October 16th, 2014

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Annie McCourt has progressive experience in both Fashion Design and Marketing Communications and has worked as a sustainability consultant, writer and designer.

After 7 years working at marketing and advertising agencies, Annie’s hands started to itch. She wanted to sew and make things. She went back to school to study fashion design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The introduction to sustainable fashion design as a Sophmore suddenly brought purpose, meaning and richness to a field of study that she had begun to think was lacking direction. The introduction to Cradle to Cradle design principles and methodology brought optimism, joy, and the perfect solution. She had found her path.

Now in her dream-job, Annie works at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to share her ultimate passion and helping to bring Cradle to Cradle design principles and certification to the fashion industry.


1. Tell us about your work in the field. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

I work for the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in San Francisco, CA, on an initiative called Fashion Positive. Fashion Positive is Cradle to Cradle Certified compliant, and aims to bring the circular economy to the fashion industry by working with brands, designers and suppliers.

When I read the book, Cradle to Cradle Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart, I was forever changed. I had read so many articles and books that focused on the negative state of the world and to put it simply: it just wasn’t fun. But when I read Cradle to Cradle, the authors wrote about abundance, optimism and how all materials could be viewed as food for other materials if products were designed with intention. It was stunning. It was an optimistic approach that intuitively seemed true. I had found my path. At this moment, there stopped being a divide between my professional life and my personal life, couldn’t I just live this way all the time? Definitely.

Mr. McDonough and Dr. Braungart gifted the Cradle to Cradle certification program to the the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in 2010. I’ve been working at the Institute since February 2014, and it’s felt like everything I’ve done up until this moment has been important and useful. It’s funny how life works. Never a wasted moment.

I get to work at a place that fully embodies positivity and a holistic solution that I believe can address and fix some truly problematic situations. I get to be a part of that solution: both in the execution of the Fashion Positive Initiative, as well as embodying Cradle to Cradle and its attitude of abundance and positivity in every moment of my life.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?

In 2008 I had already gotten a degree in Marketing Communications and was working at an advertising and design agency in San Francisco—a job I truly loved. But my hands started to itch! Not literally, but they wanted to move. They wanted to make things. They wanted to sew. So I began sewing. At the time I had a love for thrift store clothing so it was a natural step for me to buy thrift store clothes and cut, hem and sew them in a way to make them more current. At the time, this is what sustainable fashion meant to me. Around that time the idea was planted in me head to go back to school to get a degree in Fashion Design. I had always had a deep love for self-expression through fashion, so it seemed to make some sort of sense at the time. I chose California College of the Arts in San Francisco because of the sustainability courses they offered. At the time, though, I was slightly naïve in knowing what that actually meant.

Starting my sophomore year, I began taking classes about sustainable fashion design. Before the actual design classes (the solution), we had to learn about the problem. Led by my now mentor and personal hero, Lynda Grose, my class learned all about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry. I was slightly surprised by my personal reaction to the subject matter. I was moved. Stunned. Depressed, sad, lonely. It was hard. Lynda gave me constant support throughout this time encouraging me to keep going.

Toward the end of the semester I had enough. I had taken what I had learned too far—and I found it difficult to even walk down the straight. I thought my existence on this earth was negatively impactful no matter what I did. Wouldn’t it be better if I just weren’t here?

Woah. That’s when I had an attitude adjustment. The lens I was viewing the world with had to be refocused … or else. I began to see the beauty, the abundance. I began to look around, be grateful for the air, sky and a rotating planet. Gravity, what a wonderful thing. I didn’t even have to be in the woods or on top of a mountain to appreciate these things—they were right in front of me all the time. And when a scary thought seeped in: I could view the world as if it is one big controversial art project. This new attitude adjustment seemed to work. This new way of looking at the world made me a clear channel to be a part of the solution. That fear … depression … hopelessness … the dark lens I was viewing the world with, well, it only held me back from being an effective contribution to the world. It clogged me up. When I started to stop polluting the world with my bad attitude, I started to freely exude happiness, ideas, solution. This seemed to be the first step.

It’s been 2 years since I’ve been out of school and I still think about my thesis. I created a whole new system of patterning that uses only straight lines and certain degrees of angles. Waste— well, it didn’t even exist. In school I had people telling me that I wouldn’t be able to do a whole collection from this type of patterning … I wouldn’t be able pants or sleeves because the patterns needed to curve, and I only used straight lines. I responded that it was possible, even though I wasn’t really sure how. I just became quiet, let my hands work. Shirts, pants, dress … they revealed themselves in front of me. No problem. We don’t always know ‘how,’ but once we say “can,” it can be a moving and fascinating adventure toward that solution.

