January 25th, 2016


Last year EILEEN FISHER announced a new partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Aimed at highlighting the importance of environmental and social responsibility within the fashion industry, the EILEEN FISHER Social Innovation Award is a one year residency at EILEEN FISHER that gives recent postgraduates an opportunity to tackle a specific business or design challenge in apparel sustainability.

For its inaugural year, the Social Innovation award was granted to three graduates of the Parsons New School: Teslin Doud, Carmen Gama and Lucy Jones (pictured above, left to right).  These three very talented ladies have been tasked with generating a set of recommendations for what to do with the damaged garments collected through the GREEN EILEEN recycling initiative. We chatted with them to hear about their experiences at EF, their plans for upcycling post consumer garments, and their thoughts on the future of the fashion industry.

Congratulations on winning the first Eileen Fisher Social Innovation award. What do you hope will be the long term impact of this award?
Eileen Fisher’s commitment to sustainability includes a long term goal of sending zero clothes to landfill. The Social Innovator Award is helping to achieve part of this goal by creating a system to deal with the damaged garments that would be the most likely pieces to be thrown away. This award will aid in telling the Green Eileen story in order to engage customers and educate about sustainability and closed-loop business models.

Your time with EF is half over. What has been the highlight of the last few months?
To have unrestricted access to learn about every process within the company. We have gotten to follow the process from design until the products hit the store floors and observe all of the supporting roles along the way. Our biggest take away has been seeing how much everyone is so dedicated to achieving Eileen Fisher’s Vision2020, no matter how many obstacles might stand in the way.

What a great opportunity! What are you looking forward to most during the second half of your residency?
We are really excited to begin working on our design challenge with Green Eileen! We are starting with ideation and research, from there we will get to experiment and develop our proposed solution(s), finally we will get to present the outcome of our project to the Eileen Fisher community (both internally and externally). The upcoming months are  when we really get to get our hands dirty and work towards an innovative solution for damaged Green Eileen garments.

You all have so many great ideas for textile recycling and post consumer garment redesign. Will you develop a capsule collection or prototype of possible upcycled fashions?
A: As we are really just getting into the grind of our project it is hard to say what exactly the outcome will be. Our minds have been churning with tons of different ideas and we are in the process of editing down our thoughts to realistic and manageable solutions. We are considering the fact that there are many methods to deal with textile waste and not every method is suitable for every fiber or type of damage. For this reason we are hoping to create a capsule collection that showcases the beauty of several different methods of upcycling garments.

What will Eileen Fisher do with your recommendations at the end of your residency?
A: We hope to not only develop a beautiful collection of upcycling techniques, but to also build a solid framework and system that can easily live on past our residency.

Sustainable apparel is a hot topic right now. Is sustainability the new norm or a fleeting trend?
A: Sustainability has graduated from a trend, to the new norm. It is a very exciting time to be working in the fashion industry because it is becoming less acceptable to just create beautiful clothing. People are demanding environmental and social consciousness, and fashion has no choice but to oblige.

Everyone at Eileen Fisher will be sorry to see your time here come to a close.What comes next after EF?
A: Although next steps after our residency at EF is not totally clear right now, we are all so passionate about sustainability that we’re sure we will go on to further invest in each of our specific areas of interest in order to make big, positive changes in the fashion industry. The industry is on a trajectory of every designer having to consider PCTW. We are so excited to be able to gain this experience at Eileen Fisher and to go out into the world to continue to aid in the elimination of the concept of “waste”.

Some design inspiration from the CFDA trio:

Visible mending

Visible mending

Modular pattern design

Felted design components

Felted design components











January 15th, 2016

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At GREEN EILEEN, we are always looking for new ways to upcycle our favorite clothing. Check out this great video for tips on how to unravel a sweater. If you are in the Westchester County area, come to our Unravel! workshop at the EILEEN FISHER Maker Space.


June 25th, 2015


If you haven't yet, read our earlier post about the basics behind dry cleaning and the less toxic alternatives that are available now.

