A Conversation With: CFDA Eileen Fisher Social Innovators Award Winner Teslin Doud
September 30, 2016
The CFDA Eileen Fisher Social Innovator Award recognizes young, talented designers who have innovative creative processes and goals for their creations. 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 works collaboratively 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, Teslin Doud, and Lucy Jones to learn more about working with the Eileen Fisher brand and what they gained from the experience.
See below for our interview with Innovator Teslin Doud.
Meghan Jahr: What is your commitment to sustainability rooted in, and have you always had this as part of your identity?
Teslin Doud: I think my commitment to sustainability is multifaceted and has inherently been a part of me. I’m passionate about many different aspects, such as environmental consciousness and reducing consumption. Sustainability has always been a part of my identity and my upbringing. I was raised in a small, hippie beach town in California surrounded by the ocean and ancient redwood trees where environmental consciousness was the norm. I was very aware that our decisions had an immediate impact on the environment, as my family is big on recycling. Very early on, I learned the value of quality over quantity and the importance of investing in well-crafted clothing as opposed to buying an abundance of poorly made clothes.
MJ: Judging by your resume, you have extensive background in fashion. When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
TD: I’ve never known that working in fashion is what I wanted to do. I happened to roll into it — I still don’t really know that it’s exactly what I want to do. My mom taught me to sew when I was 7 years old, and all throughout high school I worked at a fabric store. I found that it was what I was spending all of my time and my money doing, so when it came to deciding what to go to school for, it felt like the natural thing to do. After learning that the fashion industry is one of the leading polluters in the world and there is room for improvement within this industry, I was determined to make a change.
MJ: You’ve worked with Tory Burch and Marc by Marc Jacobs, and now you’re here at Eileen Fisher. What is the most valuable lesson these experiences have taught you?
TD: I went to Parsons knowing that I wanted to pursue sustainability in fashion. At the time, I was naïve and it seemed like an easy task to make the fashion industry sustainable, since it seemed like such an obvious and easy solution to me. After gaining experience within established fashion companies, I’ve learned that sustainability isn’t as simple as just changing the production methods — there is a lot more to it. These experiences have brought me back to reality, and I’ve learned that sustainability is much more complicated than it seems.
MJ: Is your background and history reflected in your design aesthetic?
TD: I think my upbringing has significantly influenced my aesthetic. I love to embrace the wearability of clothing and am inspired by wanderlust. For example, in school I didn’t know how to design jackets or coats because I didn’t grow up wearing them. I envision women living this easygoing, tropical beach life wearing my laid-back designs — which stems from growing up in a California beach town.
MJ: What designer do you look up to the most and why?
TD: I have two designers who I look up to. Aesthetically I’m really inspired by the designer Ulla Johnson. She has an elegant, whimsical style in her designs that I really connect with, as she truly elevates and celebrates craft. She has also started exploring using natural dyes, and as a natural dyer myself, I’m always excited to see this technique making its way into the industry.
However, I look up to Eileen Fisher more than anyone. Growing up, the women in my family wore the Eileen Fisher brand, and I knew that it was a responsible company that cared about making quality garments and supporting women’s initiatives. Eileen Fisher cares about the planet and changing the fashion industry. She’s an incredibly genuine person and has an intense passion that I look up to. I hope that someday my passion can positively affect as many people as hers has.
MJ: What sets you apart from other young designers?
TD: I was never into fashion with a capital F, and I don’t really enjoy shopping. As I learn more about the environmental and social consequences of the processes involved in the making of fashion, I become more motivated to help create change. I know I’m not the only young designer who feels this way — what sets me apart is my obsessive need to succeed. I have a strong need to create meaning for my life and create change. Sometimes I feel a bit captive by my deeply rooted passions that often take control over my decision-making.
MJ: What is your design process and approach for this project?
TD: This project has been really interesting. Lucy, Carmen, and I all have unique design processes. I am very tactile, and I love to work with my hands. The material is the starting point for me — the material I choose then determines the silhouette. So my process involves a lot of experimentation and play—which in my opinion is how innovation is sparked. Some of my best work has been born from accidents and mistakes.
MJ: What are some of the obstacles that you’ve encountered when working with the reclaimed garments?
TD: At Eileen we luckily don’t have to deal with a lot of restrictions such as bold prints, embellishments, or different kinds of seaming. It can be a challenge to work around holes and snags or create new things out of predesigned widths of material and colors, but it makes for an interesting challenge.
MJ: Tell us something about the collection. Is there a particular piece that you’re excited about?
TD: The collection I’ve been working on is called “Remade in the USA.” We spent the first couple of months experimenting with various ideas we had for giving these reclaimed garments a second life. We decided to move forward with a few different techniques — we’re creating new fabrics from old sweaters that we’re turning into new artisanal sweaters and coats. We also created an upcycling production system that can recycle a larger quantity of old garments by cutting around holes and stains.
The third technique we’re exploring is overdyeing stained silk tops with natural dye to camouflage the imperfections. A lot of the silk that comes back is in perfect condition aside from having a few minor stains or spills.
My favorite thing about this collection is that it lets the garments live on — the garment continues to evolve with the person wearing it. You can’t really ruin the garment — even if you accidentally make a stain you’re just contributing to the design. We call this “stains on stains.”
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?
TD: I believe you don’t have to be a loud individual to make noise. I think making noise is creating something interesting that gets people talking and questioning the defined social rules we’ve become accustomed to. I have never been good at taking baby steps. I’ve always wanted to jump to the end and make a big change, but that’s not the way it works. Working at Eileen Fisher has really helped me realize that you can make noise on different levels, starting with your local community. As people keep talking and questioning, the noise becomes louder and before you know it you’ve changed the norm.
MJ: Which woman has influenced you the most and why?
TD: All the women in my family have greatly influenced me and made me the person and the designer I am today. I grew up in a very whimsical household where every wall of the house was painted in a different color and I was surrounded by all kinds of quirky artifacts collected from around the world. The women in my family really taught me that being different and quirky is good and that mismatching is okay. My mother has had the biggest influence on my passion for sustainability. The earliest memory I have of awareness about sustainability was when the movie An Inconvenient Truth came out. My mother forced my brothers and me to go see the movie and offered to pay for as many of our friends as we could gather to come with us. Her passion about protecting this beautiful Earth is where my passion for sustainability stems from.
MJ: We need more people like that in the world. How are you hoping to use this platform and opportunity to make a difference, and what is your long-term vision and goal?
TD: I hope to educate people and to make the world a more conscious place. I think a lot of words such as “sustainability” have been watered down and no one is sure what exactly it means anymore. The most important thing we can do as designers and individuals is to make conscious decisions and be aware of the impact of our decisions on others, our communities, and the environment.
MJ: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It’s great to be able to talk about important subjects in fashion on our Neiman Marcus Blog.
TD: Thank you so much. I am very honored to be given a platform to share my story.
See our interviews with Innovators Carmen Gama and Lucy Jones at Blog.NeimanMarcus.com.