NEW YORK — Eileen Fisher, who started her business with four pieces and $350, now steers a women’s sportswear company generating $300 million in annual sales.
She said the key is bringing together employees “who are passionate about what they’re doing. A lot of what we do in our sustainability efforts come from their passion,” Fisher told attendees at the recent Sustainable Textiles Conference here.
When Fisher began designing 27 years ago, she loved natural fibers. “I thought they were a good thing, like eating natural food, real food. Real clothes seemed like a good start,” she said.
Fisher recalled attending a friend’s wedding years ago in a polyester dress “and thought I’d get cancer; I was sort of creeped out,” she told the packed room. She wanted to create designs and good-quality clothes that would last. “I loved the idea of the Japanese kimono. For thousands of years, they used only one shape.”
Fisher believed that the simpler the style, the more you could adapt it and take old things and make them new. She was intrigued with the idea “of what makes a style last a long time and still be in the moment.”
She recalled running into a woman at one of her stores wearing a dress she designed 26 years ago. “Certain things really do last. How do we create these things and what makes a design transcend its time?” said Fisher, who last year started a recycling program for her timeless designs at her Lab store in Irvington, N.Y., where her company is based.
One sustainable practice was to move into fabrics that were washable. She told the crowd that sometimes the way people take care of their clothes “is more damaging than how it’s created. How you wash and dry clean a garment is more important than how it’s made,” she said.
Fisher began testing organic cotton from Sally Fox and did a wool program with Black Sheep.
Most importantly, she noted it’s imperative for a customer to love the way the product feels. “She’ll buy it even if it costs a little more, if it has a tag on it [that says it’s] eco-friendly. The problem with Black Sheep was the wool was scratchy.”
So the company went back to see if Black Sheep could make it softer. Fisher said her firm also has “ongoing partnerships with vendors and mills about cotton,” and is always trying to figure out ways to make fabrics better and less harmful to the environment. “My intention is to make a difference, be open to what others are saying and to care on a deep level. It’s not just about profits. New business models have to go much deeper,” she said.
Fisher said her business is up 10 percent this year.
She had several members of her team on stage with her. Among them was fabric designer Inka Apter, who said while growing up in Croatia, “reduce, reuse and recycle” were part of her everyday vocabulary. “Plastic bags were lovingly folded” and reused. When she moved to the U.S. “the hardest thing to absorb was the multitude of things. Going to a department store, I’d have an anxiety attack. There was too much stuff.” She came across an Eileen Fisher store and “was struck with the simple beauty. It was an eye opener and I wanted to be part of that company,” said Apter, who has worked at the firm for 13 years, expanding its global sourcing.
“We’re trying to bring a positive change to the product,” she said, explaining that as a fashion company, Eileen Fisher can test the products for pilling and strength. “But there’s no test for the ‘wow’” factor, she said. “We need to make sure we champion those products that have those qualities.”
Still, she was realistic.“Green products cost more,” Apter said. “The price of raw materials is going through the roof on every level. We’re one link in this chain.”
Sustainability reaches to some of the techniques the company uses, even if these can at times have drawbacks of their own. Fisher noted she is passionate about hand-beading from China and Peru. “We want to support these crafts people,” she said. “But [the garments] can’t go by boat. They need to be dry cleaned and go by plane. There are endless complexities. We’re all on a path, and it’s all imperfect.”
London’s newly opened @designmuseum will look back on the life and work of Azzedine Alaïa in a show that the designer helped to curate before he died of heart failure last month. The retrospective, which Alaïa had worked on with Mark Wilson, chief curator of the @groningermuseum, will look at the impact of his work worldwide. The show, “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier,” will run from May 10 to October 7. Read more about the exhibit on WWD.com #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @zefashioninsider)
@Pharrell and his wife Helen Lasichanh were among the stars that came out to celebrate @rimowa’s first pop-up concept shop. The space, which is located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, draws inspiration from airport luggage carousels and lounge areas – and features the company’s luggage and accessories. If the pop-up is successful it could pave the way for addition temporary shops throughout the world. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA)
@carineroitfeld celebrated @crfashionbook’s first calendar last night with a dinner party at Spring Place in Manhattan. Photographed by @stevenkleinstudio, the calendar takes on a fitness theme and features @joansmalls, @gigihadid, @danielle_herrington_ – pictured here – and more. “[Carine Roitfeld] wanted me to feel sexy and she wanted me to be myself and feel it out on my own and do what I felt was right,” said Herrington, aka Miss October. #wwdeye
@saintrecords and @virgilabloh last night at @americanexpress’ “A Night With Success Makers” event. “I always bring it back to community because without that I wouldn’t have the courage,” said Knowles when asked how she has gotten where she is now. Read more highlights from their conversation on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @lizdoupnik)
This Just In: Industry sources have told WWD that Anastasia Soare is rumored to be considering selling her beauty business, @anastasiabeverlyhills. According to those sources, Soare has tapped investment bank Imperial Capital to explore sale options for her eponymous beauty brand –– and with at least $340 million in net sales, this would be a big deal. Put in context of other recent transactions for makeup companies, Soare’s price tag could be in the billions if she were to sell the whole thing. #wwdnews #wwdbeauty (📷: @clint_spaulding)
@assouline’s latest book, “The Spirit of Bentley: Be Extraordinary” captures the adventurous attitudes and opulent lifestyles of @bentleymotors’ most creative owners and enthusiasts throughout the U.K. The 292-page hardcover has a section dedicated to showing its team of skilled artisans and photos of its most colorful owners, from George Bamford to designer @alicetemperley, pictured here by Aline Coquelle. #wwdeye
@google released its report on the most popular search terms this year. For fashion brands, the list was led by @gucci, the luxury brand that stunned the market last October when it pledged to stop using fur. Runner ups were @supremenewyork and @fashionnova, along with more established brands like @louisvuitton, @chanelofficial and @ysl. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)