Caught up? Great!

I dug a little deeper and ended up having an illuminating conversation with Dr. Steve Whittaker, a Public Health Researcher for Seattle and King County and local expert in conventional and green dry cleaning. Here's what he had to say about the different dry cleaning systems:

  • Conventional Dry Cleaning - Perchloroethylene, better known as PERC, is the main chemical used in dry cleaning and is extremely toxic to both people and the environment. In addition to causing internal organ failure, certain cancers, and birth defects, PERC contributes to the toxicity of air pollution and groundwater contamination. Given the effects of PERC on our bodies, it is not something we want present in our drinking water or in the soil growing the food we eat.
  • High Flash-Point Hydrocarbons - This type of green dry cleaning is a pretty safe option. As long as the hydrocarbon's chemical chain doesn't include benzene, toluene, or other aromatic hydrocarbons, our risk of developing cancers isn't increased. However, the waste product, called still bottoms, can sometimes be very toxic to fish and must be appropriately disposed of.
  • Silicone-Based (GreenEarth) - The safety of these systems is still something of a question mark. There aren't currently enough studies published to determine the effects on our health and the health of our environment. Evidence is starting to pop up, though, suggesting that the chemical solution, D5, used with this method is making its way into our drinking water.
  • System K4 - The waste solvent from System K4 is extremely toxic and rates just slightly better than PERC. It is known to kill fish when the solvent enters waterways, and therefore is categorized as Dangerous Waste in Washington State.
  • Water-Based - This is by far the safest and greenest method of cleaning. However, while the water may be safe to use, the chemicals added to it may not be. It's important to vet all chemicals and solvents used with this method and choose ones with low toxicity. Also, with much of the West Coast experiencing extreme droughts, water-usage is another factor to weigh.

Outside of the production of clothing and textiles, washing our clothes leaves the largest footprint. The chemicals left behind and the energy used by the machines has a huge impact on our health and environment. While it's important to choose the right method of cleaning, it's also helpful to wash your clothes less often. (Sidenote: I'm wearing my denim jacket today and it hasn't seen soap in at least a year. But I understand you can't really get away with that when it comes to your gym clothes. Judgement call.)

Huge shout out to Dr. Whittaker for taking the time to explain the ins and outs and pros and cons of the different dry cleaning systems to me. Thanks!




May 14th, 2015

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The distilled white vinegar you keep in your kitchen is great for tenderizing meats and giving a kick to your salad, but did you know it's also a terrific companion to your laundry detergent?

Vinegar is a weak acetic acid--strong enough to dissolve the alkalines of soapy residues, but gentle enough to help care for your clothes. Here's how:

  1. Fight odor - Whether it's mildew, smoke, or general mustiness, adding a 1/2 to 1 cup of vinegar to your washing machine's rinse cycle will help eradicate the smell without leaving behind a vinegary scent.
  2. Brighten whites and intensify blacks - Using too much detergent can leave a soapy residue behind on your clothes, which can cause whites to yellow and blacks to appear dull and faded. Including vinegar in your rinse cycle will dissolve the residue and help the color of your clothes appear more true.
  3. Soften fabrics - Vinegar is a natural fabric softener--again, that troublesome alkaline residue left behind by detergents can make your clothes stiff and coarse. Using vinegar during a rinse and reusable wool dryer balls* as you dry is a less harmful and less wasteful way to soften your garments without the toxic chemicals found in dryer sheets.

Another thing we love about distilled white vinegar is the cost--compared to conventional fabric softeners and dryer sheets, the price of a jug of vinegar is a steal.

And that's not even including the wonders it can work as a cleaning agent in your bathroom and kitchen....



*Reusable wool dryer balls are currently available for purchase at our retail location in Yonkers, NY, and soon to be available in Seattle, WA.


January 29th, 2015

Last week, our Seattle location hosted one of our most exciting Artist Workshops yet. Inspired by the Deconstruction fashion movement, participants were invited to break down 2 sweaters to their core components and combine them into one unique and beautiful sweater.

