INTERVIEW: Positive Impact Awards, EILEEN FISHER’s Remade

EFRemade2

As part of the Positive Impact Awards, we’re giving Remade an award for Design Innovation. Remade is a new branch of the EILEEN FISHER brand featuring garments that have been returned to the company by customers and “remade” into new clothing. Created in partnership with the CFDA, EILEEN FISHER created Remade as part of the Social Innovators Project – a yearlong residency challenging three Parsons graduates with finding a solution to the 100,000 “chop” garments received through the Green Eileen garment recycling initiative.
Led by Green Eileen Facilitating Manager Cynthia Power and designers Carmen Gama, Lucy Jones, and Teslin Doud, the trio rotated through the company for the first six months of their residency, receiving mentorship and observing the inner workings at EILEEN FISHER. They learned about the different areas in the business, and explored how the different types of garments and fibers in their chop pile became damaged, creating them into beautiful works of art that were felted, naturally dyed and patchworked into stunning new garments.

I caught up with Cynthia and the “Trio” recently to talk more about Remade as well as their recent Positive Impact Award for “Design Innovation.” Here’s what they had to say:

DEB JOHNSON:How did the Remade project come to life?

CYNTHIA POWER: We had the idea to bring the outside in to EILEEN FISHER for the 30th anniversary and focus on the concept of people, planet and profit. As a company we’re pretty insular so it was a new vision for us. We partnered with the CFDA who helped us design the project and select the three-person team that we call the “Trio.” (Note the Trio is Teslin Doud, Carmen Gama, and Lucy Jones.)

DEB: How did the CFDA bring the TRIO together?

CYNTHIA: The CFDA was very supportive of the process – they helped with the submission, application and interview process. They were very hands on. Sara KoZlowski who is Director of Education and professional Development at the CFDA met with us weekly, sharing ideas and experiences from other projects the CFDA has done in the past and Sara was very assuring – this was new for us – I remember her saying “Don’t worry, the Trio will blow your minds,” and that’s exactly what happened.

DEB: Give me a sense of how the year was laid out for the Trio?

TESLIN: The first thing they brought us into a room with mountains and mountains of used clothing and challenged with coming up with profitable, scalable and beautiful solutions made from garments that had been returned through the Green Eileen program but that couldn’t be resold. We spent our first four months doing very structured rotations throughout the company, learning from the different departments and doing discrete tasks and really digging in to the ethos of the company from every perspective. In month five, we started to tackle creating beautiful, scalable solutions from this mountain of clothing.

DEB: I’ve seen the mountain, it’s pretty impressive. What next?

TESLIN: Our studio was in the maker space in Irvington. We started sorting through the garments, understanding what the common damage was and finding clothing we were interested in working with. Then we’d take them to our studio and play around and experiment. We created some samples and the internal sample team helped us realize some of the more complex ideas we had.

CARMEN: For two months, we experimented with things like dyeing, felting and mending – as well as cutting thing up and creating new things. We transitioned to more scalable solutions by asking things like “How can we turn this pair of paints into new jackets and tops.” We worked on our own and didn’t share out the ideas for six weeks or so. We created a rack of 50 or so samples that represented the work we did during this time.

DEB: What happened after the experimentation phase?

CYNTHIA: Eileen (Fisher) was very curious about the progress, which was really helpful for its success. We were bringing in leaders and people from the design office to stop by and take a look the samples and asked them to comment. This is what informed the pieces that we actually produced.

LUCY: We were developing and experimenting with different techniques and ultimately narrowed it down to three; natural dyeing, felting and re-sewing. We developed fifteen styles. We focused on affordability and accommodating a younger demographic and when we realized the actual cost of making clothes we realized we needed a tier of pricing and scalability. This determined the techniques we used like a more artisanal product such as the kimono coat and more scalable, cost friendly products like re-dyed tops.

DEB: So how did you bring your concept to customers?

TESLIN: We decided to make a Pop-Up shop in Brooklyn in concert with Green Eileen. So we planned a summer event with 150 dyed tops, 25 felted pieces and a lot of re-sewn garments that used various techniques such as cutting new patterns from old patterns. We ended up with 500 unique pieces in an adorable little glass house in Brooklyn. We were open for two weeks along with the Green Eileen program. In addition we had mending workshops and other events to share what EILEEN FISHER as a company is about. Being about to share our ideas with the customer was very exciting – it really enhanced the story and the customers loved to find out what was happening with the garments that they had given back.

DEB: What happens next now that the project is over?

CYNTHIA: We’re viewing the project as a wild success and our new CMO really want to share this story more so we’ll be creating more events. We have one with the New Yorker coming up and more PopUps planned. The Trio used 1200 garments during the Remade project and we want to ramp up into up-cycling 80,000 garments a year within 5 years. Now we have to figure out how and what the critical milestones will be. Tess is still working with us keeping the fire lit, Carmen is hoping to return and Lucy is out there taking over the world.

LUCY: It was the best year of my life – and made me feel very confident – so I’ve started my own company and I’m consulting for non-profits around sustainability and bringing this forward in a number of ways.

CARMEN: Can’t wait to get my visa and get back to working on the project – it’s so meaningful to be focused on eliminating waste.

TESLIN: I’m so happy to be helping to shape the systems and processes that will keep the momentum of REMADE going – it’s not hard, everyone sees the potential. EILEEN FISHER wants to be a leader in taking corporate responsibility for the garments we put out into the world. The hope is that in 20 years we’re getting back more and more that goes into a closed loop system for the future.

DEB: I’d love to offer you a PopUp shop space during the BF+DA Positive Impact Award ceremony on November 4 th …

CYNTHIA: We would love that and I’m going to take you up on this right now!