In 1997, before most clothing brands had embraced sustainability and responsibility for the planet, Eileen Fisher’s Amy Hall created their Social Consciousness department. Their mission was to raise awareness about three values:
- Practicing business responsibly with absolute regard for human rights.
- Guiding our product and practice toward sustaining our environment.
- Supporting women to be full participants in society.
“Our environmental vision is holistic,” says Shona Quinn, Sustainability Leader. “We believe in paying attention to what happens in the field, the dye house and our customers’ washing machines. Our goal is to design out negative impacts—and design in positive change.”
From using organic, sustainable fibers and using dyes made of natural ingredients such as petals leaves and bark, to maintaining transparency in their manufacturing and supply chain, the company is committed to doing more than doing less harm to the environment. They want to make clothes that actually make things better for the world. The company recently launched their Regenerative Wool, a fiber that is helping to restore grasslands and fight climate change.
The company takes a long-term approach to the things they create. They see clothing as having three cycles of life. First Life is when clothes are new. Second Life is covered by a division called Renew. Here, they buy back gently worn clothing, give it a good-as-new cleaning, and resell it.
If the clothing isn’t in good enough shape to be resold, this is Third Life. Their Waste No More division handles clothes in this third cycle, taking pieces that are damaged beyond repair and transforming them into art, including linen, cashmere, organic cotton and wool garments, using a special felting technique. The exquisite wall hangings have been displayed in New York, Milan, Vienna and Florence.
One of the least sustainable fabrics today is polyester. This non-biodegradable material may take from 20 to 200 years to break down in a landfill. Polyester is partially derived from oil and requires large amounts of water in its manufacturing. It is also responsible for releasing microplastics, especially during washing, which are increasingly harmful to marine life.