Below are some photos of the process.

IMG_0723(Participants choose their sweaters, deconstruct, and pin them together, focusing on the aspects of the sweaters they would like to highlight.)

IMG_0732(Cutting chunks out of the sweaters helps highlight layering methods.)

IMG_0752(Some hand sewing.)

IMG_0730(And some machine sewing.)


(A finished product!)

Because interest around this workshop was so high, we have plans to host another one soon. If you're in the Seattle area and would like to participate, be sure to sign up on our email list for the latest information (select the GREEN EILEEN option).


January 9th, 2015

Kristin Glenn

Happy New Year, and thanks for sticking around through my extended blog break. Hopefully, you had a restful holiday break yourself.

To welcome you back to our little corner of the worldwide web, I'd like to introduce Kristin Glenn in our series, Women in Sustainable Fashion.

Kristin Glenn is the founder of Seamly.co, a USA-made clothing company using domestically-knitted fabrics. Seamly.co inspires women to make educated choices about their clothing through storytelling, community, and an interactive design process. Customers can join in on design and manufacturing by offering design ideas, voting on styles and colors, and then watch the manufacturing process from fabric to finish, via social media.

Glenn is based in New York City, working with two small factories in Colorado who produce 100% of Seamly.co items. She loves locally-made, community-driven fashion.


1. Tell us about Seamly.co (www.seamly.co). How does it embody what sustainable fashion means to you?

Seamly.co uses American-made fabrics to produce apparel in Colorado. Our mission is to educate consumers to make empowered decisions, and we do that through community involvement, interactive (online) experiences, and storytelling. To me, it's what fashion should be -- a fun, creative space for learning more about yourself and the world around you. When we learn about where clothes come from and how they are made, it opens up the door to make conscientious, sustainable decisions.

2. How did you get involved in sustainable fashion?

Where does your passion for it come from? I've always been an environmentalist at heart -- and a traveler, too. A few years ago, a friend and I dreamt up a clothing line for travelers. When we started researching how our clothes are made, the negative human and environmental impacts of manufacturing popped out like a big red flag. I knew that, if I wanted to be in this industry, I would have to do things differently, in a way that aligned with my values.

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

Education. I try my best to showcase the process as much as possible when we produce our clothes -- from sourcing USA-made fabric to showing the cutting process to making videos at the garment factory. I think it's crucial for people to understand that apparel is a labor-intensive industry, and affects quite a few people.

4. What has been the response to making the clothing production process more transparent? I know there are so many people out there who have no idea about the work and impact behind our clothes.

For most people, when they watch a video or hear the story of how clothes are made, they're in awe of the work that goes into it. We often equate price with craftsmanship -- so, naturally, most people think that because clothes are so cheap these days, they must be easy and simple to make. Which isn't true at all! Many, many hands touch each garment we buy, and it's been really neat to see our customers dive deeper into the process and gain an appreciation for the talent that goes into "making."

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

I think the future of sustainability is all about textiles, and the real pioneers in the industry are textile developers creating low-impact, fully recyclable, and biodegradable fabrics. I'm excited to start integrating these fabrics into my design process, like lots of other sustainable-minded designers, when these types of options become available.

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

Mind your laundry -- wash less, wash cold, line dry. As for shopping, most of us really don't know the "footprint" related to our clothes, even as designers and companies. It's really tough to tell what types of fabrics and processes are actually better, environmentally. So I would say, when shopping, buy from transparent brands that are striving for sustainability.

7. It sounds like laundering is a big portion of the footprint of our clothes. Can you tell us a little about the energy that goes into making the clothes vs. the energy that goes into laundering and caring for them?

The few studies I've read indicate that laundry has a bigger impact than manufacturing, from an environmental standpoint (consider water and energy use, CO2 emissions from our dryers, chemical detergents). When considering the total impact of a garment, the laundering process is responsible for over 75% of the environmental damage. That's a lot! It's just as important to use cold water and line-dry, with responsible detergents, as it is to shop from responsible brands.

