Creating a truly circular business is no easy task. Today, it requires balancing design aesthetics on top of creating an apparel business model that minimizes its impact on the environment.
In 1984, Eileen Fisher was a pioneer. Few of us were thinking of balancing profit with purpose . Well, unless you were two guys nams Ben & Jerry who had a nascent ice cream business that was struggling to gain footing.
Now, Eileen Fisher is the genius 70-year-old designer who, like nearly all apparel brands, is struggling in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the fact that I’m writing this from my home office, decked out in shorts and a dress shirt for our Zoom meeting, I had a chance to visit with one of the brightest minds in circular business design at a company that has seen the highs and lows of the past few decades. Here’s Eileen Fisher’s wisdom on where we are today and where we are going . . . as it relates to purpose and sustainability.
Jeff Fromm: What’s the purpose for the Eileen Fisher brand?
Eileen Fisher: The way I think about the purpose of Eileen Fisher is that, we are working to provide a sustainable system of dressings that makes getting dressed more simple. The clothes have to be comfortable, sustainable and beautiful fabrics and shapes. These things all work together, so you build your wardrobe over time. You don’t throw them away and actually you bring them back to us, and that’s part of the system. It’s both the system of clothing and the way it works for customers, but it’s also a whole company system that we both make the clothes as sustainably as we can. I always say it from the seeds all the way through till the end. And so then we also take the old clothes back from the customer, and then we resell them and remake them into different things.
Fromm: Can you go into a little depth on the role sustainability plays in helping you live your purpose?
Fisher: Sustainability is central to what we do. It’s embedded in everything and all the ways we think. I always thought in the early days that what we did was sustainable, because we were creating timeless clothes that customers didn’t have to throw away, that they can use and reuse. Over the years, I came to understand that there was more to sustainability than just making simple things. There was a lot in the way clothes were made that wasn’t actually so good for the planet. Over time we worked to commit to organic and more eco friendly materials. We looked at our supply chain and all of our processes, and we see the opportunities in every place we work. It’s a holistic mindset to think