3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?

Loving the world, loving life, it’s contagious. I’m here to do a job. The details of that job keep revealing themselves to me each day. I stand prepared.

4. What do you see as the future of clothing? What do we need to do to get there?

There’s a part of me that believes one day we’ll be ‘forced’ to adhere to certain regulations. Certain materials won’t be available. The truth is, we’re not going to be able to continue on at this rate: polluting rivers, hurting people, animals, the ocean. The world always has a way of balancing itself out. But I look forward to this. Out of limitations comes innovation. What an exciting time to be a part of the fashion industry.

 William McDonough sees everything as nutrients for other things. He taught me to imagine acircular economy of fashion and textile materials that can be endlessly cycled into themselves. Instead of materials that are designed for an “end of life,” these materials are designed intentionally to be healthy for all mankind, regenerative and positive. I believe this future is closer than we think.

5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.

Promoting Cradle to Cradle design could mean that we buy as much as we want and that we don’t have to lower our footprint, wear less, buy less, be less. We won’t have to disappear to make a neutral impact on this earth. I’m really glad about that because I really like it here. Promoting Cradle to Cradle design means that we can actually leave a positive legacy … a regenerative one. This sounds a lot more fun to me.

6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?

Never say “can’t.” Whenever we say “can’t” that item or task in front of us becomes impossible. The door shuts. Instead say, “I can.” You don’t have to know how to make it happen just yet. Just wait, the whole world will open up in a way you never imagined.


Thank you, Annie, for sharing your wonderful journey with us!

Readers, let me know if there's someone you would like to see featured in the Women in Sustainable Fashion Series! Email me at pliu (at) greeneileen (dot) org.



October 2nd, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuddhist devotional and prayer carvings at an Indian mani wall shrine.

Allow me to digress from all the fascinating conversation about upcycling that's been happening on this blog of late, to talk about another one of our passions at GREEN EILEEN: women's empowerment. Of course, all of the profits raised by the two GREEN EILEEN retail stores support programs that improve the lives of women and girls through education and empowerment initiatives, both in our local communities and around the world. As the Community Outreach Coordinator for the West Coast, one of the best parts of my job is learning about all the different ways people are trying to address the question, “How do we make the world a safer, more enriching, and more equal place for women?”

I recently had the opportunity to experience one of these strategies firsthand with the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company, while on vacation with my family in India. Local guide Thinlas Chorol founded the LWTC in 2009 to give women in Ladakh the opportunity to participate in the traditionally male-dominated areas of trekking and mountain climbing. Ladakh is a remote area of the Northern Indian Himalaya, steeped deeply in Tibetan Buddhist culture and defined by the harsh conditions of the high altitude desert. Chorol is from a small town in Ladakh, where she grew up climbing the local mountains with her father. She began leading treks for her classmates at university, who encouraged her to pursue guiding as a career. Even after receiving certifications from highly respected organizations like National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, she struggled to find employment at local trekking agencies because of her gender. If she wasn’t turned down outright, she would be assigned cultural guiding tours to the region’s monasteries and historic sights, despite her extensive mountaineering experience. Adventure tourism--particularly trekking, mountain climbing, and river rafting--is one of the fastest growing industries in Ladakh, one that is now slightly more open to women thanks to the all-female run and staffed LWTC.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my folks hiking up a valley in India.

The Ladakhi Women's Travel Company specializes in increasingly popular homestay treks. We stayed in the homes of seven different families (and one high-altitude tent camp) along the way of our nine day trek. Having a bed to sleep in each night meant we didn't have to pack our own camping equipment, and home-cooked meals were a welcome reward at the end of a long day of hiking. While most guiding services use horses or donkeys to carry their equipment and clients' luggage, the LWTC utilizes only human-powered transportation to avoid the erosion and deforestation caused by pack animals in this already fragile landscape.

While traveling, I'm always wary of striking the right balance between seeing “real” parts of the country and cultural rubbernecking. Homestay treks are a win-win in this regard: most of the villages where we stayed were multiple days’ walk from any town larger than several families, and there are few external sources of income, particularly for women. As in other parts of India and around the world, people are leaving their ancestral homes to find work in the cities; and men are often the ones to earn money outside the home, restricting women’s financial independence and stability. By paying to stay in people's homes, we had the opportunity to meet locals and experience elements of traditional Ladakhi culture firsthand. At the same time, we contributed to the agency and financial prospects of women in rural areas.