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

Oh, boy! Just start. Whatever trail you're blazing, just start doing your thing, making mistakes, and constantly seek alignment with what really feels right.


Thank you, Kristin!



November 13th, 2014


Stacy is a textile and apparel specialist with a BS in Textile Development and Marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology and an MBA in Sustainable Systems from Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot University. She is actively reinventing the textile and apparel business model to preserve the future of apparel.

After a diverse background working with both start-ups and large multi-national corporations like DuPont, Target, Eddie Bauer, and Rethink Fabric, Stacy launched Future Resource Collective (FRC), a collaboration hub and incubator for sustainable innovations in the apparel and textile industry.

In 2014, FRC launched its first social purpose corporation, Evrnu, which uses a patent-pending technology that recycles cotton garment waste to create premium, renewable fiber.

From her years in the field, Stacy brings a strong understanding of customer needs, deep knowledge of the industry's supply chain, and the creativity necessary to build trust and develop relationships in order to collectively solve tough issues. She skillfully combines vision and specialization to make new initiatives successful, and uses these strengths to facilitate collaboration with diverse stakeholders and drive innovations to fruition.

Stacy has received the following recognitions for the Evrnu (formerly Loopool) technology: 2013 Regional Winner, Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge; 2014 Regional Winner, Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge; 2014 University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge, Honorable Mention; 2014 University of Washington Business Plan Challenge Investment Round Finalist; 2014 Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship, Wildcard Candidate; Social Venture Partners 2014 Fast Pitch 1st Place; Social Venture Partners 2014 Audience Choice Award.


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

Evrnu is a garment recycling technology. What’s different about this technology is that we are taking cotton garment waste and breaking it down to its most basic molecular size and rebuilding it to create an entirely new, pristine fiber. This allows the designer to have a really high-quality fiber, the luster, and the hand that they would normally have with premium fibers but without significant impact to the environment. When we talk about impact, we’re really just talking about air, water, and soil—for us it’s that simple. Air, water, and soil impacts how humans drink, eat, and breathe, so making that connection between humans and the environment through fashion is what we aspire to do. Right now, fashion typically does not speak the language of sustainability and we’re really trying to bridge that gap and translate the language of sustainability in a way that the designers can understand. To do that, we have to show them something that is premium, something that is actually making the garment look better and feel better, so they’re not giving up anything for sustainability.

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

I’ve been working in the industry since the 1990s as a fabric and garment specialist. I started out on the textile engineering side and then moved into garment development later on. I began working in sustainability in 2010 with ReThink, specifically working with recycled PET. At that point, recycled PET had been used pretty widely in just fleece or heavier weight fabrics, so I got excited when we were able to achieve some finer denier, high-quality yarns for softer, more premium fabrics.

Where does my passion come from? I went to China in 2010 and saw the effects of my work on the environment and people, and I realized that I was in some ways responsible for the problem. After that 30-day trip, I decided that I would dedicate the balance of my career to trying to find a solution to the problem. I began to be guided by the question: if one person can do so much damage unintentionally, what can the same person do intentionally for good?

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

Evrnu's impact on the industry demonstrates that resource extraction and waste are no longer necessary to achieve success in the apparel market. We have found a way to work within the dominant business model of style obsolescence by recycling garments on the back-end and giving brands a way to balance their overall fiber portfolio with resource availability. We do not live in an either/or world—all fibers are important and useful. Ultimately, our goal is to innovate around how waste can be used to create new, high-quality fiber resources that designers will love to work with and consumers will love to wear.

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

I see sustainability preserving the future of textiles and apparel. Again, it really comes down to air, water, and soil impact and how humans are affected by the production of clothing, the wearing of it, and then the disposal and regeneration of these items.

