A Conversation With: CFDA Eileen Fisher Social Innovators Award Winner Lucy Jones - Neiman Marcus

A Conversation With: CFDA Eileen Fisher Social Innovators Award Winner Lucy Jones

Meghan Jahr

September 23, 2016

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The CFDA Eileen Fisher Social Innovator Award recognizes young, talented designers who leverage innovative and creative processes for their designs. The Social Innovator Award provides its winners with exclusive access to specialized knowledge, skills, resources, and mentorship through yearlong rotational placements at Eileen Fisher.

Once named, each Innovator collaborates to solve specific design challenges within sustainability guided by Eileen Fisher’s team and design principles. During the inaugural 2015 residency, the trio of Eileen Fisher Innovators researched and produced strategic solutions within the Green Eileen initiative in support of Vision2020 goals.

NM Social Media Manager Meghan Jahr had the opportunity to sit down with the three 2015 winners Carmen Gama, Lucy Jones, and Teslin Doud to learn more about working with the Eileen Fisher brand and what they gained from the experience.

See below for our interview with Innovator Lucy Jones.

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Meghan Jahr: What is your commitment to sustainability rooted in and have you always had this as part of your identity?

Lucy Jones: I have always been interested in sustainability; however, it wasn’t always my number-one passion. In school I was designing for those with disabilities. My passion was helping individuals who have difficulties dressing independently because they are wheelchair-bound. Working in a sustainable way has always been something I’ve been interested in but never directly engaged with, so I feel lucky that I’ve been granted this opportunity to learn from a company that’s making waves in the industry. My knowledge has grown tremendously since I started here. Wherever my career takes me, I will now be able to make more conscious and educated decisions, and I strongly believe that the champions of the future fashion industry are those who care about the environment.

MJ: Have you always known you wanted a career in fashion, or did you wake up one day and realize you were meant to be a designer?

LJ: Not at all. When I was younger I wanted to be an actress. However, from an early age I’ve been deconstructing and giving new life to clothes, which is exactly what I am doing now. I had my first sewing machine when I was eleven. I would shop at thrift stores and reconstruct the clothing into new creations. I never realized that I could make a career out of doing something that I loved—what I thought was a side hobby has expanded into a career.

MJ: Describe how you felt when you found out that you had won this award. What is the most exciting thing that being a social innovator has taught you?

LJ: I was absolutely ecstatic! I feel very lucky to have this experience here at Eileen Fisher. The most important thing I learned is that collaboration is key. At design school the program is very individualized and students have their own point of view, working independently on their own collections. But in reality, collections and projects are a result of teamwork, and I believe that when you’re striving for the same goal you can achieve more than you could alone. Coming into the program, Carmen, Tess, and I were all very different, and it’s been an absolute dream learning from them and working together on this project. I have spent time with different teams within the company such as product development, sales, and merchandising. These are all areas that I never got to explore in school, and it’s been an amazing, well-rounded learning experience.

MJ: What are some of the obstacles that you’ve encountered with these reclaimed garments, and is there anything in particular that’s been extremely challenging?

LJ: We were given the task to deliver a scalable, sustainable, and profitable solution for the damaged garments that we didn’t want to go into a landfill. In this world of design, no two garments are the same, as they are all damaged in a different way. This made our task very challenging, yet exciting. We started this project with certain assumptions, but once we started we noticed that some of the garments were more similar than we thought. Certain fibers would have similar damages and characteristics, and as we started identifying these similarities, we could start designing around these.

MJ: It sounds like a fun process. Can you talk to me more about your Seated Design project and the inspiration behind it?

LJ: “Seated Design” is the term I developed during my senior thesis at Parsons. I was taking a class in which we had to come up with a design solution that could change the world. I have a cousin who suffers from hemiplegia and has limited mobility on the left side of his body. He mentioned how getting dressed was one of the hardest tasks in his day. That seemed absolutely crazy to me, and that’s when I decided that if I’m going to be designing, it’s going to be with a purpose and intention. I made him a pair of trousers that he could put on with one hand so he didn’t have to struggle. Shortly after I started the project, my mother had an accident that left her using a wheelchair. One of her biggest obstacles was finding comfortable clothing that was easy to slip into, and that’s when I knew this was an issue that I had to change.

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MJ: That is very inspirational.

LJ: I love doing it. I meet so many inspiring people, and seeing how sometimes a simple design solution can change someone’s daily routine reminds me why I love design so much.

MJ: Can you explain your design process and what sets you apart from other designers?

LJ: My number one rule is that style and function have to go hand in hand. My starting point is usually identifying a problem or an unmet need, and I follow through by creating a solution to the problem. I’m very technical and patent oriented, so I enjoy thinking outside the box and challenging the larger system, whether it’s creating a more efficient production process or thinking ahead about the long-term plan.

MJ: What designer do you look up to the most and why?

LJ: Firstly Eileen—she has built an amazing company, and she keeps her employees happy. I am really proud to work for someone like Eileen. Not only does she understand the needs of her customer, she is also one of the most inspiring and kind women I have had the pleasure of meeting. I also love Issey Miyake. In the ’80s and ’90s Miyake was ahead of the curve. He collaborated with architects, had started using recycled materials, and was getting into zero-wave patterning.

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MJ: At Neiman Marcus we have the Make Some Noise® campaign that celebrates bold women with bold voices who are doing something in the community to make a change. All three Innovators exemplify what our Make Some Noise campaign is about, but what does making noise mean to you?

LJ: I think making noise is about taking a firm stance in what you believe, sticking with that belief, and creating a dialogue about it in a community. For example, at Eileen Fisher they have developed Vision 2020, a plan to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020. This is such an admirable goal for a company of this size, but what a way to prove to the fashion industry that if Eileen Fisher can do it, others can do it too. This to me is a terrific example of making noise. I hope to be like Eileen someday and be someone who can stick by an idea and start a dialogue like this.

MJ: Is there a particular woman in your life who has influenced you the most?

LJ: Yes, definitely. I want to say all the women in my life but there are two that really stand out. The first one being my mother, who has really helped me develop my design voice. She was the one that helped me with my problem-solving skills when designing for individuals with disabilities. She has a medical background and has endless amounts of patience. She taught me to treat people the way you would like to be treated. The second woman who is a huge inspiration to me is my friend Bonnie. I work with her quite frequently, and I refer to her as my “U.S. mom.” She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and without her I would not have been able to work on my project and do what I love. She shared her story with me, let me into her life, tested my garments, and put so much trust in me. We have this special relationship, and she is like a family member to me.

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MJ: Absolutely. To wrap up, what is your long-term goal to make a difference in the world with this platform you’ve been given?

LJ: I think this opportunity came at the perfect time. Our generation cares about sustainability and human-centered design. Fashion has been the same for a little too long now, and I really want our generation to be the ones to educate the customer and challenge the true cost of making clothing. I also encourage cross collaborations between the fashion industry and other industries—for example the medical or technology industries. Nike and Adidas are great examples with their performance gear. To me, this is the future, and I am grateful to be part of a collaborative effort toward this goal.

Stay tuned to hear more about the experience from winner Teslin Doud.

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