Eileen Fisher's Unique Business Model

Eileen Fisher GETTY IMAGES/Lawrence Lucier

At the Eileen Fisher showroom on Seventh Avenue in New York's fashion district, employees start their business day with yoga while other people are sitting down at computers and sipping coffee. The fact is, nothing about Eileen Fisher's business is typical.

For example, you won't find her putting her name or some sort of logo on her line of clothes, like many of her competitors do.

"I would never wear a garment with somebody's name on it," she told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul. "So I wouldn't want somebody to wear a garment with my name on it. It's more about them — it's more about the person and ... them shining through."

Fisher, 55, started her company 23 years ago with $350, the support and encouragement of family and friends, and an idea about the way she thought clothing should be. She sometimes draws inspiration from history.

"I loved the kimono," she said. "I loved the story of the kimono — how people in Japan wore only the kimono shape for 1100 years, because they decided that was the best design. And I found that inspiring. And I wanted to create clothes that had that sort of timelessness."

Unlike other fashion houses, they don't do runway shows, so there is no Fashion Week hoopla and no supermodels. In fact, the ad campaign that celebrated their 20th year featured company employees who are everyday people.

So with very little fanfare, Fisher's privately owned company grossed $225 million in sales last year.

Fisher grew up in a small town in Illinois in a lively household of seven children. Even back in sixth grade she dreamed up dress designs, like a red one which her mother sewed for her.

"It was just one of those first kind of vision pieces," Fisher said. "It was just like this simple shift dress and it meant a lot to me, that simple little red dress, because I was so comfortable in it."

She graduated from the University of Illinois and found work in New York as an interior designer and eventually starting her own clothing line. She married and, like every other working mother, struggled to balance her family and business obligations.

"In the beginning of the company, I was working and living in the city. When I first had my son, up until he was three years old I would go to the office and leave him with the babysitter," she said. "I'd come home and sometimes he'd be asleep. I just really didn't like that life."

So she decided to take her work home. Fisher presides over her 7th Avenue fashion empire from her house overlooking the Hudson River, in Irvington, N.Y., where she's created a serene environment that allows her to lead a simpler life.

The divorced mother of two lives there with her daughter, Sascha, and son, Zachary. Even though it might seem like Fisher lives and works in an ivory tower, she is very grounded when it comes to the issues affecting the people who work for her. In addition to free yoga classes, each employee is entitled to a $1000 education allowance. They also get a $1000 "wellness allowance" every year.

"I think it makes people feel good about themselves," Fisher said. "They know we care about them as people and as whole people, not just what they can do and produce and - you know, bring to the company."

That concern for employees' welfare also extends to the other businesses that Fisher works with. Fifteen percent of her clothing line is manufactured in New York City.

"We have a commitment in our company to women," said Amy Hall, the company's director of social consciousness. "It was really important to [Eileen] that she feel good about how workers in our factories are being treated, and that the women in our factories feel that they have a voice, that they are feeling respected and treated ethically and humanely."

"You know, if you're paying attention to what you care about and what you love — and for me, how the whole thing comes together — then it tends to work at the bottom line," Fisher said. "Bottom line is really just numbers that reflect what's happening in the center. And so you pay attention to what's happening in the center, and when that's right, the numbers follow."

Fisher, the company's chief creative officer says she's selling more than clothes. She's creating a lifestyle.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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