January 30th, 2014
I spend a lot of time thinking about clothes. Specifically, used clothes. Piles of them. Mountains of them. As team leader at GREEN EILEEN’s Seattle recycling program, I work with the women who sort donated EILEEN FISHER clothing. We’re often amazed by the longevity, quality and sheer volume of the incoming items.

But we know that Americans also clear out clothing they purchased from a lot of other brands. Some of it you’d happily buy at a thrift store. Some of it—that ratty college T-shirt—is pretty scary. So what happens to the clothing that isn’t destined for GREEN EILEEN?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing every year. A staggering 85 percent ends up in a landfill.Let’s say you are part of the savvy 15 percent. You’ve done the right thing and donated your clothes to Goodwill or a similar organization. What happens now?“Most people think their clothes will be sold or given away to help people in their community,” says Pietra Rivoli, author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy. “That’s very far from the truth.” Only a small portion of clothing donations—just 20 percent—ever hits the sales floor. The other 80 percent has a different, but still useful life. It is sold to professional textile recyclers who assign it one of four fates:

45% is resold to secondhand clothing dealers, primarily in foreign markets.

30% is cut up for the rags or wipes that are used by bartenders, auto mechanics, painters and a multitude of industrial workers.

20% is shredded for carpet padding, acoustical tiles, car sound dampening, denim insulation, recycled fiber for clothing and more.

5% is waste.

That ratty college shirt? Textile recyclers actually want it. “Worn or torn is the message we’re trying to get out,” says Eric Stubin, chairman of the Council for Textile Recycling. “People tell me, ‘Oh, I had a towel with a hole in it or a sock with a hole in it. I thought I had to throw it out.’ They don’t realize that it generates revenue for the charity when it’s sold to a textile recycler.”

Eric is president of a third-generation family recycling business, Trans-Americas Trading Co., which processes 16 million pounds of clothing annually. Sorting the vast quantities of clothes he collects is the key to his profits. Should an item be cut up for an industrial wipe? Does it have the right brand and the right colors to sell in Africa, Asia, Central America or South America?

Though buyers in these foreign markets often live on two dollars a day, they are picky about used clothing—sometimes very picky. As Rivoli reports in her book, Africans want only lightweight cottons, modest cuts (no shorts or miniskirts) and dark colors that don’t get dirty quickly. They’re particular about T-shirt images and slogans. “African customers… are every bit as fashion-conscious as the Americans, and know whether lapels are wide or pants have cuffs this year, and make their demands accordingly,” she writes.

Twenty years of falling clothing prices have created a glut of both new and used clothes. In 1993, the average American bought 30 pieces of clothing per year. Today, that number has doubled to 60.

I don’t buy nearly that many, partly because at the end of a long day at GREEN EILEEN, I am definitely not in the mood for shopping. But when I do need to buy any sort of textile, whether it’s a T-shirt, towel or curtain, I consider: How long will I own it? Is it designed to last? And what will I do with it when I’m ready to clean out my closet?

Republished from Fall 2013 Ampersand issue

 

January 9th, 2014

 

January 2nd, 2014

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SAN FRANCISCO – This November, Levi Strauss & Co. debuted the Dockers® Wellthread process for responsible sourcing at the company’s new innovation lab in San Francisco. This ground-breaking approach combines sustainable design and environmental practices with an emphasis on supporting the well-being of the apparel workers who make the garments. It is the first time the company has brought these key elements together into one process.

“How you make a garment is just as important as the garment itself,” said Michael Kobori, vice president of social and environmental sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. “Our company has been guided by the same principles since its founding 160 years ago. We believe that we can use our iconic brands to drive positive sustainable change and profitable results. Progress is in our DNA. We invented a category and with that comes the responsibility to continually innovate for each new generation of consumers.”

