When streetwear designer Heron Preston recognized an opportunity to work with Eileen Fisher on the brand’s sustainability initiatives, he took it.
According to Cynthia Power — facilitating manager of Renew, Eileen Fisher’s recycling initiative — Preston was inspired to reach out to the team after reading a quote by Fisher that cited the fashion industry as the second-most polluting business. He asked about ways to incorporate environmentally friendly practices into his production and supply chain, an effort that Eileen Fisher has championed in recent years and which he felt was lacking in streetwear.
“I don’t think the streetwear industry is as focused on sustainability at the moment as some other sectors of the fashion industry,” Preston wrote in an email. “But I do feel that consumers are paying more attention to sustainability than ever before, and more and more designers and brands are being forced to innovate and become more sustainable because their fan base is starting to demand it.”
This brought Preston to make regular visits to Eileen Fisher’s Tiny Factory, a production facility located in Irvington, New York dedicated exclusively to recycling old garments into new products. Tiny Factory uses a circular production model, the practice of reusing materials in order to minimize waste. Its efforts help produce collections like Eileen Fisher’s Renew, as part of a “take-back program” that encourages consumers to return used clothing. In recent years, as Eileen Fisher established itself as a leader in sustainable clothing production, Tiny Factory began hosting tours and meetings with retailers and designers to simultaneously promote the brand while spreading sustainability practices.
Ultimately, the goal was for Preston to learn tactical approaches to emulate Eileen Fisher’s sustainability strategies in his own future collections. Power said Preston was an eager student in his series of visits, during which he worked one-on-one with Fisher and participated in everything from intern-level tasks, like sorting through previously worn clothing, to conceptualizing designs that used the recycled materials.
“Information is power; once you know how your choices affect people and planet, you can decide how you want to show up,” Power said. “Heron has enormous influence and the ability to make decisions that can have a positive impact on his supply chain and customers.”
The apprenticeship took place in December, while Preston was also working on a slew of buzzy collaborations, like designing a handbag with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh and teaming with Bravado on exclusive merchandise for Justin Timberlake’s new tour. However, this isn’t his first foray into sustainable fashion: In 2016, Preston launched a collection with the New York Department of Sanitation that reimagined worker uniforms he found at secondhand stores like Goodwill.
“I’m excited to take what I saw at Tiny Factory and see if I can apply it to my own brand. I’ll have to start out small, but the hope is that in coming seasons, pieces made from recycled fabrics via streamlined processes can make up the bulk of the Heron Preston brand,” Preston said.
Jian DeLeon, editorial director of Highsnobiety, said while streetwear brands like Heron Preston may not seem focused on sustainability in the same sense as major retailers, identifying efficient ways of operating that cut waste and cost is especially valuable given that many of these companies are small and independently owned. He noted other brands like ALYX that recently started using upcycled yarn from old clothing in an attempt at smarter production practices.
“When you think of sustainability in this particular paradigm, it’s not always about being environmentally friendly; it’s [often] about quality control and sustainability in business practices,” he said. “ The sustainability conversation is about this idea of keeping things small and independent, and manageable. The environmental aspect is important, yes, but it’s not coming across as explicitly as it would in a brand like Patagonia.”
He added that street culture, in many ways, inherently embodies certain parts of sustainable behavior.
“It’s this idea of reuse, rooted in the thought that there’s too much stuff out there already, so how can we repurpose what we already have into something with a new meaning and new context?” he said. “It’s what streetwear was founded upon — repurposing popular logos and art for a new audience it wasn’t meant to reach in its first form.”
Preston kept these ideas in mind while visiting Tiny Factory, employees walked him through some of their tactics for recycling fabric and methods for operating a more sustainable supply chain. Among them included compiling metrics for how many units, styles and sizes are needed to make one Resewn piece.
“Toward the end of the week, he camped out in a corner of the factory so he could soak up what was going on around him. I enjoyed checking in with him throughout the week to see how his different meetings and conversations continued to evolve his thinking,” she said.
Image courtesy of Eileen Fisher
This article was updated with quotes from Heron Preston.