What is the inspiration behind Vision2020 and the motto, “No excuses”?
Vision2020 reflects [founder] Eileen [Fisher’s] realization about the future of our planet and the people on it.
While visiting some of our suppliers almost three years ago, Eileen personally connected with the stories and aspirations of our factory workers. She also made the jarring discovery about the global water crisis and how it not only affects the world’s supply of fresh water, but also how it impacts the very core of the apparel industry through agriculture, dyeing, and finishing.
This crystallized in a business imperative: We are not moving our sustainability efforts forward fast enough.
“We are not moving our sustainability efforts forward fast enough.”
“No excuses” refers to how we are holding ourselves accountable for doing everything within our control to reduce—or eliminate—our environmental impact and to maximize our social impact by looking at every thread, every zipper, and every human hand that touches our garments or grows the fiber.
The Vision2020 has a goal of getting to “100 percent sustainability” in five years. How does Eileen Fisher define that benchmark?
Our goal is to get far along our path toward 100 percent sustainability by 2020, but we recognize that we will likely still have much more to do at that point to achieve 100 percent. We have set a high bar for 100 percent sustainability.
It means zero carbon footprint, 100 percent eco-fibers, 100 percent living wages in our supply chain, and much more.
It’s truly looking at every component of our products and practices and doing whatever necessary to have a net positive environmental and human impact through our business.
What are your main areas of focus and what specific challenges do they pose for the brand?
Our full Vision2020 commitment can be sorted into eight “buckets”: materials, chemistry, carbon, and water, which fall under “environment,” and conscious business practices, fair wages and benefits, worker voice, and worker community and happiness, which come under “social.”
While there are certain fibers that will be more challenging to convert or replace than others—like viscose, one or our top selling fabrics—or certain chemistry goals that will be complicated and expensive to achieve—like 100 percent certified dyeing—the social goals present even more complex challenges.
The very first one, conscious business practices, turns the mirror on ourselves and will result in reshaping established practices and processes that are impeding our suppliers from doing their best work.
“We don’t have answers to [all the] questions yet, but we will.”
The fourth one, worker and community happiness, raises questions of how to assess and measure worker happiness in different countries and culture. How can we help workers identify their personal passions and create a roadmap for getting there? We don’t have answers to these questions yet, but we will.
How does Eileen Fisher’s creative process differ from companies that aren’t as focused on sustainability and ethics?
At Eileen Fisher, our design process is evolving from one that, in past years, may have incorporated environmental or social values into the designs only when they were affordable and/or when the story was compelling.
Today, the design team is increasingly starting the process with fabrics that meet our Vision2020 goals. The aesthetic, drape, and performance qualities must be there, too.
Sometimes, a sustainable option isn’t yet available, such as a viable replacement for viscose. In those cases, the designers may choose a non-sustainable option while continuing to work with our fabric vendors on better solutions for the future.
What is it like to head a department of social consciousness?
I think of it like this: Social consciousness has been a quiet influencer for many years, inspiring and engaging individuals within the company through projects and experiences.
Today, we’re much closer to the center of the work, in true partnership with key business departments, like design, manufacturing, product development, and business operations. We’ve moved from the fringe toward the center.
What kind of mark do you hope Vision2020 leaves on the apparel industry?
Even though we are a relatively small company—1,200 employees, 40 first-tier suppliers— we honestly will not achieve our Vision2020 goals without industry partners.
For example, if we want a dye house to become >Bluesign-certified, it must have the support of all its brand clients or it doesn’t make business sense to go through the transformation.
“This is really about co-creating a new way of being for the apparel industry.
Likewise, what good is it if we adjust our processes and costing model to enable living wages to be paid at a supplier that also has four other brand clients who aren’t playing their part?
Beyond Vision2020, this is really about co-creating a new way of being for the apparel industry. What does it mean to be an apparel company in the 21st century, given limited—and diminishing—resources and heightened awareness about the people in our supply chains?
That’s where this work gets really interesting and meaningful. The apparel industry is the second-most polluting industry on Earth, behind gas and oil. Now that’s something to be very worried about and that we can’t change on our own.