How to Exit with Grace, According to the Slow Fashion Queen
“Being a boss is not my strength,” Eileen Fisher remarked, shifting nervously in a seat from a slick meeting room within the headquarters of a firm she herself founded almost 40 years ago.
Given the extent to which Ms. Fisher, 72, has established herself as a leader with staying power in an industry that is frequently cutthroat and marked by unrelenting change, this may come off as surprising.
After all, she is a fashion designer who developed an empire by offering contemporary women styles that were comfortable but also empowering and made from natural fibers that helped simplify their hectic life. She was an early pioneer of sustainability as a fundamental brand value in an industry where, by some accounts, a truckload of clothes is burned or buried in a landfill every second. She was a pioneer in this area since she worked in the clothing industry. She is the founder of a firm, and in 2006, she made the decision that rather than selling the company or going public, she would give ownership of the company to her employees.
However, Ms. Fisher has never been one to put herself in the spotlight. Eileen Fisher (the brand) has, for the vast majority of its existence, eschewed the practice of employing a chief executive in favor of “collaborative teams” of varying compositions and dimensions. The corporation has only ever had a single Chief Executive Officer, and her name is Eileen Fisher, for about the past eighteen months. Before that, no one has ever held the position (the woman). After the company had, in her words, “sort of lost its course,” she stepped in to right the ship and restore order.
As part of what she referred to as a “responsible transition” away from the helm, the queen of slow fashion is now ready to give up that role (albeit gently). She added that this most recent stage in the process of pulling back would make it possible for her to focus on formalizing her design philosophy so that the brand might eventually exist without her involvement.
After looking for a replacement for more than a year, Ms. Fisher expressed her happiness at having finally found someone to take her place. Lisa Williams, who is now the chief product officer at Patagonia, will take over as chief executive of Eileen Fisher beginning at the beginning of September.
At the very least on paper, it seems like Ms. Williams would be a solid candidate for the position. Patagonia is another non-traditional retailer with a visionary founder and ideals that are comparable to those held by Eileen Fisher regarding how products should be manufactured, worn, and ideally, manufactured and worn again. Patagonia contributes one percent of its sales to environmental organizations.
Ms. Fisher launched her Renew brand in 2009, which sells second hand garments, a full decade before many of her other competitors did the same. At the same time, the Waste No More project takes broken garments and produces fabric out of them. Patagonia has a long history of political engagement and previously ran an advertisement encouraging people not to buy its products. Patagonia was also one of the first companies to embrace the use of organic materials.
In order to get things back on track, one of the steps that was taken was to eliminate some of the more daring colors and prints that had started making their way into the collections. In their place, Ms. Fisher reemphasized the signatures for which she is best known. Her most recent clothing line is available on her website, and it features a subdued color palette with muted tones including ecru, cinnabar, and rye. The silhouettes are straightforward and intended to flatter; examples include kimono jackets, sleeveless tunics, and cropped palazzo pants. The fabrics include soft cottons, gauzes, and Irish linens. Now, the most important thing is to figure out how to pass on those good looks to subsequent generations.
As the “coastal grandmother” TikTok trend and the success of high-end luxury labels like Jil Sander and the Row suggest, minimalist capsules are having a renewed fashion moment. Minimalist capsules are collections of clothing that are composed of interchangeable items, thus maximizing the number of outfits that can be created. It would appear that there is a widespread need for simplicity, which is something that Ms. Fisher has been consistently catering to since the middle of the 1980s, when she created her first designs based on kimonos she observed while on vacation in Kyoto.
The notion that the brand primarily appeals to an audience that is more middle-aged, upper-middle-class, and looking for a specific air of untroubled elegance continues to be a persistent stereotype. Ms. Fisher emphasized that this was no longer completely accurate.
Ms. Fisher had only recently graduated from the University of Illinois when she first started out in her career in 1984. She was the second of seven children and had grown up in the suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois before moving to New York City with the intention of pursuing a career as an interior designer. (She did not know how to sew despite the fact that she had $350 in her bank account.) However, her goal was to empower women by providing them with a solution to their problems.
Her line of thinking was that the more straightforward something was, the more combinations it offered, the longer you could wear it, and the longer it would remain useful in your closet. It was an approach that she believed could also resonate with young women in today’s society, who are aware that they can vote with their wallets if they believe in the way their clothes are being made, even if doing so causes the clothes to be more expensive. She believed that this approach could also resonate with young women in today’s society.
However, it is quite evident that Ms. Fisher is not yet done with the work. One of her goals is to ensure that her charitable organization, the Eileen Fisher Foundation, maintains its commitment to advancing educational opportunities even when she is not in the office. In addition to that, she has been daydreaming about opening up a design school.
And she wants to make sure that all 774 of her employees, who are also owners in the company, are prepared for whatever is going to happen next. Her success can be attributed in large part to the fact that she has kept her firm on a private level and has offered her staff a stake in the company.