Disposable, fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainability. Great, sustainable style starts with durable materials that last. As such, the Dockers® Wellthread design team studied garments from the company’s historical archives to see how clothing has held up over time, and from there created a pilot collection of khakis, jackets and T-shirts. The team engineered lasting value into the design process by reinforcing garments’ points of stress and making buttonholes stronger and pockets more durable.

The Dockers® design team and suppliers worked together to find ways to reduce water and energy use, knowing that small changes can result in big savings. This new process utilizes specialized garment-dyeing to reduce both water and energy consumption with cold-water pigment dyes for tops and salt-free reactive dyes for pants and jackets. In addition, the apparel is dyed in the factory, not in the mill – which allows for greater inventory agility because the garments are dyed-to-order.

The designers also considered responsible use and re-use with the end of the garment’s life in mind. Though recycling facilities are not widely available, the company anticipates that one day they will be. Extremely long staples of cotton can be more easily recycled, so the brand developed a unique, long-staple yarn for its premium Wellthread twill. In addition, every garment in the collection uses 100% cotton, thread and pocketing. The sundries include compressed cotton or metal that can be easily extracted by magnets. Using a drying cycle is tough on fabric and hard on the environment, so the design team also added care instructions to wash in cold and a locker loop on the khakis to encourage line drying.

More than twenty years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. developed a code of conduct, called its Terms of Engagement, for its suppliers. These terms implemented standards for labor, safety and the environment that eventually became the industry standard for global supply chains. The company is now piloting a new approach with factories to support programs that will improve the lives of workers in factories around the world. The Dockers® Wellthread khakis are made exclusively at one of the Improving Workers’ Well-Being pilot sites.

Rooted in the sustainable culture of Levi Strauss & Co., the initial vision for the Wellthread process and pilot collection took shape as part of the Aspen Institute’s First Movers Fellowship. From there, the idea moved to the company’s new innovation lab, located next to its San Francisco headquarters, where the concept was brought to life, and where sustainable processes are developed for future product lines.

“The Dockers® Wellthread process is a remarkable achievement for the apparel industry,” said Nancy McGaw, the founder and deputy director of the business and society program at the Aspen Institute. “The company took a risk on this groundbreaking vision and then supported it all the way through its implementation. Levi Strauss & Co. has a culture that inspires innovation.”

The Dockers® Wellthread process is just one example of how Levi Strauss & Co. is working to make its products more socially and environmentally sustainable. The Levi’s® Waste<Less™ collection features beautiful, durable jeans that are made from garbage, specifically, an average of eight 12- to 20-oz. recycled plastic bottles per pair of jeans. Another innovation, the Levi’s® Water<Less™ collection reduces the amount of water used to make a pair of jeans. In 2012, the Levi’s® brand proudly made 29 million Water<Less™ units, saving more than 360 million liters of water.

 

July 26th, 2013
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Upcycled Farmers Market Tote

Green Eileen is once again joining forces with Fiberflame to present a day of shopping, crafting, food, and activism. Join us on July 31, for our second-ever collaboration with Fiberflame, and learn about the amazing people who are making the Hudson Valley a great place to live.

The day will begin with a workshop for kids and adults to create a reusable farmer's market bag fashioned from recycled Eileen Fisher Tee’s, followed by an opportunity to shop our Green Eileen clothing pop-up store. As always, all profits from the sale of Green Eileen clothing are donated to programs that serve women and girls. Save some energy for more shopping, and swing by the farmers market to pick up some farm fresh produce to fill your new market tote!

Representatives from several community resources will be on hand in the studio, discussing their work and their commitment to the Hudson Valley; participants include the Green Guru Network, Queens Galley soup kitchen, Woodstock Land Conservancy, and Woodstock Farm Festival.

We are so grateful to Fiberflame’s co-owners, Christina Brady and Shea Lord-Farmer, for inviting us back after our first collaborative event last January. The event, [Re]fresh, [Re]start, [Re]new, was a huge success! Green Eileen and Fiberflame showcased the work of Hope’s Fund, a wonderful organization that improve the lives of women in Ulster County and beyond. Stop by for an amazing day of shopping, food and fun on July 31, and help us continue to support programs so crucial to improving the lives of women in our local, national and global communities.

