sustainability eileen fisher

As part of the designer’s “Vision 2020” five-year plan launched in 2015, Eileen Fisher Inc. said it partnered with Columbus Consulting International on an end-to-end merchandising and sourcing plan to reach its goal 100 percent sustainability by the year 2020.

Columbus Consulting International, which specializes in merchandise planning, is working with the Eileen Fisher to establish a unified business plan and roadmap to achieve its longstanding commitment of using organic and sustainable fibers, un-dyed and natural dyes and certified dyeing processes in its products while also upholding human rights and fair trade practices throughout the manufacturing process.

Click here to read a story about founder Eileen Fisher’s approach to the fashion apparel business.

“From an internal perspective, we’re focused on our products — specifically materials,” Shona Quinn, sustainability leader at Eileen Fisher, told WWD. “This includes guidelines that support responsible forestry practices, organic agriculture, animal welfare and chemical management. We also voice our support for strong social and environmental policies at the government level through our partnerships with Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy and the American Sustainable Business Council.”

Eileen Fisher’s concept of “doing business as a movement” is based on the premise that fashion should be “an industry where human rights and sustainability are not the effect of a particular initiative but the cause of a business well run. Where social and environmental injustices are not unfortunate outcomes, but reasons to do things differently,” the company said.

To achieve that end, Eileen Fisher and Columbus Consulting is building an end-to-end merchandise planning solution that streamlines efficiencies and propels its sustainability initiatives forward. The new process reconfigured the entire organization from design to sourcing and sales channels. More specifically, though, the plan addresses Eileen Fisher’s merchandising operation, which had become unsustainable due to overdevelopment and overproduction, leading to negative environmental and social impacts as well as undue financial costs, according to the company.

Photo courtesy of Eileen Fisher. 

Regina Reyes, vice president of omni planning at Eileen Fisher, said as the company was “mapping out” its plan to reach 100 percent sustainability, the company “realized the way we were operating was not moving us toward our goals.”

“We are a very creative company and pride ourselves on a collaborative and organic way of working that’s felt right for the last 34 years,” Reyes said. “But because our current state of merchandise planning doesn’t have a solid connection to a financial goal, we are constantly in reactive mode. This type of transparency throughout the end-to-end process will ensure that all teams are working toward the same goals and objectives. No more siloes or independent goals.”

Reyes added that its new product life cycle will service the company’s “quadruple bottom line: financial, environmental impact, external social impact and internal wellbeing.”

“It begins with financial targets and will support the creative process with the right balance of customer-centric data, channel business plans and intuition,” Reyes explained. “Strategic decisions will be made early on and each step in the process will inform the next step. As such, our sourcing teams will be better equipped to make appropriate supply chain decisions and purchases due to increased confidence in the accuracy of the buy plan.”

Eileen Fisher’s Vision 2020 goals include making products from organic cotton and linen with 30 percent of its assortment being Bluesign certified. The plan also calls for helping to create demand for responsible dyes across the industry, and ensuring that its U.S. operations are carbon positive and that its “recycling total” — which refers to its program that resells worn Eileen Fisher goods — reaches one million units, among other initiatives.

“Part of the issue is that everyone was looking at this in a siloed way, and no one was asking, ‘How do you trace back to the cause?'” said Patty Heilman, organization development partner at Eileen Fisher. “It started with looking at the beginning of the process and we realized that some things that worked before will no longer work if we want to meet our environmental and social, as well as financial goals.”

Photo courtesy of Eileen Fisher. 

Heilman said from a change management perspective, “it can be very helpful to have an outsider’s point of view. It’s been a very collaborative process. We combined our collaborative approach with industry expertise to move us forward in an amazingly short amount of time.”

Columbus Consulting initiated an eight-week project with the brand to better understand the company’s existing processes. The firm interviewed 45 key associates across a range of functions and, subsequently, created a “process workshop” with 20 Eileen Fisher employees to help redesign future processes. Its roadmap is built on “fluidity, trust and accountability,” and ensures that the firm’s design, merchandising, marketing and sell-in strategies work toward meeting its Vision 2020 goals.

Its plan was centered around creating a merchandise financial planning function and company-wide calendar, or “Virtual-Binder,” that would support the business cross-functionally, the company noted. The binder is a library of documents regarding business processes, timelines, milestones, meeting charters and sample reports produced by Columbus Consulting; it provides transparency throughout the organization and “informs the next step” of company processes. The Virtual Binder includes a 150-plus page detailed planning process document and 52-week calendar of work and milestones that are “hyperlinked back to the process document as well as cross-functional meeting charters,” the company said.

Jon Beck, chief executive officer at Columbus Consulting, told WWD, that “one of our main priorities is to create a working relationship with our clients that is a great cultural fit. I believe we are very effective consultants because we staff people who have similar background and mind-set to the client; people who are culturally aligned with the client’s objectives, thought processes and way of working.”

Photo courtesy of Eileen Fisher. 

“Because our consultant team at Eileen Fisher fit in culturally, we were able to build a trust-based relationship that was able to completely understand the work that Eileen Fisher teams did and create effective and transparent communications between the Eileen Fisher team and our consultants to understand articulate the good, the bad and the areas of opportunity for their current operations,” Beck added.

Beck said that with a framework of current processes “and knowing the challenges each team faced, we helped broker communication and create solutions. We kept conversations at the appropriate level of detail at each stage of the project so that we could frame a solution and dive into the details only as needed.”

Key contributions from Columbus Consulting include: a shift in business process focus from wholesale toward direct-to-consumer; reorganization of roles and responsibilities, and defining of KPIs and metrics and its merchandise hierarchy and attributes, aligned across retail, wholesale and e-commerce sectors.

Beck described Eileen Fisher Inc. as a “highly collaborative and consensus-based, decision-making company.”

“We had to ensure our approach would be extremely broad to ensure the full organization was considered in our analysis,” Beck said. “As a design-led company, we needed to be extremely sensitive to the impact of implementing structure and process where it would dampen the creative spirit. We worked very hard to ensure a balance of ‘art and science.’”

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