The Eileen Fisher-endorsed “Waste No More” is meant to be as much a directive as an installation during next month’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Attendees at Wednesday morning’s preview at Eileen Fisher’s Fifth Avenue offices heard firsthand from the designer about the fashion industry’s massive environmental waste and saw what can be done with a little ingenuity. Piles of pillows, wall hangings and even a coat made from upcycled materials were strategically placed throughout the room. They are examples of DesignWork, the company’s latest initiative that is a creative exchange between makers who felt and stitch together gently used garments..
“Probably as a lot of you know, the apparel industry is a nightmare. There are arguments whether it is the second or third largest polluter in the world,” Fisher said. Referring to this week’s news about H&M having $4.3 billion worth of unsold merchandise “sitting in a warehouse,” she said, “There are massive problems with stuff.”
As part of its Vision2020 mission to make “eco-preferred” clothes, Eileen Fisher is 68 percent there now – up from 20 percent or so when the initiative was started about five years ago, she said. “We’re trying to make all of our materials from sustainable materials. This industry is in bad shape and we want to take responsibility for our part in it.”
Co-curated by Li Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano, “Waste No More” will be housed in Ventura Centrale’s vaulted tunnels behind the city’s central station April 17 – 22. Excited to bring the project “to the world of design in Milan,” Edelkoort thinks it can provide guidance for other brands and expects that it will be a topic of much discussion. The exhibition’s title not only indicates that “these products are no longer wasted,” but “it also says to the public, ‘Waste no more.’” she said.
Describing DesignWork as a new kind of Modernism, Edelkoort said she could envision similar designs for daybeds, tapestries for public buildings and other products, including clothing “but it doesn’t need to be.” She added, “It’s an aesthetic event, but it’s also a political one and activism. It’s aesthetic activism.” (As the dean of Hybrid Studies at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, Edelkoort plans to take her MFA Textiles students to Eileen Fisher’s Irvington facility to help introduce a new generation to DesignWork.)
Fisher and Edelkoort addressed Wednesday’s guests with the artist Sigi Ahl, who first worked with the designer 34 years ago. Fisher recalled how it was Ahl who had suggested opening a lab store near the company’s Irvington, N.Y., home office to sell gently used Eileen Fisher clothes. The massive response to the concept led to a recycling center on the East Coast and another on the West Coast and two stores for its Renew take-back and reuse program.
DesignWork home items will be launched with ABC Home this spring as well as online via the company’s site. Eileen Fisher executives expect to place some of the DesignWork items in public settings this summer or fall. The company, which has 68 freestanding stores, has been known to advise other manufacturers or retailers about how those respective brands might execute their own upcycling.
Making the point that textile waste comprises eight percent of the landfill in New York, Fisher said of DesignWork, “This is an important final step in trying to figure out what are we going to do with all of these clothes that are out there. We hope to help the rest of the industry look at this problem in other ways and to do something creative and fun.”
“Now when I see a big pile of clothes, I see what the waste can turn into — a big pile of pillows,” Fisher said.