Phenomenal Woman

The Legacy of Eileen Fisher


Eileen Fisher didn’t set out to be a fashion designer. In fact, she was merely attempting to make her own clothing decisions easier when she invested $350 of savings to create her first samples. However, with an interior and graphic design background combined with a zest for understated elegance, Fisher was laying the foundations of an extraordinary fashion brand. Her premise: simplicity, sustainability and great design. In a little over thirty years Fisher has created an innovative company that spans over fifty-six stores in three countries. Her success can be attributed to paying attention to what women want and need—and this doesn’t stop with closets. Fisher is committed to social impact through improving the lives of women through social initiatives and entrepreneurship. Along with issues that affect woman and girls, Fisher created a “Social Consciousness Department” tackling tough issues, including human rights, sustainability and environmental responsibility. Fisher kindly took some time out her busy schedule to answer a few questions from SOMA:

How would you describe your design philosophy?

In 1984, I started EILEEN FISHER for a very personal reason: I was having trouble getting dressed. In my mind I kept seeing these simple shapes for clothes that were in beautiful colors, great fabrics and had certain shapes and proportions that worked well together. This was my ‘aha’ moment: a system of dressing that allowed women to relax into themselves. Simplicity is at the core of the design idea I planted as a seed all those years ago—a collective of simple shapes that work together in many ways. The intention is to “solve her problem” and give women the pieces to put themselves together easily and joyfully so they can focus on life. We believe that good design is a result of paying attention to what women want and need, and how clothes function and feel. Women long to experience the magic that happens when you put on garment that has been pared to its essence. It comes alive on your body, and you discover a certain freedom and confidence. I want EILEEN FISHER to be known for clothes you don’t have to over think and that feel amazing on every time you reach for them.

Tell us about the Fisher Project in terms of how it differs from the Eileen Fisher brands and the goals for its expansion.
The Fisher Project is a capsule collection that builds on the design principles the company was founded on. The collection features more edgier, bolder pieces with exaggerated fits and silhouettes that retain the brand’s philosophy of ease and simplicity. We recently opened The Fisher Project store in Los Angeles on Robertson Blvd. Our hope is that this new concept store provides a continually evolving, dynamic space for customers to feel inspired in.

At what point did you realize the need for a Social Consciousness Department? What are some of the areas and practices as a company that had to be changed in order to be more sustainable?
Becoming more mindful about clothing means looking at every fiber and every seed and every dye and seeing how to make it better. We want to make sustainability our way of life; we want it to be universal. Our Social Consciousness team works tirelessly to ensure our partners are fully vetted, and working in tandem with our core beliefs. Our goal is simple: design without negative impacts right from the start. We want to become a fully sustainable company by the year 2020. Sustainability starts with design. When we select fabrics and yarns, we are making choices about better farming practices, greener dyes and innovative production. We work to create products designed to last and easy to care for. I often describe our work as “business as a movement.” In addition to being profitable, we always ask ourselves, “How can we help make a positive change in the world?” From the environment to supporting women and girls, to the people in the company. We can all be leaders in this movement.

We know you do wonderful things in terms of empowering women. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I wanted to inspire women entrepreneurs that a good idea and a little money can go really far—look at my own success. The Business Grant Program for Woman Entrepreneurs was launched in 2004 in conjunction with the company’s 20th anniversary. Since then up to five grants have been awarded each year for $12,500. One of our 2005 grant winners, Happy Family, who makes organic baby food, used the money to build their company into a $90 million business. This is a good example of the positive work we are doing in the world and how far it can go to help others.

A few weeks ago we announced a program called In Her Company with social activist media company TakePart Media to recognize 30 up-and-coming businesses led by women entrepreneurs.

Every woman needs other great women role models and it’s clear you are that for many of us—but who inspires you?
I am inspired by the dedication, passion and purpose of the people who I work with in the company. I am also inspired by my son, Zack, and daughter, Sasha.

Any closing thoughts?

Many of the wonderful initiatives in our company like growing sustainability, Green Eileen, and the business grant programs were born from employees’ passion. I want my company to be a place where people have the opportunity to engage, inspire each other, and contribute to the company, each other, and the world. There has been an intentional effort to create an environment where possibilities are born.

Text by Debra WinTer
Photography by Larsen Farrell