EILEEN FISHER Leads to Inspire Change

The fashion industry has been getting woke lately to sustainability and ethics. Big-name retailers like H&M, Zara, and Nike have begun shifting to more sustainable and ethical practices as it has become increasingly clear that millennials and Gen Zers—poised to become the largest consumer group in the U.S. by 2020—want to support brands that are socially conscious. Some companies are using recycled materials, going public with lists of their suppliers, or ensuring workers are earning a fairer wage and working in better conditions. Some are doing all those things and more. And it’s about time. According to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the fashion industry produces 92 million tons of solid waste to landfills each year. I hope you cringed when you read that. And the harsh truth is that many workers aren’t paid a living wage and work in poor conditions.

This change has come about because of movement makers—consumers, other retailers, nonprofits—have, for years, been creating moments that have built up to a movement. So I want to spotlight EILEEN FISHER, a fashion company that’s been making waves in this space for over 30 years now. Yes, I said THREE DECADES, ya’ll! I had the privilege of chatting with Rebecca Magee, Manager of Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship with the company, who filled me in on what’s made the EILEEN FISHER such a powerful voice for change.

Speak Out Loudly

From its beginnings in the late 1980s, EILEEN FISHER had clear brand values. In the 1990s, the brand championed human rights and in the mid 2000s, they started working with natural and organic fibers. In 2014, they went all-in on sustainability. Check out the “Behind the Label” section of their website, and you’ll come across not one succinct page with some highlights of their efforts, but a comprehensive list of articles that are deeply transparent. It’s so refreshing.

“At first, it was about role modeling, doing what we think is best, and hoping others follow. Now we realize we have to speak out loudly because there’s urgency,” says Rebecca, “especially around sustainability. We need to get other brands on board, and we do that in a lot of different ways. A lot of it is peer to peer: sharing our practices. Other actions are industry-focused, like our work with the nonprofit NEST’s Artisan Advancement Steering Committee. It’s a coalition of businesses in the fashion and home design industries coming together to address worker wellbeing issues impacting artisans and homeworkers around the world.”

Speaking loudly and role modeling—that’s great advice for any movement maker. But how can we speak loudly in a way that’s effective?

“Helping people understand what drives and connects them personally to the issue is a game changer,” explains Rebecca. That’s definitely one way of making your message stick out. Rebecca tells me a story that shows why that tactic resonates. She and her colleague ran an educational program for EILEEN FISHER employees called Sustainability Ambassadors, with the goal of helping people discover how sustainability touches their lives and why they should be as invested in it as the company is. In the first year of the program, after they’d given out all the information, one of the participants said, “I just have to do something right now,” and she made a commitment to try going zero waste in her personal choices that same day. “Through watching her wake up the problem and take action right away, we added a personal challenge component to the program. Each person picks one thing in their life to make more sustainable. My first year I chose to eat meat only when it came from an environmentally responsible source.” Make that personal connection, empower them in that way, and people aren’t likely to forget your message anytime soon.

Walk the Walk

Finally, modeling values and behaviors. EILEEN FISHER has made it clear that the company isn’t just paying lip service, they walk the walk. Their values are heard, understood, and practiced by everyone from the entry-level employee to the most tenured senior manager. “For there to be meaningful change,” says Rebecca, “it has to happen at all levels, from decision-makers who have to weigh in on strategy and production to administrative professionals who have to make decisions about what kind of paper you’ll use.” EILEEN FISHER is a fabulous example of a company whose values and messages have resonated at all levels of the company.

#MovementMakerTribe, I love, love, love this example because it shows how a company has dedicated itself to creating a bunch of moments and amplifying them to become part of a movement. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the change taking place today in the fashion industry, and I’m so glad to have had the chance to sit down with one of the movement’s champions. It’s also a good reminder to us all to think about the change we can help create by being conscious of the companies we support and what they stand for. That’s what this work is all about!

This month is a busy month for me, and quite frankly, so will March. I’d love to take you along for the journey. Are you following me on social media? Stay tuned to facebook,  Instagram and twitter. I bet you meet some #Firestarters, learn a skill and have some fun!

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