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Amy Hall of Impactorum

Amy Hall of Impactorum

This is a transcript of Amy's interview on Heart Stock Radio, hosted by Carole Murphy, founder of Purse for the People.  You can also listen to the audio recording of this program HERE

Carole:

This is Heart Stock Radio. I'm your host Carole Murphy. Today Our guest is Amy Hall. She is the president and the founder of Impactorum. We'd like to share her story with you as she's had a lot of experience in the world of sustainability. Hi Amy. How are you?

Amy:

Hi, Carol. I'm great. Thank you so much for having me today.

Carole:

Thank you for being on Heart Stock. Can you give our listeners a little intro here as to what is Impactorum and what is it that you do there?

Amy:

Yes, I'd be happy to. Impactorum is a consultancy that supports early stage purpose driven businesses and early career professionals. As they transition to greater environmental sustainability and social impact through their work, it's pretty straightforward.

Carole:

So, if I'm your client kind of give our listeners a rundown of what your system is like for your ideal client. What is it that they come to you for help with?

Amy:

Sure. My clients are a mix of individuals and early-stage businesses who are trying to increase their environmental sustainability or circularity work or social impact work. What I offer them is a thinking partnership, sounding board, and advisory services, because sustainability can be a very lonely pursuit. I think a lot of us assume that it's pretty straightforward, you know, order better materials, maybe change your processes, but in fact, it's really a whole pallet of change management. You have to convince your customers, your business partners, your employees, et cetera, that there's a better way to go about doing things. And because of my nearly three decades of experience working for a major apparel brand, I've learned a lot about what it takes to help that change management move along, how to influence people, how to help people think outside the box, think differently about what they're doing. And so I can, provide support to individuals who are in sustainability roles within companies, or those who are trying to break into this career to find their voice, to find their strength and find their power. So it's really about more of a coaching and advisory relationship that I have with my clients.

Carole:

Yes. And I would like to delve a little more deeply into that, but first, what led you to this work and what did you do before Impactorum?

Amy:

I actually am still with EILEEN FISHER. Although I'm working there on a limited basis, I have been with EILEEN FISHER for 27 years where I founded and developed what we now call Social Consciousness. So, it is the company's commitment to environmental sustainability and human rights in its products and practices. For those who aren't familiar, EILEEN FISHER is a women's clothing company that wasn't founded with very strong commitments to environmental sustainability or human rights. It added those commitments later on. I was part of that whole process of shifting the company to how it approaches that work today. So that's what I've been doing, for now, nearly three decades. Prior to that, I was in the nonprofit field, working as a fundraiser for a few different nonprofits in New York City.

Carole:

The first question that comes to my mind is why, and there's a couple of why questions that I think are really interesting and helpful for us to explore. One of those is why is it so important that clothing and clothing lines become more sustainable? And why did EILEEN FISHER go in this direction so early on? It seems like she was ahead of the game in this regard.

Amy:

Well, those are couple of big questions. I think most of us who buy clothing and wear clothing, never looked under the hood to see how the clothing is made and where it comes from. We kind of assume, if it's made from natural fibers such as cotton or linen, those things are grown in nature. How bad can they be right? If my clothes are made out of those things, they'll go back to the earth, but in fact, there's a tremendous amount of waste generated both by the making of clothing and then by the discarding of clothing, after we've finished wearing them. The production of clothing itself is incredibly toxic to the planet and to the people who are working in those supply chains. There are dozens of people who touch each one of our garments along the way from the farmer to the dyer, to the weaver, to the sower, the presser, et cetera, and dozens of different kinds of processes that add toxins to the clothing, whether it's at the fertilizer level or the dying level, on to the finishing level. Each one of these touch points adds a pollutant to the garment, but also provides an opportunity to clean up the process and to also improve the wellbeing of the people along the way who are involved in the making of that product. EILEEN FISHER was founded in the mid-eighties and like most companies then, Eileen and her colleagues weren't thinking about the supply chain. They were just thinking about making some great clothes that women would want to wear. It wasn't until the mid-nineties, when this kind of idea of sweatshops came out in the news and started to open our eyes around, gosh, we hadn't really thought about the people who are making our clothes. We were just providing orders to the factories and the clothes came back to us. So that was maybe our first entrée into this world of social impact. And although we were founded with a commitment to natural fibers, like I said, there's a lot about natural fibers that actually isn't very good for the earth. It particularly if those fibers are grown with chemically intensive pesticides and fertilizers. So it was later, in the early two-thousands, when we started to really think about those inputs, and it wasn't until around 2012 or 2013, when we drastically started to change our materials sourcing to eliminate as much as possible, the negative inputs that we were now recognizing to be present in our fibers. So, it's been a long journey, and it's the same with many other companies who've tried to go down this path as well.

Carole:

So, being kind of an early adapter of this sustainability movement within the fashion realm, what was, so different at EILEEN FISHER that allowed this change to take place? It seems like similar brands are either just now starting or haven't even started at all. I have attempted this myself and I would imagine it was incredibly challenging and difficult.

