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We sat down with Eileen to discuss how clothes can be a force for change in the world.
What kind of change are you trying to create with the company?
We have so many big ideas when it comes to empowering women, creating a circular business model, healing the environment. Our new vision statement, Horizon 2030, is very exciting—it shifts our focus from doing less harm to making a positive difference. Some days, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the urgency. But I see change happening every day through little conversations throughout our company. We’re asking suppliers for organic fibers and better dyes. We’re visiting regenerative wool farms and telling the story so everyone can learn how our clothing fights climate change. For me, these conversations are what leads to change. That’s how we create business as a movement.
What does it mean to be a company that’s circular by design?
Circular design is about turning the clothes we make into the raw material for new products. We’re uniquely positioned to do this because we’ve always made timeless clothes using quality fabrics. We’ve taken our clothes back since 2009 to resell. But the big question is how to take responsibility for clothes with a wine stain or a tear. We’re working on a small scale with our own Tiny Factory, which turns fabric from damaged clothes into beautiful new designs. And we’ve created a felting studio that makes wall hangings, tote bags and other products from our recycled garments. We’re just at the beginning, but it’s exciting to think about creating a new business that helps solve the problem of clothing waste. Circular design is a new way of thinking—I like it because it’s a holistic approach to sustainability.
Why did you decide it was important to become a B Corp?
I’m a big fan of B Corps because they’re a new model for capitalism. In order to become a B Corp, you have to meet certain standards. You have to go beyond profits and measure your impact on human rights, the environment and employee well-being. Becoming a B Corp has made us look closely at what we’re doing and formalize a quadruple bottom line strategy.
What challenges have you faced while trying to make the fashion industry more sustainable?
The model behind the fashion industry is about chasing after the new. My interest has always been in helping customers get dressed simply, without that need for more, more, more.
The internal workings of the industry are also a challenge. Factories are used to using certain kinds of dyes. They’re used to using certain kinds of raw materials. Viscose is a perfect example. It’s made from wood, but you can’t trace the forestry behind it. With Tencel you can. But doing things differently often costs more. So, the questions we have been asking are: How can we change the industry itself? How can we get more farmers to produce organic cotton and regenerative wool? How can we get more dyehouses to use nonhazardous chemicals? And how can we bring investments to more circular factories? We want sustainability to be the norm, not the exception.
Why did you start an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)?
When the company started to be really successful and there were extra profits, my first impulse was to ask: How do we share the profits with the people who are doing the work? I believe that it’s important to share, that it’s fair to share. It shouldn’t be about me or a few people at the top getting wealthy. It’s about how do we share the wealth? I really think every company should have to do that.