Find a full schedule of events below. We look forward to seeing you there!

 . . .

Wednesday July, 31:

11am-1pm Reusable farm market bag workshop. We’ll turn recycled EILEEN FISHER t-shirts into re-useable market bags. FIBERFLAME artist/crafters will guide you and your kids to decorate them with colorful block prints made from vegetables! Pre-register to reserve your space here. Fee $25, or 2 participants for $40.

12-3pm GREEN EILEEN pop-up shop. Come shop our collection of gently worn EILEEN FISHER clothing. Plus—learn about your community! Meet the folks that are taking care of those in need and are protecting our environment. Learn about the local & national organizations that benefit from the GREEN EILEEN recycling program.

12-3pm Drop-in crafting. Try your hand at a making necklaces from recycled t-shirts. Kids jewelry-making, too.

11:30am-7pm Food Trucks for a Cause. Get your lunch next door at the Tin Cantina. A portion of proceeds of lunch sales will be donated to local food kitchen: the Queen’s Galley in Kingston, NY.

3pm-dusk WoodStock Farm Festival. Take your newly fashioned shopping bag to the woodstock farmer’s market: shop, eat, listen to music.

For directions, and Fiberflame contact information visit: http://www.fiberflamestudio.com/workshops/fiberflame-green-eileen-a-day-to-discover-the-bounty-of-the-hudson-valley/

 

July 24th, 2013

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't get very excited about shopping. I love clothes—don't get me wrong. I just don't like hunting for the perfect leather jacket, finding it (if I'm lucky), and then wearing the same jacket as 1,000 other women in a 10 mile radius who all seem to wear it better than I do.

So when I say that I am excited (like on-the-waiting-list excited) about a new clothing concept, I typically really mean it. And Bib + Tuck is the first shopping experience I have been really excited about since, well, since Green Eileen.

Bib + Tuck is a high-end, barter only clothing concept. Their "only give what you would take" model keeps the quality of their inventory original and exclusive. Couple that with an invite-only membership roster featuring New York's premier fashion writers and designers, and you have a pretty good idea of what Bib + Tuck is about.

While I know I won't be receiving an invitation anytime soon, I am still very excited about Bib + Tuck. Rent-a-Runway was the first of its kind in the then emerging "peer to peer" fashion marketplace, and it has done much to change popular notions about how we consume clothing. Now, with more start-ups entering this space, we see a whole generation of consumers pushing responsible buying behavior into the mainstream. Thank you, Bib + Tuck. Truly brilliant.

Visit the Bib + Tuck site to request an invite.

 

 

 

 

July 8th, 2013

handwash 2Thank you to the wonderful creators of Ampersand for all your ongoing advice. "How to Hand Wash a Sweater" is an oldy-but-a-goody from the Ampersand archives. For more great tips from the Eileen Fisher staff, make sure to visit the full site here.

Over to You: The Care Cycle
Did you know that clothing’s greatest environmental impact happens during the care cycle? It’s sometimes hard to imagine, but care—washing, drying, ironing and dry cleaning—uses more energy and toxins than either raising fiber, spinning, dying, manufacturing or transportation. One of the simplest ways to minimize the impact of care is to hand wash clothes in cold water, using non-petroleum, eco-friendly soaps.

A step-by-step guide to hand washing
Read the care labels and you’ll find that, in most cases, cotton, linen, silk, and wool can be hand washed. So instead of sending sweaters to the dry cleaner, wash them following the instructions below.

1. Fill a basin with cool water. Add mild soap, preferably an eco-friendly variety.

2. Place sweater in water and swirl gently.

3. Rinse. Drain basin. Gently press sweater to remove excess water, being careful not to wring or twist.

4. Spread sweater on a thick, dry towel. Roll towel the way you would a yoga mat, pressing as you go. Do not twist towel.

