To see Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow of Public School chumming it up with Eileen Fisher at a cocktail party is a little surreal at first. But the obvious mutual admiration between the three designers quickly makes any distinction between "fashion darlings representing downtown New York cool" and "sustainability pioneer beloved by chic middle-aged women" suddenly seem beside the point.
"When people hear Eileen Fisher and Public School they're like, 'Word?'" says Chow, raising an eyebrow in a demonstration of skepticism. "But that's the spirit of it — take something that's existing, that has a soul to it. And you inject another soul into it, and you create this new thing that'll live for another ten to fifteen years and keep continuing the cycle."
The "souls" coming together in this case are those of Public School and Eileen Fisher the brand, which collaborated on a limited-edition capsule that launched Wednesday night at the Eileen Fisher Making Space store in Brooklyn. The zero-waste capsule features three ready-to-wear designs and one hat which were made using damaged garments collected by Eileen Fisher in a style influenced by Public School's signature aesthetic.
As uncanny as the collaboration might seem at first, it follows on the heels of Eileen Fisher's partnership with streetwear label Heron Preston a year ago. Like Preston, Chow and Osborne were drawn to Fisher because of her leadership in the realm of circular design. After hearing her speak at the sustainability-centric Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the Public School designers reached out to visit Fisher's remarkable upcycling Tiny Factory just outside New York City and were so impressed that they looked for a way to get involved.
"Sustainability was already something we were interested in," explains Osborne, "but we kind of had to reevaluate ourselves and really stand for it."
Eileen Fisher's Renew team showed the duo everything about their zero waste design process using pre-owned clothing and provided the reclaimed textile materials that the capsule was built around. And Public School, in turn, leant Eileen Fisher the kind of street cred that comes from being a brand that collaborates with Nike and the NBA.
"These are guys are really creative and they've brought a cool edge to what we're doing," Fisher explains unselfconsciously. "Make it cool, because if it's cool and everybody wants it, that's great! We know that can’t do this alone. This is a huge industry, and we have to change it fast if we're going to save this planet."
Though this particular upcycled capsule is relatively small, it's clear that all three designers are hopeful it might snowball into something more — whether that means opening the door for other brands to partner with Fisher in some capacity ("She's such an amazing resource for young designers" says Chow), or finding a way to create a marketplace that makes ethical fashion more convenient to shop for ("You want to make it easy for the customer who wants to be conscious," says Fisher). Whatever comes of the collaboration, though, it's clear that all three designers think that the sustainable concepts underpinning it are the wave of the future.
"It's slow, but it’s coming," Chow said. "It's undeniable that the train has already started moving. You've gotta jump on that train before it pulls out of the station. Because once it pulls out, you get left behind and that's it."