My friend Tessa and I were one of many excited people who packed into the Tishman Auditorium at Parsons to see Eileen Fisher—the creative force and genius designer behind the eponymous brand. Part of the Parsons Festival’s 2016 offerings, the talk was surprisingly warm and inviting though the auditorium was packed with a captivated audience. I had never seen the women behind the legendary brand speak in person, and both Tessa and I relished in the opportunity.
In the dim yellow glow, we were taken on a journey through Eileen’s inspirations. Eileen began her career in interior design and dove into the world of fashion after encountering the world of handmade Kimonos in Japan.
She wanted to bring the same essence of classic design that inspired the thousand-year-old style of Japan to the lives of American women. Sitting alongside Hazel Clark, the fashion research chair at Parsons School for Design, Eileen commented that the same palazzo pant that she has been wearing for years had once again come back in style and it was making the timeless designs which are seen in every fashion era that motivated her to do her best work.
Though New York City is a large and magical city, it’s not every day that one gets to hear the story of someone whose work that you greatly admire. Eileen spent the evening bringing her talk back to how personal connections are an integral part of building ethical businesses. She made a point of emphasizing the way human connections can transform the problems of an enterprising effort into real opportunities for creativity.
The fashion industry has some real big issues to solve and that presents real opportunities for growth and creativity. Only about 1% of the cotton used worldwide is organic, and polyester is notorious for piling up in our landfills (it’s not biodegradable) and being absolutely rotten to the earth (it’s usually made from petrochemicals).
Eileen’s brand plans to radically change the supply chain of their business by the year 2020. Through their program Vision 2020, the brand is going full organic when sourcing for its cotton and linen pieces while using only recycled rayon.
From recycling initiatives like Green Eileen, the brand isn’t just touting sustainability, they are doing due diligence and thinking longterm. They are at work in the labs/studios at Eileen Fisher in a multitude of products and initiatives. Eileen hinted at a burgeoning home textiles branch to the brand.
She also pointed to the fact that creativity sparks beauty and recycling and is ripe with opportunity to remake and recreate. More importantly, the brand plans on completely mapping their supply chain—making sure that everyone involved is treated fairly and all of the garments are made in a closed loop system.
Eileen explained to us that everything that her brand has learned over the years is available to the larger fashion industry. She mentioned that though she isn’t naturally a public speaker, her goal was to ensure that the fashion industry wakes up the possibilities that an alternative business model can offer by not just purely focusing maximum profits.
She was very humble and opened herself up to the audience. Having her speak so candidly to all of us reinforced my love for the brand’s work and I left the talk energized about my own abilities, reinforced in my belief that we all have something to offer to the world.