In addition to providing an important external source of income for women in the villages, the LWTC has also opened up a whole range of possibilities for women passionate about the outdoors. Our guide was a young woman named Padma, a biology student who had just started working as a head guide. Padma is 22, unmarried, and lives in her own apartment in Leh - a very rare situation for a Ladakhi girl from a rural village. While she originally took the job to pay her way through school, she loves guiding so much that she plans on staying with the LWTC for several years while finishing her degree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPadma and me at the top of Gongmaru La Pass, on Day 8 of the trek, at an altitude  approximately 17,200 ft.

Thanks to the LWTC for a fantastic experience in the Markah Valley. As a nature-lover, adventurer, and feminist, I loved how the LWTC encourages women to think outside the box and realize their dreams, while challenging the limitations of traditional gender roles, not only in Ladakh but in the greater climbing industry. If you're traveling to India, I highly recommend looking them up at www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com.



September 25th, 2014


If you've ever been a bridesmaid, there's a good chance you have an expensive dress in your closet that you may never wear again. You don't want to throw it out or donate it--you paid a pretty penny for it, after all. So, what are your options?

How about sharing it?

There's a growing movement of people who are looking to share their resources and are looking to expand their access to goods and services without having to make a commitment. Not only do these two things conserve resources that would otherwise be destined for new products, it helps connect people with their neighbors and builds community.

If you're looking to rent out or lend goods, businesses like Airbnb (for living spaces), Lyft (for cars and rideshares), and NeighborGoods (for anything from ladders to a cup of sugar) are letting you do just that.


Peer-to-peer service companies are also on the rise. Rover, for example, allows you to search through reviews to find a personable petsitter nearby that will love your furry friends as much as you do. For household chores and other odds and ends, Taskrabbit will hook you up with people who can do just about anything you need.

bikeSauce, a non-profit in Toronto geared towards DIY bike repair, is evidence of an emerging trend towards shared spaces combined with skillsharing. bikeSauce invites the public into their facility and teaches their neighbors and community members how to maintain their bikes. This same model can be seen in the art community with The Crucible in Berkeley. Artists there can rent out space and equipment, as well as teach classes.


The sharing economy is even making its way into the investment world, giving business owners more options outside of bank loans and owner's equity. Community Sourced Capital allows community members to use their money to support and finance a local business's special project in $50 increments. When a project is fully funded and completed, the business starts returning the money back to its lenders.

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But one of my favorite organizations that has risen out of the Sharing Economy is the Buy Nothing Project. It started on Bainbridge Island, a small island outside of Seattle, and focuses on giving away the things you don't want and asking neighbors to gift you the things they are no longer interested in owning. With Buy Nothing, money never changes hands, but cookies have been known to be baked as an appreciation. Be sure to check out their website--the Buy Nothing Project has spread to eight different countries and counting! If you can't find a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood, now is great time to get one started.

(Full disclosure: I volunteered for Buy Nothing Project founder, Liesl Clark, but on a different project. I also went to school with the good folks who started Community Sourced Capital.)

What are your favorite sharing organizations? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!



September 18th, 2014

A few weeks ago, I posted 3 Reasons to Upcycle, which, if you haven't yet, you can read here. Today, I bring you 3 More Reasons to Upcycle.

Disclaimer: These reasons are not as lighthearted and uplifting, but they're just as important, if not more so. Please be warned that you may find some of the images to be disturbing.

1) Your recycling doesn't always get recycled

This one tends to catch people by surprise. We operate in such an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality when it comes to post-consumer waste, that we don't think about where our things go once they've been thrown out. What happens to that milk carton once it's hauled away by the recyclers? Is this plastic bottle going to be used to create a new bottle or end up in the ocean? Our relationship with China, where most of our recycling goes, only adds to the uncertainty.

Last year, China implemented Operation Green Fence to help tackle the contamination coming from US recycling. We were sending bales of recyclables mixed with garbage and hazardous waste, including used syringes (yikes). In order to protect their workers and curb pollution, China turned away recycling shipments that had a 1.5% or more contamination rate. This effectively meant that China wasn't accepting any bales from the United States, where Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) operate with a 10% threshold for contamination.

Storing the bales was one of the least cost-effective solutions, so waste corporations began looking at other options. And most of these options included finding another developing country to take our waste, regardless of the state of their waste and recycling infrastructure. So, who knows if our recyclables are actually being recycled?

While Operation Green Fence has officially ended, the recycling industry is forever changed by it--China's standards are still more stringent than before and the United States now realizes that our own waste infrastructure needs improvement.

Purchasing better sorting machines for the MRFs and hiring more manpower is expensive and not an immediate answer. The cheapest and easiest solution truly starts with the average citizen. First, if you don't need it, don't buy it (reduce!). Second, if you have it, use it again (reuse!). Using something again saves both energy and money, which is why we're such fans of upcycling. And if you need to throw something away, be sure to sort and separate your recyclables from your landfill waste. Please and thank you.