I see clothing and people raising the bar on what’s possible in terms of upcycling. People understand what recycling means, but it’s sometimes a hard thing for them to understand what upcycling means. When I talk about upcycling, I mean taking something and turning it into another product that has higher value. I consider this to be the design challenge of the 21st century— breaking products down to their lowest usable building block and rebuilding them into any new product. This doesn’t have to be limited to just clothing to clothing, but can also be clothing to shoes, or shoes to playgrounds, or clothing to toys. It really doesn’t matter as long as that product is re-used and able to be broken down again or safely returned to the biosphere.

To get there, we need more support for entrepreneurs who are working in this space, especially for designers and materials researchers who are just starting out. Anyone who is working in a social purpose capacity should have access to mentoring and startup funding and support in those ways. Right now, these resources are very few and far between, and we do need a place to nurture innovation that is not necessarily under the umbrella of a large brand, but that is more broadly accessible.

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

Donate everything. Even if you think it should be thrown away—like that one sock, or the shirt with a hole in it that someone can’t re-wear (or that you think someone can’t re-wear)—don’t make that decision. Send everything to Goodwill or Salvation Army, and let them sort and separate it because there is a market for resale on materials. The rag market is a very large industry in the US and they can use just about everything. They typically break things down and mechanically recycle them to go into rags and wiping clothes or woven into carpets and rugs. But, companies like Evrnu can also use these materials to create premium apparel grade fibers and yarns that designers can use for new, high-quality denim and active wear.

Support your sustainable designer. Look at your clothing budget and determine which clothing you want to make an investment in and really support the people who are living your values. It’s an important piece of the puzzle because it shows the industry what your values are, and that’s a really important message to send.

Washing. Consider how many times you can wear your garments before you wash them. A lot of times you don’t need to wash your clothing after just one wear. Wool is naturally anti-microbial and rarely needs to be washed. And, for denim, a lot of premium brands recommend putting denim in the freezer because it kills microbes so you don’t have to wash it and you can get that natural wear and tear.

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

If you’re working in a social entrepreneurial capacity, one of the hardest things to get over is your fear of going the distance. It can be very difficult, and risky, to quit your job to follow your passion and your dream—especially when you have a family and a mortgage—but STICK WITH IT.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll find that you go through certain rites of passage, and that once you get over the fear (the layers of fear, really), these rites of passage make you more equipped to handle your business, make you a much stronger leader, and make your company much, much more resilient. Yes, it will be very challenging at times, but anything worth having is.

When you sit down and make decisions, think about it from the perspective of being able to look back at what you’ve been able to create and consider that when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, how many times have you really failed? No one really makes any significant progress in this world unless they are bold enough to take a risk.


Stacy and Evrnu have launched an Indiegogo campaign to bring their technology to market. To learn more or to contribute to help make Stacy's dream a reality, go here.

Thanks, Stacy!

If there's anyone you would like to see featured in our Women in Sustainable Fashion Series, let me know by emailing pliu (at) greeneileen (dot) org.



November 6th, 2014

Fast Fashion may be dominating these past few decades, but take a peek into your closet and I bet you'll find something that can stand the test of time. Here are our picks for classic pieces that will never go out of style.



Denim has been part of the fashion lexicon for over 50 years for a reason. Whether it's faded, ripped, or distressed, denim always looks better when it's been broken in.

Trench coat


The trench coat and its flawless design has been around for over 100 years.


leather jackets

Leather is a fashion mainstay, and you'll see it in designs like jackets and skirts, or in small details like patches and trims.

Wool pea coat

Pea coat

Both classic and functional, the pea coat will keep you warm and looking put together.

Silk Blouse

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.55.51 PM

Because it can be dressed up or dressed down, a silk blouse is one of the most versatile pieces you can have in your closet.



October 23rd, 2014


Welcome to the GREEN EILEEN Recycling Center in Seattle, or as we lovingly call it, GERC (pronounced 'girk'). This is where the magic happens. When all of you who live west of the Mississippi River send us your gently used EILEEN FISHER clothing, it ends up here, where we sort it into 3 categories:

Dry Clean

(Our holding bays)

The clothing that is deemed good to pristine quality is given the Dry Clean designation. We send the clothes off to be cleaned and pressed, and once we get them back, we price the garments and store them in our holding bays until the store is ready to sell them.


