How Eileen Fisher is Shaping the Sustainable Fashion Movement

By Sarah Morrison // Photo by Classic Gray Home

Founded in 1984, Eileen Fisher is a brand that’s perhaps best known for its intentional design ethos: sophisticated separates, natural fibers, and versatile, time-tested pieces meant to anchor the everyday wardrobe. Since its early beginnings, the brand has stood firmly on its commitment to high-quality construction, continuously evolving to make dressing easier for today’s modern woman.

The designer behind the namesake label, frustrated by her own challenges with getting dressed, established the line of essentials with an emphasis on wardrobe building that goes further than ever thought before. The brand’s current mission statement, where clothes are “ethical, timeless and designed to work together” encapsulates this persona almost perfectly. The mission now, more audacious than ever, has evolved to include a new, lofty, yet essential pledge: to be “part of a responsible lifestyle”; to drive towards a “more sustainable future”, for all.

However, unlike the Eileen Fisher of today, sustainability was not always top-of-mind for the designer.

While natural fabrics and ethical sourcing were always part of the equation, Eileen Fisher was far from the pivotal sustainability model it’s come to pride itself on today.

In 2012, Eileen Fisher was preparing to set out on a company trek to visit suppliers in Southeast Asia. Upon her arrival, Fisher quickly came to bear the severe ecological challenges plaguing her supply chain, the local communities, and the industry at-large. She saw the depleted agricultural soils, the rampant water shortages, and the sheer desperation of resource-scarce communities struggling to access basic necessities, like clean water. It was in this moment where Fisher began to viscerally recognize the gravity of the climate crisis, the fashion industry’s role within it, and how little action was being done to reverse it.

Upon her return to the States, Fisher was compelled to take bold action herself — setting into motion a plan that would change the course of her company entirely. Fisher quickly recognized her strategies, like natural fabrication, albeit constructive, were not fully embedded into all of her collections as she had hoped. And while the company lived its values of fair trade and safe labor authentically, it did not have any strategic plans to advance ethical sourcing from an external, corporate angle.

Eventually, Fisher would tap several of her company executives to converge at a corporate retreat. Organized solely for the purpose of executing on her renewed vision, Fisher proposed her new identity for the brand. “The preeminent fashion leader in environmental and social production,” mused Fisher. The mission would hold weight.

Not before long, the team would eventually coalesce on a big-picture plan: a set of sustainability goals through the year 2020, known collectively as VISION 2020.

Today, a year after the company’s target date, Eileen Fisher has proudly achieved the status of B Corporation: a “quadruple bottom line” company valuing the environment, human rights, employee welfare (as well as financial interests), as part of doing business.

As outlined in VISION 2020, the company achieved 98% of cotton production from organic sources (up from 88% in 2015), and 79% of wool production from responsible or recycled sources (up from 0% in 2015). The company has also expanded its mission to extend beyond responsible sourcing — advancing a circular business model grounded in both community involvement and human rights empowerment.

Their two-pronged recycling program, Renew Take-Back and Waste No More, repurposes gently-used Eileen Fisher items from the community. Working in concert with a collective of American-based designers, textile artists, and seamstresses, the programs help to restore function and design into original garments that would otherwise be discarded. By promoting this circular business model, Eileen Fisher is working to address the critical issue of ecological harm that results from the industry’s large carbon footprint, from manufacturing, to disposal, to garment waste in our global landfills.

As a B Corp organization, Eileen Fisher is also accountable to protecting human rights along environmental factors. Since 2005, the organization has partnered with an alternative supply chain in Arequipa, Peru, aptly called project Our Love, Peru. Working with over 450 families in the region, Eileen Fisher invests in their trade, preserving traditional and organic techniques, while providing safe, dignified jobs to often marginalized communities.

Evidently, if any fashion brand is a blueprint for sustainability, it’s Eileen Fisher in the 21st century. Taking shape through organic designs, closed-loop production, and ethical sourcing, Eileen Fisher has given agency to an industry that is has largely kept to the regressive status quo. The brand’s journey to a greener, more prosperous world for all has set the new standard: one that sustains a future that generations can ultimately be proud of.

Shop Eileen Fisher

Pictured above: Organic Cotton Terry Stand Collar Jacket ($278), Undyed Organic Cotton Stretch Wide-Leg Jean ($178), Organic Cotton French Terry Jogger ($178), Light Cotton Nylon Stand Collar Long Coat ($298)

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Word Stylist. Fashion Aficionado. Human, above-all.

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