Fashion designer Lidewij Edelkoort collaborates with Eileen Fisher and Sigi Ahl on sustainable clothing
On March 28, Li Edelkoort, Eileen Fisher, and Sigi Ahl gave a wonderful presentation at the Eileen Fisher headquarters, about their collaboration based on Fisher’s DesignWork initiative. This initiative is part of Renew, the company’s circularity program that transforms previously owned Eileen Fisher clothing into felted products for fashion, home, and interiors. The collaboration between Fisher and Edelkoort will result in the Exhibition “Waste No More,” which is curated by Li Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano and will be presented during the 2018 Salone del Mobile in Milan.
Eileen Fisher has dedicated her career to challenging the ways of the fashion industry; with the announcement of Vision2020 in 2015, the company took a bold step in reaching its ambitious environmental and social goals which include materials, chemistry, water, carbon and conscious business practices. DesignWork is the company’s latest initiative; a creative exchange between makers who felt and stitch consumers’ used garments into captivating wall hangings, upholstery and accessories for interiors, hospitality and public space.
Fisher notes how “Textiles and apparel have a huge environmental impact — and our industry’s current model is unsustainable. We’re using up natural resources faster than they can be renewed. We’re making more and more stuff. And after each season, we toss out the old and move onto what’s next. Where does this mountain of used and unsold clothes go? Roughly 85% becomes waste in a landfill — including many of the items donated to charity.”
The installation that will be shown in Milan will confront visitors with the reality of society’s discarded clothing, while demonstrating the inherent aesthetics of recuperated materials in contemporary design. Displayed on freestanding walls within the space – standing firm like astute ecological warriors – the zero-waste works have been developed by longtime collaborator and artist Sigi Ahl, in partnership with a dedicated team at Eileen Fisher’s sorting and recycling facility in Irvington, New York.
Edelkoort observes how DesignWork blurs the boundaries between design, textiles, and activism, fueling a new creative momentum for the company, calling it “A lifestyle brand found in the debris of overconsumption. When waste becomes wealth and culture, the circle has come around twice, empowering new ventures, gifting the world with true beauty.” Fisher expands upon how fashion’s modus operandi can be disrupted by providing renewable solutions: “What is new is how we’re scaling our systems to create a truly sustainable business model that’s circular by design.”
During the 2018 Salone del Mobile in Milan, DesignWork is being displayed for the first time on the international stage. Curated by Lidewij Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano, “Waste No More” takes place at Ventura Centrale’s vaulted tunnels, a program by Utrecht, the Netherlands-based Ventura Projects [tag]. This striking setting is recomposed like a temple to sustainability; critiquing consumption and shining a light on the emerging circular economy. The exhibition is on show from April 17 – 22, 2018. Ventura Centrale, via Ferrante Aporti, 19, 20134 Milano. Opening times: 10 AM to 8 PM daily (until 6 PM on April 22).
Eileen Fisher has been creating clothing for over 30 years. Designed with pure shapes and fine fabrics, the collections offer sophistication, comfort, and style that lasts. As a socially conscious company, Eileen Fisher is a pioneer in eco-friendly fashion. The clothing is sold at over 65 Eileen Fisher retail stores, over 1,000 department and specialty stores internationally, as well as two Renew stores, which are part of the company’s innovative take-back program. Eileen Fisher is the largest women’s fashion company to be a certified B Corporation, voluntarily meeting high criterion for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
DesignWork forms part of Renew, an initiative that transforms previously owned Eileen Fisher clothing into felted products for fashion, home, and interiors. Renew is the embodiment of EILEEN FISHER’s commitment to circularity and where each life cycle of the garment is considered. As an evolving and innovative take-back and reuse program, Renew collects worn or torn Eileen Fisher garments from customers because the company believes that their value doesn’t end with their first wear. Since 2009, Eileen Fisher has taken back over 800,000 of its garments. In 2017, DesignWork was exhibited on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn during New York Textile Month, and at the Textielmuseum [tag] in Tilburg as part of Earth Matters, a touring sustainable materials exhibition curated by Edelkoort Exhibitions.
Sigi Ahl is an artist and author based in New York. As a collaborator with EILEEN FISHER since the early days of the company, she helped found EILEEN FISHER’s recycle program in 2009 and went on to establish DesignWork as an extension of that endeavor. Ahl has had solo exhibitions in the US and Germany, as well as written and illustrated several children´s books, one of which was nominated for the German Children´s Literature Award. Her paintings and graphic works are in public collections including f.e. Rhineland-Palatinian Museum, Mainz; Museum for Contemporary Art, Cuxhaven; Marilie Hess-Foundation, Frankfurt; and the City of Frankfurt. Ahl received a Diploma in Visual Communication at Offenbach College of Applied Arts, and a Master´s Degree at the Frankfurt Academy of Fine Arts, Städel.
