Inside Eileen Fisher’s New ‘Experiential’ Store: Fighting Retail Disruption With Artists In Residence, Mindfulness Workshops And Recycled Clothes
The Making Space store reflects the fashion brand’s socially conscious DNA and serves as a testing ground, offering exclusive merchandise, design programs, community events and more
Eileen Fisher’s new experimental location, dubbed “Making Space,” is quite deliberately showing its seams. The store in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, pulls the curtain back on the full life cycle of an Eileen Fisher product via a single location that’s equal parts maker space, Artist-in-Residence and a community hub where one can even take a sewing class—marking an entirely new retail concept for the brand, executives told PSFK during a walk through of the store.
The 4,929-square foot experiential unit will serve as a testing ground for the fashion merchant’s 69 freestanding locations and its presence in 1,000 department and specialty stores, and reflects the retailer’s mission to achieve maximum sustainability by 2020.
It’s also meant to be a vigorous nod to Eileen Fisher’s socially-woke brand DNA and a circular supply chain that repurposes materials and turns discarded garments into second-life fashions. “We’re selling things other than clothes, we’re selling our values,” said Rebecca Perrin, chief creative officer of Eileen Fisher. “We have a triple bottom line of people, profit and the environment.”
To that end, the Making Space store features a carefully curated assortment that privileges process over product depth and clothing racks stuffed with items.
More space is used to engage shoppers by revealing how product is made, be it via a rotating roster of artists, like a textile designer who creates naturally dyed garments, to showcasing how to find a new life for apparel that’s in its last lifecycle.
Eileen Fisher has been practicing conscious capitalism before the notion was fashionable since Fisher founded her eponymous brand of simple, timeless clothing out of her New York City loft in 1984.
Today, the brand is a Certified B Corporation, which means it voluntarily meets higher criteria for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, which is “extremely rare” in the world of fashion, professor Susan Scafidi, founder and director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, told PSFK.
Selling Sustainability, Craft And Community In A Single Location
As shoppers increasingly seek out socially-minded goods, which have moved from the margins to the mainstream, be it ethically sourced coffee or eco-friendly dresses that demystify how an item got to the store shelf and the hand that created it—think Etsy and the maker movement—the times seem to have caught up with the 34-year-old brand.
Now massive industry disruption is pushing Eileen Fisher to ramp up its cycle of innovation, hence the new concept store: an incubator to test and measure ideas that are designed to fuel growth and ensure its long-term health.
Making Space will be used to gauge just how much shoppers crave a store with an edited merchandise selection that takes care to highlight “what went into making it,” Perrin said. “We'll experiment to find out.”
What’s more, it aims to tell Eileen Fisher’s circular story in a retail environment that plays up an expanding mix of recycled clothing and accessories, such as the Renew and Remade lines that take center stage.
The Renew collection is made from shoppers’ returned old clothes that have been modified for a second life. The Remade collection turns worn and torn Eileen Fisher items into one-of-a-kind redesigns that are cut and sewn at its Tiny Factory in Irvington, New York.
The store also spotlights the new DesignWork program, whereby consumers’ used garments are transformed through a felting machine into new pieces, like toss pillows, as well as wall hangings that add an art-gallery dimension to the space.
Along with the merchandise, the store serves up experiences. In a company first, Eileen Fisher is housing community-based artists in residence who will change out on a monthly basis.
During an August trip to the store, textile designer and native New Yorker Cara May Piazza was on site showcasing her technique for redesigning gently-used Eileen Fisher clothing into one-of-a-kind items patterned with plant and animal-based dyes.
Meanwhile, in a bid to create a destination for creation and inspiration, the store’s lower level will hold public workshops in mending, sewing and washing garments, events like Friday Night Wine, and Eileen Fisher’s signature LifeWork guest lectures and panel discussions, like “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” and “Food as Medicine.” The retailer is also making the space available to the local community for public events.
Eileen Fisher is testing versions of the Making Space concept at two Detroit and Seattle locations, and at its shop at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship in Manhattan.
“The retail challenge of the past decade has been luring consumers away from screens and into stores,” Scafidi said. “Eileen Fisher's new concept space will be baited with attractions that the digital environment lacks: hands-on experience and face-to-face engagement with artisans rather than simply salespeople or helpful bots.” Still, “any new retail concept is a fishing expedition,” she said.
But adding in the sustainability hook, which is “a lure for conscious consumers,” the net result is at least “very much on trend.”