Westchester County's Most Accomplished Women Entrepreneurs
Meet 28 of the county's most successful, move innovative, most respected business women.
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Design of the Times
Founder, Principal Owner, Eileen Fisher, Inc.
Back when Eileen Fisher first told her parents about her plan to start a line of stylish-yet-comfortable women’s clothing, their responses were hardly encouraging. “My mother said, ‘But you can’t even sew,’ and my dad said, ‘But you don’t know anything about business.’” But the Irvington designer, inspired in part by the simple shift dresses her mother whipped up for her in middle school (“They were fun to move in and you didn’t feel restricted”) knew she was on to a really big idea. And fortunately—especially for the scores of her label’s fervent fans—she was right.
Frustrated that simply getting dressed in the morning was anything but simple—and discouraged by the cyclical nature of a fashion industry that decreed that one season’s looks were hopelessly out of style the next—in 1984, the then-freelance interior and graphic designer decided to act. Fisher invested $350 to produce her first collection of four basic shapes—box top, crop pant, tunic, and vest—in two sizes. She booked $8,000 in orders at her first trade show and $40,000 at the next, and hasn’t slowed down since.
In 2006, the brand expanded beyond fashion to include the Eileen Fisher Home by Garnet Hill Collection of bedding, towels, pillows, and rugs. And today, Fisher’s designs are sold nationwide at 56 Eileen Fisher stores—plus two new stores in London and one in Canada—400 specialty stores, and Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale’s. With offices in Irvington, Manhattan, and Secaucus, New Jersey, the company employs about 968 employees. Annual sales revenues for 2011 are projected at $314 million.
A mix of on-trend and more timeless pieces, Fisher’s fashions continue to embody the philosophy of “beautifully simple clothes designed to move with real life” that work for the long-term. "Our design values don’t include planned obsolescence.”
Fisher’s formula of knowing what women want and being able to give it to them has been phenomenally successful, according to Bloomingdale’s Vice Chairman and Harrison resident Frank Doroff. “Eileen Fisher has been one of the steadiest growth brands in our thirty-three stores,” Doroff says. “Over the past ten years, it has grown to be among the top five growth brands at Bloomingale’s.”
Recalling her own beginnings in the fashion-design business (“I didn’t have any connections”), Fisher is big on extending a hand to others just starting out. In 2004, the company launched an annual business grant program for women entrepreneurs, which has since awarded $360,000 to 33 women-owned businesses. And in 2006, Fisher gave 31 percent of Eileen Fisher, Inc., to its employees through an Employee Share Ownership Plan. “Employees are like entrepreneurs,” Fisher told CNNMoney in a video profile. “It’s only natural to include employees as owners.”
What’s up next for this designer/entrepreneur? “Eileen wants to continue to invite more women into the brand, in keeping with her philosophy that great clothes should be timeless and ageless,” says Kerri Devaney, the company’s public relations manager. Look for m ore just-opened stores in Canada and the United Kingdom, the nationwide rollout of a new store merchandising plan, and continued expansion of the brand into spa wear.
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