• Madison Zoey Vettorino

Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute Has Enduring Impact on Participants, Program Leaders

The Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute, housed in the Learning Lab on South Buckhout Street in Irvington, has a tangible energy to it. Some have called it magical. Others have called it transformative. However it may be described, there is one indisputable fact about the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute (also known as EFLI): no one leaves the program exactly the person they were when they arrived. “We do leadership programming for young people – young women, young men, and other genders,” says Victoria Tarantino, the Institute’s Executive Assistant. Tarantino herself is no stranger to the incredible power of participating in an EFLI program; she attended in 2011, and decided to return as one of the program’s ‘fellows’ only a year later, in 2012.  “We focus on the four C’s, we like to call them. So, we try to help the young people build their self-confidence, cultivate their creativity, promote activism in their communities, and connection with others.” The Institute, which provides innovative leadership programming for young people both during the summer months and academic year, has evolved tremendously since its 2010 debut. What originated with just eleven girls aged 13-18 as “a unique leadership opportunity for young women throughout the rivertowns of Westchester County,” according to the Institute’s website, has expanded its reach. Today, EFLI offers a multitude of programs not only for young women, but for all young people. This growth has led to significant development at the Institute. “One thing I’d say is, as the company has been developing our purpose statement and thinking about the strategic objectives that go along with ‘We grow people,’ I would say that this is the place where the seed is planted,” says Antoinette Klatzky, EFLI’s Executive Director. Klatzky has been with the company for eight years, and even piloted the first year of the program. Though it has been years since her Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute experience, current summer Public Relations & Social Media intern Maya Carmosino can testify that the program truly does have an enduring, positive impact on its participants. “EFLI taught me the value of zeroing in on what is best for my personal growth, instead of allowing it be clouded by external influences,” Carmosino says. “To this day, I carry myself with more confidence since participating in the program.” Though Eileen Fisher contributes to numerous programs that support the empowerment of young women, the Leadership Institute specifically is quite exceptional. From its myriad of distinctive exercises design to encourage young people to create meaningful connections with one another, to the introduction of ideas such as mindfulness, this program is an essential one. When asked what is one of her favorite activities that occurs during the EFLI program, Klatzky reveals that one of hers is intended to help the young people see themselves as they are, and to realize that their self-perceived “imperfections” are unnoticeable to the outside eye. During this activity, participants are asked to look into a mirror, and write down what they see on the inside of a piece of paper. Then, on the outside of the paper, other participants in the group write down what they see in that person. The results are telling, Klatzky says. “It brings up this conversation around, where do I get the validation of who I am in the world? And how do I continue to have that internal validation for myself rather than any other kind of conversation with myself? I think it’s incredibly powerful because when we look at each other we don’t see all the little flaws that we see when we look at ourselves. So I think that’s just one little chip on the block of building confidence.” EFLI also serves as an introduction to the world of all things Eileen Fisher – from the importance of mindfulness and silence, to sustainable business practices, and more. Carmosino recalls that one of her most transformative moments at EFLI was when her group took their retreat to a farm. On this retreat, the group had to stay silent for two hours, without access to technologies such as computers and iPhones. The importance of silence – what has become a signature Eileen Fisher practice – was obvious for Carmosino. “It forced me to reflect and think it in a way I never had before,” recalls Carmosino. “Life can get so busy and hectic. Since that summer I can’t say I’ve had two hours of stillness like it. I try and incorporate that practice of mindfulness into my weekly schedule, even if it’s shorter, because it made me feel so grounded and invigorated.” For this reason, the Institute passionately believes that the essence and values of the Eileen Fisher company are integral to the success of EFLI. “What we do here is sharing what the company does out in the world with clothing,” says Klatzky. “We’re going beyond the clothes, and we’re doing that with a younger audience, and it creates this inter-generational family that I think we can all see ourselves as a part of.” Tarantino has an invitation for Eileen Fisher employees: get involved in EFLI. “I think that the young people are also very interested in learning from the people that work at Eileen Fisher, and as well, would like to have a space for them to feel comfortable coming in – to invite them in,” she says. As for Carmosino, she definitely believes that her experience at EFLI established Eileen Fisher as a place she would enjoy working. She remembers during the program being told to go into the cafeteria and speak with at least three employees to learn about their roles within the company. “Through these conversations, I realized how much their personal values aligned with their work values,” she says. “I still didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but I decided that I wanted to work for a company that was ethical and sustainable like EF. I feel very lucky to be here today, working alongside the people that inspired me years ago.” Tarantino believes that the trademark of EFLI is that it gives young people a welcoming space to explore their passions and grow, judgement-free, for a period of time. “I think it’s very important to give space for young people to explore and – to grow these aspects such as empathy, compassion, confidence, creativity, that there is no space to grow in high school,” she says. “If we can help young people start doing that earlier and make that part of their lives, I think they’ll be happier, they’ll have better relationships. I think happy people then do good things for themselves and others.” By Madison Zoey Vettorino for EILEEN FISHER fishNET