2) Lowering your landfill footprint

Here's a statistic for you: The average person contributes 1.5 tons of waste to landfills each year--that is the same weight as the heaviest of our even-toed ungulates (AKA the hippopotamus--hopefully this comes in handy the next time you go to pub trivia). Over your lifetime, you're essentially leaving a landfill footprint of about 100 tons, the same weight as a blue whale. There are over 7 billion of us living on this blue green planet, and that's a lot of garbage we're piling on top of it.


(An actual 100 ton garbage island. This is not the kind of mark I want to leave on the world.)

3) Lowering your overall footprint

But a lot of your garbage isn't making it to the landfill or the recycling plant--a lot of it is clogging up our oceans and waterways and contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And when they mistake plastic bits for food, our birds and marine life suffer.


According to the EPA, our landfills in the United States are the 4th largest producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's contributing to climate change. So, not only does our garbage impact localized natural habitats, it's affecting everything on our planet, pole to pole.

When you combine this with the energy and natural resources saved by not producing brand new goods--like coal-sourced electricity, trees, fossil fuels, and metals extracted from the earth--by upcycling and reusing what you have, you're really doing the planet, and everyone who lives on it, a solid.



September 11th, 2014

Earlier, I posted a few upcycling projects from Pinterest that were both relatively easy and practical. This week, we're going to step it up and focus less on the practical and more on the artful. The colorful and astounding art featured below were all made using textiles and thread.


Textile Moths and Butterflies by Yumi Okita (via Colossal)

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Gabriel Dawe (via Triangulation)


Embroidered Landscapes by Teresa Barboza (via Colossal)

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Handwoven and dyed designs by Ptolemy Mann (via Ptolemy Mann)

We hope to see you at our Chop Challenge in Seattle, September 21 from 6-8pm!



September 4th, 2014

I'm bringing you a new feature to the blog, highlighting inspiring women who aim to make the fashion industry more sustainable. Welcome to the Women in Sustainable Fashion series!


First up is Shannon Whitehead. Shannon is the founder of Factory45, an accelerator program that gives designers and makers the resources to start sustainable businesses in the USA. Shannon got her start in 2010 when she co-founded {r}evolution apparel, a sustainable clothing company for female travelers and minimalists that was featured in The New York Times, Forbes.com, TheWallStreetJournal.com and Yahoo! News. Shannon has appeared as a speaker at the World Education Congress, ECO Fashion Week, SXSW, and as a guest lecturer at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.


1. Tell us about Factory45. How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

Factory45 is a Made in the USA accelerator program for designers and makers. Through six months and three modules, the program takes aspiring entrepreneurs through the process of setting up a supply chain, creating their brand presence and sales strategy, and then going to market. Factory45 provides the business tools and resources that aren’t taught in fashion school.

Having started my own sustainable apparel brand in 2010, I experienced first-hand how difficult it is for new designers to create ethical supply chains. The domestic manufacturing industry is hard to get into, so as I transitioned into my next phase of entrepreneurship, I realized I wanted to be a resource for others. My goal is to show people that you don’t have to offshore to questionable factories overseas. It’s possible to do good, transparent business right here at home.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion? Where does your passion for it come from?

The big decisions in my life have all been a byproduct of travel. After college, I spent two years traveling around the world, meeting new people and gaining new experiences that completely changed my worldview. As I became more aware of how my personal choices affect the rest of the planet, a ripple effect started.

Originally, I only knew that I wanted the freedom to work for myself. As I began to explore what that looked like, a friend and I travelled to Central America and started researching the process of making clothing. We eventually launched {r}evolution apparel with the goal of moving the fashion industry in a more ethical and transparent direction.

Until then, I had never been that interested in fashion. My passion for sustainability and environmental awareness came to the forefront first. Seven years later, I can now say that my involvement in the sustainable fashion industry is what I feel called to do.

3. What do you feel is your impact on the industry?

Time will tell. For now, Factory45 is my personal way of combatting fast fashion. I truly believe that the local, independent designer has a place in this industry and can compete above and beyond the cheap and disposable goods churned out by big fast fashion brands.

If I can help small companies launch and succeed, then I believe fewer people will be shopping at stores like H&M and Forever21. Ultimately, I want to support small and local designers and show consumers that they are worth supporting.

4. What do you see as the future of clothing? How are we going to get there?

Storytelling. I think consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the story behind the clothes they wear. If we can start to engage shoppers with the deeper meaning behind their purchasing power, then I believe we’ll continue to see a change. We have to get to a point where clothing is no longer something that’s disposable and instead, is something we feel connected to.

