good reads: on the peculiarities of two giant ethical clothing brands


This weekend I read two old New Yorker articles on the peculiarities of two behemoth ethical fashion brands, Eileen Fisher and Patagonia.  These two brands are like the godparents of the whole ethical fashion movement.  I was so intrigued by the stories of the people behind them.  (I actually do not own a single thing from either brand, but I do follow a lot of bloggers who wear them regularly).

It turns out Eileen Fisher employees are even weirder than I imagined! (I say that fondly).

The company employees start and end every meeting by ringing a bell.  They all sit in a circle to eliminate a sense of hierarchy, so that “leaders sit in every chair”. And Eileen who is now retired, could only be interviewed in the presence of the company’s PR team that made sure she didn’t say anything damaging.  Wow.  She seemed so imperfectly interesting.  The way she described her mother’s mental health issues, the need to raise herself with her sisters, and how that contributed to her vision for the structure of the company really resonated with me.  I wonder what she would’ve said if the PR overlords weren’t hovering around.  It’s a long article but worth sitting down with a cup of tea if you have some time to kill this week.

The Patagonia article is similarly interesting.  It’s about the company’s an anti-growth strategy, a seemingly dialectical position of trying to sell you something and at the same time, tell you that you shouldn’t buy anything new or unnecessary.  This is a good example of how sales people can reframe their job as trying to meet their customers’ needs, rather than selling a product.  The funny thing is that Patagonia is making a ton of money because customer’s are attracted to this philosophy.  I guess sometimes the best way to sell something is to not try to sell something.


[image:  Patagonia ad, New York Times, 2011]

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