Amy:

You know, yes it has been, thank you. It was challenging and difficult. It continues to be challenging and difficult even at a company as enlightened and as progressive as EILEEN FISHER. It’s because changing systems and processes doesn't happen overnight. It's not necessarily the cheapest route and it's not the simplest route. So what happened for us? First of all, a lot of people inside the company were starting to realize, that our products were contributing to pollution, waste carbon, et cetera, and the difficulties or challenges that our workers were having in the workplace. We were starting to recognize that. As human beings, we couldn't turn the other way, and we happened to have a very compassionate leader in Eileen herself. She very much supported the notion of doing whatever we could to start to make change happen in our supply chain. It doesn't mean that everybody is a hundred percent onboard all of a sudden. There had been a whole process of change within the company and also within our supply chain. Every single person involved has to understand for him or herself, why this is important and what his or her role is in this whole process of change. And each one of those thought processes requires a particular conversation, a particular revelation, a personal way into it. You know, it's not like everybody, you call a meeting and you make this announcement and then everybody's fine with it. They each have to come to terms with this themselves. So we just happen to have a very progressive and visionary leader at the helm who provided the space for this to happen for this change to happen.

 

Carole:

I would really love to talk about what that experience was like for you both before joining Eileen Fisher and then your process within the company, how did you achieve the level of sustainability that the company is known for now?

Amy:

Yeah, so there are a few different important factors. One is it's just hiring really great people who have shared values. You know, it's one thing to hire for skillset, and it's another thing to hire for values and culture fit, both are important. And over the years we paid more and more attention to the values and culture fit alongside the skillset. So that was very, very key. Another piece of it was really learning this, notion of systems thinking, which was brought to us by another consultant back around the year 2013. And what that taught us was the designers up to that point were working on their own. The manufacturing team was working on its own. Yeah, there was a handoff between the two, but they didn't really work together according to more of a shared vision. What we did was we brought a cross section of people from a variety of teams in the company together for about three days to an offsite meeting and created a shared vision around how we wanted the planet to be for our children and grandchildren. We then took a step back and said, so what does that mean for us as a company? What's our relationship to that shared vision, and then what are the commitments we can come to together? So rather than have my team, the Social Consciousness Team basically create the vision and then hand it out and say, hey you come join us. We all shared in the creation of that vision. There was no convincing that had to happen. We were onboard from day one, everybody was on an equal playing level. And all we had to do was figure out what kind of goals we're going to set to achieve this vision? And what's my team's role in helping to get to those goals and then created some annual metrics that helped us track our progress along the way. And that happened for a design. It happened pre-manufacturing. It happened for merchandising and sales, facilities. Everyone in the company started to understand their role. And that was really, really important. We began to see ourselves as part of a unified system rather than kind of a, my team against your team or my team working alongside your team. We were really working together.

 Carole:

Sounds inspirational. So fast forward here, when did you decide that you were going to found Impactorum? What was your mission and has that changed at all?

Amy:

So, I've been with EILEEN FISHER now for 27 years and for the last few years, I have been really thinking a lot about how do I take what I've learned and support other businesses, other entrepreneurs, other social enterprises, other individuals to maximize the kind of impact they want to have in their work in the way that we've been able to do inside the company. As luck would have it, the pandemic struck this past year in 2020, and EILEEN FISHER scaled back a lot of its practices and workforce because we were having a lot of revenue challenges. So, I thought, this is the moment that I can now pursue this dream of mine to really apply my knowledge to share and help others make meaningful environmental and social impact inside their own places of work. So, I took the time I needed to craft the vision, set up a website, figure out how I was going to market myself, et cetera. And I just started doing some outreach. It’s kind of an organic process. And then I thought, you know, I'd really love to inspire people to think differently, even if they're not coming to me as a client. So how can I do that? And I decided to set up a webcast, which I called impact matters. And it's a series of monthly conversations exploring how others think about impact. They could be from any field, any industry, any type of work. I've had, I think, six so far, so it's one a month and I just started them midyear. I have more coming up in 2021 and they're free. And, you know, if they inspire people to really consider how they themselves can shift their work, shift their approach to life, et cetera, then I've done my job. Then I feel really good.

Carole:

And, that silver lining to the COVID cloud and the disruption that's taking place in retail and fashion as well, has COVID continued to impact what you're doing either at EILEEN FISHER or at Impactorum?

Amy:

Well, I would say that my work at EILEEN FISHER continues on a limited basis and, you know, it's gotten a little bit more focused. We don't have, as many resources as we would like to. So, we're trying to stay very focused on what's the most essential work going forward and parallel to that with Impactorum. I'm noticing that a lot of people are wanting to make career shifts. They're really seeing this moment now as an opportunity to really move into something more purposeful. And I'm getting a lot of inquiries from individuals who are making career shifts. Those who are, creating their own businesses to drive more sustainability, and to create a healthier planet for their children and grandchildren.  I think that is another silver lining of the COVID pandemic. People are recognizing how connected we are, not just to each other, but to the planet’s systems, and wanting to play a more meaningful role in that.