Edelkoort Exhibitions is a studio that produces cultural events for museums and institutions worldwide. Lidewij Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano have curated shows for international venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Nordiska museet in Stockholm, Moscow’s Museum of Architecture, Lausanne’s mudac, Gaîté Lyrique in Paris, Trapholt Museum in Denmark, Design Museum Holon and 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo. In 2013, the duo directed Fetishism in Fashion, Arnhem’s fifth fashion biennale. In 2017, Edelkoort Gallery opened in Paris to highlight emerging talent in contemporary design, craft, fashion and textiles.
The elegant and soft-spoken woman is a dynamo disguised in a slim and modernist body. With straight white hair, black masculine glasses and minimalist clothes, she has no age, just grace. Eileen Fisher founded and manages an all American company that dresses civilized women of all ages and sizes, in easy-to-wear voluminous basics that slit from the shoulder and layer effortlessly. Fisher understands that clothes needed to be sustainable; including using organic cottons and partly manufacturing in America as well. Her company sets higher sustainability goals each year
Eileen Fisher’s faithful fashions have generated a steady stream of income that has been invested in her company to give back to society with an initiative called Renew. Now she pushes her ideas a step further with the recycling of her own goods. Clients can give back their old Eileen’s, get five dollars to spend on something new, and are generating a rather amazing return of merchandise to their factory in Irvington, north of New York. The DesignWork pieces are cleaned and checked for flaws or stains and all perfect items are put back on the market as vintage pieces. Clothes that are damaged beyond mending are carefully selected by fiber and color, ready to be reused and reinvented, re-colored at times. The garments that are created from scratch and scraps look amazingly young and design-driven. Combining different textiles in one style, they look like fashion student experiments; a far step from the regular collection, somehow showing that the business of recycling can set companies free from their own commercial rules, leaving space for innovation and creation. Ultimately these new garments might become such a success that they will influence the permanent collection, making the arrow of recycling go back on its own track, recharging creativity from within, also providing women of different backgrounds generous grants with the financial results.
Creativity becomes even more palpable when old cashmere sweaters are carefully selected by color harmonies, felted into new blankets and carpets, sometimes even coats. These unique artistic pieces are close to art – Rothko comes to mind – but they are an intimate art to cuddle and care for the collector. Thus a lifestyle brand is found in the debris of overconsumption, establishing DesignWork as a high-end endeavor, giving further proof of the effects of recycling as a philosophy and as a practice. When waste becomes wealth and culture, the circle has come around twice, empowering new ventures, gifting the world with amazing beauty.
Textiles and apparel have a huge environmental impact — and our industry’s current model is unsustainable. We’re using up natural resources faster than they can be renewed. We’re making more and more stuff. And after each season, we toss out the old and move onto what’s next. Where does this mountain of used and unsold clothes go? Roughly 85% becomes waste in a landfill — including many of the items donated to charity. At EILEEN FISHER, we want to do more than just reduce our environmental footprint. We want to create an industry that actually helps restore the planet. And for us, it all starts with taking responsibility for what we make — and where it ends up.
We believe the future is circular. In 2009, we designed a take-back program that gives our apparel new life. So when you’re done with your sweater, we take it back, in any condition, to be resold or renewed through techniques like overdyeing and mending. But our biggest challenge remained — what to do with the pieces that are damaged beyond repair? We didn’t give up on them, and now, we’re thrilled to introduce DesignWork, a new concept that preserves the value of these materials.
This project was born in 2015, when we created the Makerspace with longtime collaborator and artist Sigi Ahl. She, along with Carolina Bedoya, explored ways to turn piles of old clothes and scraps into new textiles. First, they created a system to clean, sort and inventory the bags of clothes and leftover material sitting in our warehouse — a truly daunting task. Then came the fun part: experimenting with different fabrics, mixing them together and felting them to create one-of-a-kind designs like the extraordinary WallWorks you see here.
Though the process of felting is age-old, what is new is how we’re scaling our systems to create a truly sustainable business model that’s circular by design. We hope this exhibition inspires you to see the beauty — and possibility — in your old clothes.