(This cozy shrunken sweater might not be an ideal shape anymore, but it'll still keep someone warm this Fall)

Our 'Donate' clothes usually have a few small holes or stains, but are still in reasonably good quality. We partner with local women's shelters and non-profit organizations to make sure our clothes are being worn and loved.


(While we normally try to mend holes in the clothes donated to us, this one was just too big to fix--into Chop it goes!)

This last category is, in my opinion, the bread and butter of GREEN EILEEN. Chop has been so well-loved by its owners that it comes to us with irreparable holes, big stains, or is otherwise not fit to be worn anymore. We wash and keep the Chop in our Recycling Center to be used for upcycling projects. Out of the thousands of pieces of Chop in our inventory, we might use about 200 pieces for projects every year.

So why don't we just get rid of the rest of it?

It's valuable

One reason is that at GREEN EILEEN, we view Chop to be a raw material, and raw material is precious stuff. We are always on the lookout for local sew shops who might be able to turn our Chop into a great new children's line. In addition, new technology is emerging around breaking down textile fibers and creating new threads. As this technology matures, we hope to use our Chop inventory to develop and bring you brand new EILEEN FISHER designs. How's that for cradle to cradle!

It hurts foreign economies

Another huge reason is where the clothes go when they're thrown out or donated. Obviously, when clothes are put in with the rest of your garbage, it ends up in landfills, and you all know how I feel about that.

Organizations like USAgain, who collect and recycle donated clothing, claim to be doing great things with your clothes by selling them overseas to "people who can't afford new clothes", but I find this an incredibly paternalistic approach to addressing a poverty issue. First, let's all agree that the problem isn't that the bottom billion--a term used to describe those who live on less than $2 a day in regions like Africa and Southeast Asia--don't have access to clothing. The real problem is that they have limited incomes, which prevents their access to food, education, clean water, and goods in general.

Selling cheap, used clothes that are no longer wanted in more developed countries is not a solution to helping the bottom billion become self-sufficient. In fact, it could just be making them poorer. According to a paper published by Dr. Garth Frazer of the University of Toronto, introducing imported used clothing into a community is correlated with lowered clothing output and apparel employment in that region. It's not hard to imagine that by flooding their markets with cheap, imported goods, clothing recyclers are elbowing out local producers and sellers of textiles, which strips them of their sources of income and weakens the economy.

Shannon Whitehead, featured here, has written a brilliant post on the affects of donated clothes, and in it, she writes:

"Over the years, certain African nations have attempted to ban or restrict the influx of Western clothing imports. In an effort to give existing industries a chance and to maintain traditional culture, countries such as South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria have tried to implement regulation."

At GREEN EILEEN, we believe that by holding onto our Chop, we can contribute not to a growing problem, but to a better greater good.

It doesn't address behavior change

I've written about this quite a few times, but I'll just say it once again: To be less wasteful, more sustainable, and to save more money, buy fewer things and reuse what you have.

In theory, this doesn't sound difficult, but in reality, it takes a lot of effort to change your normal habits. To make it harder, the post-WWII economy we live in only wants us to buy buy buy, even when all this buying is depleting our natural resources into oblivion. So, we do what the advertising execs want and buy so much stuff and so many clothes, and we justify these purchases by saying, "If I don't want it later, I'll donate it." But as we've just learned, donating is a short-term solution that can contribute to very real long-term problems. Donating items is not an answer--but changing your buying habits certainly is.

Rather than donating our Chop, we choose to keep it, and instead, focus on encouraging people to take care of the things they already have and to put more thought into their purchases. But when the time comes that your EILEEN FISHER designs can no longer be worn, we'll gladly take it--someday, we might turn your trash into someone else's brand new EILEEN FISHER treasure.



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.