainable practices? What needs to be done to get everyone on board?

Fisher: I realized a year and a half ago that we weren’t moving our sustainability efforts forward fast enough. This year, we launched Vision2020 and outlined our path toward 100 percent sustainability by the year 2020. We recognize that we will likely still have much more to do at that point to achieve 100 percent. We have set a high bar for 100 percent sustainability. It means zero-carbon footprint, 100 percent eco-fiber, 100 percent living wage in our supply chain, and much more. It is truly looking at every component of our products and practices and doing whatever is necessary to have a net positive environmental and human impact through our business.

We need the industry to unite and work together. For example, if we want a dyehouse to become bluesign-certified, it must have the support of all its brand clients or it doesn’t make business sense to go through the transformation.

TakePart: When you design, what are you thinking about in terms of how to produce pieces in a more eco-friendly way?

Fisher: Becoming more mindful about clothing means looking at every fiber and every seed and every dye and seeing how to make it better. We want to make sustainability our way of life; we want it to be universal. Our goal is simple: Design without negative impacts right from the start. Sustainability starts with design. When we select fabrics and yarns, we are making choices about better farming practices, greener dyes, and innovative production, building an eco-collection that accounts for more than 25 percent of our line. We work to create products designed to last and that are easy to care for.

TakePart: I’ve read that you employ a social consciousness team. How long has it been in place, and what are some hurdles it’s still trying to overcome in regard to production?

Fisher: As a company we have always been dedicated to sustainability and human rights. Nearly 20 years ago, born from the passion of people in the company, we began to form a social consciousness team. They have been a quiet yet impactful influencer for many years, inspiring and engaging individuals within the company through projects and experiences. Today, we are much closer to the center of the work, in true partnership with key business departments like design, manufacturing, product development, and business operations.

TakePart: Do you have discussions with other designers about the environmental impact of the fashion industry?

Fisher: Yes, we do connect with other designers, and we invite any designer who is interested in learning more or partnering with us to make a bigger impact in the world to join us. I recently attended a CEO roundtable discussion hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University and the United Nations Global Compact focused on the state of sustainability and minimizing the impact of the fashion industry on the world. It was promising for me to see companies like Patagonia, Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren, and others come together to create a powerful and purposeful conversation.

TakePart: From what I’ve read, you really take care of your employees, offering many wellness benefits and perks that one doesn’t often find in the workplace. What made you put these opportunities into place?

Fisher: We offer a wellness and education benefit program that provides employees $1,000 for each area, so they can be reimbursed for things like yoga classes, massages, etc. We also start our meetings with a moment of silence to help center our minds and be present with one another. We start by closing our eyes, relaxing our bodies, and ringing our chime; one is located in every conference room. We meditate for one or two minutes and then begin our work together. These practices have helped shape our collaborative and mindful culture.

TakePart: What’s one thing you’d like consumers to be aware of in terms of sustainable fashion?

Fisher: We are all in this together. We not only need the fashion companies to change; we need consumers to change their mind-set about clothing. It starts by stopping to think about what you are buying and how good it is. How long it might last. Does it belong to just this moment? For me, it is about simplicity. If it is simple, it can be worn in over time in multiple ways.