At the recently concluded Supply Chain Insights Global Summit, I heard a talk from Cheryl Campbell and Kevin Cooke from the Eileen Fisher Company. Cheryl founded the Green Eileen company as a non-profit which was supported by the owner Eileen Fisher Company. She had a desire to make Green Eileen sustainable in the near future and she was looking for ways to do so.

A chance meeting with William McDonough (author of the book Cradle to Cradle) and an exposure to a story about a young designer in England who paid her customers to bring the clothes back made Cheryl think of doing the same at Green Eileen. Thus she formed a program of bringing back clothes where she started with Eileen Fisher’s employees and slowly expanded to the customers of the company. Over the years, this has taken off and the slide below shows some of the statistics.

Sustainability and the Reverse Supply Chain

Kevin talked about how the time of this awareness in the fashion industry has come. He compared this to the food industry when about 15 years ago, people started becoming aware of the source of their food. As proof, he pointed to the number of food documentaries on Netflix. In a similar way, he suggested that events such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh are raising the awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. He also shared quite a few facts about the fashion industry.

  • Behind Oil, Fashion is the 2nd largest polluter in the world.
  • It will take 3 planet earth worth of resources to support the world by 2030 if we keep growing like this.
  • An average person contributed 68 lbs. of clothing to landfills every year.

Eileen Fisher as a company is inspired by circular economics and is looking at return of products into the life cycle and having 2nd/3rd/4th lives. They are committed to taking a sustainable view of the industry in a holistic way and are currently investing in learning how to do it. Kevin talked about learning from the folks at Supply Chain Insights on how to do something like this.

I think this effort is commendable for sustainability and environmental reasons; as a supply chain professional, I am also interested in learning how they further develop the reverse supply chain of their products. Getting the clothes back and selling it is the first step. But if they want to fulfill their mission of taking this upstream in their supply chain, this will require a lot more innovation including the requisite twists and turns. Given the company culture, it seems to me a question of when, not if.

Kudos to the Green Eileen team for the success already achieved and best wishes for even more success in the future.

You can watch the talk here.

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