Carole:

Yes. So that's a great segue into the next question that I'm hoping we can kind of share with our listeners, the reality of the fashion industry as it is now, I'm getting the sense that there's a lot of consumer confusion. How do I spend my money more wisely? I love Amazon, and I love the convenience of buying a t-shirt for $5. And it being on my doorstep two days later, or a day later, but really, really, how do I, either as a, uh, a fashion brand or as a consumer, how do I make it work? How do I make it different and better?

Amy:

Well, there are lots of different things. Even trying to answer the question as a consumer, I mean, I'm myself, I'm a consumer and I do occasionally shop on Amazon, but I try to make that my last resort. Um, I have friends who work in Amazon and I don't mean to negate the important work that they're doing. Amazon does have a growing commitment to sustainability itself, but I think that there are a few ways that we, as individuals can make a difference. One is to, to wear our clothes for as long as possible. And I don't mean more hours in a day, but I mean, for more months, more years, if possible, when we're making a purchase, really think about how much do I love this item and how many times will I actually wear it? And, you know, I would say if you can say 20 times or more than maybe it's worth buying that item, and then once you're finished with it, don't just discard it. But either try to find somebody else who will wear it, whether you hand it down to somebody or you sell it on a vintage clothing website, like Poshmark or a ThreadUp, things like that. And you try to avoid throwing your clothes into those, collection bins that we often see at the sides of parking lots, et cetera, but try to find organizations that that will upcycle or recycle them responsibly. Doing a little research on the internet for places in your area, could be very, very helpful with the idea to keep the clothes in use as long as possible before they get shredded or discarded into landfill.

Carole:

So essentially, we're not burning up our resources at a faster and faster rate beyond the carrying capacity of our planet.

Amy:

Oh, that's such an excellent way to summarize that. Yes.

Carole:

As a fashion brand, if they're listening out there in fashion world and fashion land, oh my gosh you've, y been through this, you've experienced it firsthand, any advice? what do you think is the most important? Is it the circularity like EILEEN FISHER? She's taking clothes back. Is it the supply chain? Where does one begin?

Amy

So as a fashion brand, my recommendation would be to actually try to map your supply chain. Just try to understand not just where things were made, but where did the inputs come from? And once you do that, then you can start to narrow your focus down to where you want to dive in. Do you want to dive into the materials? Do you want to dive into the people? Do you want to dive into the dyes or the carbon? You have to know where things are coming from before you can figure out where to dive in. You can't do it all. And just choosing one place to start is the best thing that you can do.

Carole:

I like the adage: Start where you are and do what you can.

Amy

That's right. That's right. We're going to make ourselves crazy. If we worry about all the things we can't do, just start with one thing. And that's the best thing you can take

Carole:

What lies ahead if you had a magic wand to wave? What lies ahead for you and Impactorum?  

Amy:

Well, for Impactorum we are still very early stage. So, I anticipate that, for 2021 and beyond, I will both continue to host the impact matters webcast, and I'm also starting to have conversations about, um, showing up, with shorter posts on Instagram or possibly Facebook or elsewhere with the intent to continue to raise awareness about what real impact looks like on an individual and a business level. And at the same time to continue to serve clients, whether they are individual clients or business clients who are committed to making lasting change.  They don't have to be apparel; they can be any kind of a business that is thinking and wants to think differently about what its legacy will be in terms of its environmental footprint or its social impact footprint. Once you know, the systems and the processes are really similar, whether you're an apparel company, a book publisher, or some other kind of business.  I'm there to support people to think differently about how to drive impact in their organizations.

Carole

It does seem that it all starts there. That was kind of your advice earlier also is just become aware and know the impacts. And is there anything that you see for the future for fashion brands in particular, um, lots of companies going online that weren't before that's for sure.

Amy:

Yeah. The good news is that I'm seeing, increasingly new fashion brands that are starting from day one with a commitment and an intent around doing the right thing. It's not about kind of turning the ship after it's already left the dock. 

Carole:

So, which I would think is much harder. 

Amy:

It is absolutely harder. I mean, there are pluses and minuses to both because even as a small business, when you're first starting out, you don't have the resources usually to do everything you'd like to do, heading in the right way. But, being very thoughtful about their suppliers, being very thoughtful about the materials, being very thoughtful about how much you pay your workers. All of that decisions that can be made early on. And, um, I'm really very inspired to see so many new businesses starting off with these commitments. And I think as they start to grow, that's where new challenges crop up, staying committed to values as you grow your supply chain, as you look for, efficiencies of scale. It changes the equation a little bit, but with every new challenge comes new opportunities. I really do feel that going forward, we're going to continue to see greater attention to the planetary impacts of apparel. And I also think the customers are becoming more aware as well. 10 years ago, customers weren't thinking about these things at all. They really weren't considering where their clothes were coming from. But today they're asking a lot of great questions. We're all doing better. 

Carole:

And how might our listeners find you Amy or contact you?

Amy:

The easiest way is through my website, which is https://www.impactorum.com/ and I'm also on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/amyhall914/

Carole:

Fantastic. Thank you so much for being on Heart Stock Radio. Thank you. 

Amy:

Thanks for having me. 

Carole:

This is Carol Murphy, your host, and thanks for listening to Heart Stock. We shall see you next week. Peace

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