5. Unroll. Lay sweater on a dry towel on a flat, waterproof surface. Reshape sweater. Spread arms out straight, push ribbing together, align collar and button any buttons. If there is a belt, dry it separately. After 12 to 24 hours (depending on the thickness of knit), turn sweater over and spread out on a dry towel. You won’t need to reshape but you can pat and fluff.

6. Once completely dry, your sweater should be ready to wear. If any wrinkles or folds remain, use a steamer to remove.

 

 

 

 

June 21st, 2013

Let me start by saying that I am a big supporter of Kickstarter. In 2009, Kickstarter created a new, democratic way to connect entrepreneurs to much needed start-up capital. By bringing great ideas and would-be philanthropists together in one place, Kickstarter gave entrepreneurs an alternative to the exclusive world of VCs and the drudgery of traditional lenders. To date, Kickstarter has helped more than 43,000 artists and entrepreneurs crowdsource funding from an online community of supporters.

So when I saw this campaign for domestically produced, organic yarns, I knew I had to shout it out on the rooftops: GO SUPPORT THIS PROJECT.

The Dyehouse Project has set a goal of raising $25,000. That sum will allow Dyehouse to purchase new equipment that will reduce their water and electricity consumption by up to 40%.  Learn more in their video here, and give $5 to help kickstart this great project!

 

June 7th, 2013

rit dye experiement 2

At Green Eileen, we are obsessed with squeezing every last drop of life from our Eileen Fisher clothing. We mend, hem, tack and shave our favorite pieces to make sure that none of our clothes needlessly end up in the upcycling bin. We are so committed to extending the lifetime of our clothes that Green Eileen offers free sewing and mending lessons so that our clothes-loving brethren can perform basic repairs at home. (Check out our Workshops page for more information about the Seattle and New York repair programs.)

But what happens if your favorite skirt or blouse can't be fixed with a needle and thread? You know, like when you drop a meatball in your lap at dinner or when a sweat stain sets in after a particularly long and sticky commute? Green Eileen Seattle's Alice has a solution: Rit.

Yes, Rit Dye. The ubiquitous, $2.49 miracle in a box. The original Rit formula was developed in 1917 by Chicago-based entrepreneur, Charles Huffman. By the 1930's, the all-purpse dye formula had been created and the rest was history: today, Rit all purpose dye continues to be the most popular household dye in the country.

If you were like me as a kid, Rit probably got you in trouble after a dying experiment went terribly wrong in your kitchen sink. But with improvements in washing machine technology, dying is now very easy. Simply drop the dye in the detergent slot of your washing machine, set machine to a hot water cycle, and wash for at least 30 minues. Make sure to clean your machine with bleach (also on the hot water setting) after your dye cycle is complete.

Rit is available in 26 colors, a few of which are likely carried at your local drug store. It is a quick, easy and cheap way to breath new life back into that stained skirt you just couldn't part with!

. . .

Here are a few dying tips from Alice, our new resident Rit expert.

1. For less saturated color, use only half of the recommended dye amount. Alice used half of the "Dark Green" Rit dye to dye her 100% organic cotton skirt, pictured above.

2. Rit works best on natural fibers. Try blends with at least 60% silk, cotton, linen or hemp.

3. Be sure to use enough dye for the weight or size of the project. For a pound of dry fabric (about 3 yards), use one package of Rit powder or 1/2 bottle of Rit liquid in 3 gallons of water.

4. To avoid blotchy dye results, dissolve Rit powder in 2 cups hot water before adding to dye bath.

5. For more intense color, use a water temperature of 140ºF of higher. If you don't want to use the washing machine technique, then use 3 gallons of boiled water on your stovetop.

6. If you do use the stove top method, make sure to continue stirring the dye bath for even color saturation.

7. Avoid dyeing wool in the washing machine because felting will occur.