As part of its “Vision 2020” sustainability strategy, Eileen Fisher, the New York-based women’s clothing brand, pledged to use “the most sustainable fibers we can lay our hands on”. Traditionally the most complex and least transparent part of a company’s functions, Eileen Fisher sees its supply chain as an opportunity. Actions to harness this opportunity focus on sourcing fibers that not only eliminate associated negative impacts, such as pesticide-free organic cotton, but also create positive impacts, including regenerated ecosystems and repurposed waste. Eileen Fisher is proving that a company can link their core business model and day-to-day operations to creating value for both planet and people and the Future-Fit Business Benchmark provides a unique way to understand and communicate this creation of value.
Some actions, such as substituting untraceable and chemical-dependent viscose fibers for more benign alternatives, contribute to the Break-Even Goal: Procurement safeguards the pursuit of future-fitness while other actions go beyond what is needed to reach Break-Even, by restoring the environment or supporting others to do so. These attempts to go beyond what is needed are captured by Positive Pursuits, a set of 24 actions which together encompass the types of outcomes a business may strive to achieve in order to meet societal needs. In particular, Eileen Fishers’ interventions fall into two Positive Pursuit categories:
- Ecosystems are regenerated: Through its partnership with wool producers, Eileen Fisher supports the implementation of regenerative agriculture – a practice that enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.
- Others generate less waste: By recycling as materials, both pre-consumer and postconsumer by-products, Eileen Fisher prevents those by-products from ending up as waste. In addition, by offering a clothing ‘take-back-service’ Eileen Fisher extends the lifecycle of its clothing.
Progress to date
Eileen Fisher’s regenerative agriculture journey began several years ago when, stimulated by Vision 2020, the company began conversations with Textile Exchange, the creators of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). After visiting potential supplier farms in Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, Eileen Fisher partnered with Ovis 21, a network of producers, technicians and professionals seeking to change the paradigm of farming from extractive to regenerative. Around half of Eileen Fisher’s wool now comes from Ovis 21, with the aim that eventually 100% of all wool procurement will support regenerative agricultural practices.
“The people in this industry need to understand how these garments are made. We are, essentially an agricultural company, as everything we create comes from raw materials.”
Megan Meiklejohn, Sustainable Materials & Transparency Manager at Eileen Fisher
Supporting others to reduce waste
Eileen Fisher also has a long history of using recycled synthetics in its clothes. For instance, since 2009 the company has sourced recycled polyester from water bottles and other forms of postconsumer waste as well as unused pre-consumer nylon waste left over from manufacturing processes.
In addition, Eileen Fisher’s take-back scheme ‘Renew’, enables consumers to return used Eileen Fisher clothing in-store, to be repurposed in one of two ways. If the clothing is in good condition, it is cleaned and repaired so that it can be resold through dedicated second-hand Eileen Fisher outlets, which has proved incredibly popular among consumers. The other option is the recycling of the fibers themselves and Eileen Fisher is exploring ways to create closed loop production models.
With 2020 just around the corner, Eileen Fisher has the opportunity to further harness its legacy of responsible action, by continuing to regenerate the resources upon which it depends as a company while also empowering its customers to make informed decisions that limit their impact on the planet.