5. Name 3 things the average person can do to lower their footprint as it relates to their clothes.

1) Buy less.

2) Buy used.

3) Buy from transparent companies.

6. What advice do you have for your fellow women trailblazers?

Don’t give into the doubts and fears. Push through the uncertainty. If we don’t change things -- who will?


If you haven't yet, I highly recommend to everybody that they check out Shannon's well-written and compelling blog, especially the entries on the truth behind fast fashion and the 6 things you should know about your clothes.

Thank you, Shannon!



August 28th, 2014

(Photo: A rainbow chandelier made of old bottles!)

I've been writing about upcycling a LOT lately, but I haven't really gone into why everyone at GREEN EILEEN is so into it. So, here it is--three great reasons to upcycle. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for 3 more reasons to upcycle.

1) Creativity...

But not just creativity. The process of upcycling stretches your imagination with possibilities and potential, of course--but it also exercises the analytical side of your brain. You can see in your mind's eye that that old dusty wood pallet would make a great and needed bed for your dog (so creative of you!). How can you best utilize the pallets angles? What adjustments do you need to make to accommodate your dog's weight and size? Where will you need to reinforce with bolts and screws? Upcycling is such a great exercise in coming up with a new life for your things, but it's also an excellent practice in developing the engineering part of your brain.

dog pallet bed

2) Saves money!

Reusing an item instead of buying new almost always saves you money.

Let's do a little case study here. Say you'd like a new table where you can do all this crafting and upcycling. A quick search on Craigslist shows a couple of these tables for $20. On the IKEA website, you can purchase this table for $34, not including tax (and delivery fee should you go that route). This may only be a $14+ difference, but the impact on your wallet only gets bigger as you search for nicer, sturdier pieces.

3) Adds character

No one else is going to have the same thing you have when you upcycle and make things yourself. The look of your piece is going to be completely original.

Case in point:



August 21st, 2014

Although our Chop Challenge is a month away, I wanted to provide some inspiration to our artists and crafters and you! You might not be able to participate in our event, but there are still many upcycling projects you can do--Pinterest is full of them. So, don't throw away that old t-shirt yet, try making one of these instead.


Rose Bathmat


Men's Shirt Skirt


Woven Placemats


Baby toys


Braided Rug

Show us your upcycling projects by using #everydayupcycle on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!



July 24th, 2014

(Do not stick a child in a book, because that is not what I meant with this headline. I'm just really bad at writing headlines.)

GREEN EILEEN Seattle held a bookmark workshop for kids last week and the results were so imaginative! They took damaged fabric from used EILEEN FISHER clothing to create sharks, aliens, and other characters.

1-Recently Updated1

1-Recently UpdatedFor information on upcoming workshops in Seattle and NY, check out the schedule here.



July 17th, 2014

If it hasn’t been made clear yet, we are huge proponents of upcycling--reusing materials and giving them new life not only lessens our footprint, it allows us to exercise our entrepreneurial and creative muscles. So whenever I come across new companies popping up with quality upcycling at the center of their business model, I get really excited. Here are a few (led by women, no less!) that I’ve been raving about lately:

Raven + Lily


Raven + Lily is a women’s fashion company which employs underprivileged women in places like India and Ethiopia, many of whom have been affected by HIV. The goods they make are lovely--I’m a huge fan of the giraffe tank and the Tiffany Kunz fringe necklace made out of spent bullet casings. (Can we just talk about the poetry behind taking something that signifies death and destruction, and transforming it into a life-giving piece of art that gives women a way to support themselves and their families? So. Awesome.)

Sword & Plough


The About page for Sword & Plough really says it best: “[Growing up in a military family,] The Nunez sisters wanted to create something that would emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives and remind them, in a beautiful way, of the challenges our country and servicemen face, and the power that every person has to help.” In addition to being gorgeous and utilitarian, the Sword & Plough bags are made 100% in the US by veteran service men and women. Social missions, they’re always in style.



One of the founders of TRMTAB grew up in her parents’ leather factory in India and wanted to do something about the leather scraps that are normally thrown away during production. The result is nothing short of luxurious--TRMTAB crafts the leather scraps into cozy sleeves of rich brown tones to protect your iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and Kindles. If you were able to help fund this company on Kickstarter, color me jealous because the sleeves are limited edition and I totally missed out on getting a chevron-patterned case (so dreamy!). I can’t wait to see where this company goes and what they’ll do next.

Do you know of other businesses focused on upcycling? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!



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