NPR’s Michel Martin talks to fashion designer and entrepreneur Eileen Fisher about his career before he stepped down as CEO.
Michelle Martin, host:
And finally, today, anyone who knows fashion knows the name Eileen Fisher. The woman and the company that has been bearing her name since 1984 are known for her quiet, comfortable, minimalist designs, but boldly lead on issues like sustainability and employee ownership. It is also known that But now she says she’s ready for a new chapter, but says she will remain involved in design and her philanthropic work.She will step down as her CEO of Irene Fisher. We were happy when she agreed to spend time with us.
Welcome Eileen Fisher. Thank you for your participation.
Eileen Fisher: Thank you, Michelle. I’m glad I came here.
Martin: You broke the mold in many ways. You have forged your own path in so many ways. Can you take us back to when you started? What was your initial idea?
Fisher: Okay. Well, I think the original idea came about in different ways. But one of the things that sticks out in my mind is his trip to Japan and the experience of seeing kimonos and realizing that they were the same shape he had been wearing for over a thousand years. And, you know, the whole idea of timeless clothing really intrigued me. think.
I had friends who were artists and designers. And somehow I ended up at a boutique show. And that’s where I got the idea that I could actually — I had this idea. So I had these pictures in my mind. I didn’t understand how people in the fashion industry started doing fashion shows and stuff like that. I, you know, had this idea that I had.
And it was – in addition to the timeless Japanese inspiration, there was also this kind of system and the idea and simplicity of wearing uniforms when I was a child. was Getting up and getting dressed was very easy, but I didn’t really like it. But you know, so I wanted something – I wanted the comfort of a uniform.
MARTIN: How are you – I find it very intriguing how you’ve been doing what you want to do when so many people in your industry are going in completely different directions. Privately owned. So you own the majority of the company, but his employees own 40% of it.
Martin: Many big fashion houses have been public for a long time. Some of them have had some pretty unfortunate experiences doing that. You and sustainability, for example. So you were one of the first to give people the chance to return their clothes…
Fisher: Right. right.
Martin: …change it to something else.
MARTIN: The Green Eileen store allowed people to take their clothes home and buy used clothes. And you’ve really had a sustainability program going on for far longer than anyone you can think of outside of a thrift store.
Martin: Just curious. What was it that allowed you to keep marching to the beat of your own drum?
Fisher: Yeah. Do not know. It’s the only taiko drum I know. I don’t know (laughs). I think there was a good reaction to what I did. And I felt like I was following this vision, or these pictures that I see, or these ideas, or certain ideas that came out and seemed to resonate with me and others. And, you know, that’s what we followed. And it seemed to work. I think that’s what pushed me forward because it worked and people wanted more.
MARTIN: How did you adapt to the idea that people’s fashion wasn’t necessarily just about covering their bodies? For many people fashion is entertainment. Look, it’s an identity. that’s what to do. And I know that’s led to a set of practices that you’re very concerned about, like fast fashion. How did you adapt to such competing ideas?
FISHER: Well, I try to do what I call timeless, in-the-moment things. So I always look at the work of young designers and think that people want something new. But how do you make the new one last longer? How do you create something that gives people a modern, fresh, new feel while still somehow belonging to the moment? And they’re even surprised it lasts.
MARTIN: I wanted to know what COVID was like for you because it has had so many different effects on people’s lives all over. However, when it comes to clothes, it really gave a lot of people an opportunity to reconsider their relationship with clothes. I wondered if you were thinking of you – does it say something about trends you’ve been going with or design directions you’ve been going with all along?
Fisher: Yeah, definitely. I was confirming. But at the same time, it was a strange gift to me. Because I got back to the core of my work, the design itself, in a way I haven’t experienced much in the last few years. Much closer to the whole system, like fabric. I started by looking at all the fabrics I use. And while we were already working on sustainable fabrics, we were using too many different fabrics. . I went back and with the designer, what was the key shape? What was the current core shape like? Just go back to all the design elements.
Martin: Do you have someone in mind when you design your pieces?
FISHER: Well, I think I used to be mostly myself.
Fischer: And I think we now have some sort of merchandising, how we put the line together, and quite a team of designers and other people working on all those aspects of the line. born from a place And for me it’s kind of like filtering, which one really fits? And what’s working now? what works together? And often, we take past styles and incorporate them into our current line, making them in different fabrics, repeating the same fabrics, and even using new colors.
Martin: Have you ever worried that younger customers would associate your label, your brand, with basically older women who want to be more comfortable? mosquito?
Fisher: Right. We certainly talked about it and over the years we’ve talked about it and wondered about it. Especially now, as you said, with COVID, this is a return to comfort and not wanting to wear something that doesn’t make you very comfortable. -They call it more sophisticated or a little more dressed up, but they definitely don’t want to sacrifice comfort or washability. I’m here. This is great. We’ve always made washable silks and pontees and even washable wools.
Martin: What is your biggest concern about the current fashion industry and how it operates?
Fischer: Well, the first thing I would say is that we, and myself included, are making too many wrong things. And I’m working hard to make more and more relevant stuff. Other – I’m passionate about getting rid of plastic. Plastic is a big problem. All synthetics, polyester, it drives me crazy. We need to find a way to make biodegradable stretch materials that don’t damage the ocean or the planet. And it’s sad that we don’t do it, and we don’t do it fast enough. So if there’s anything I can do to help, I’d love to do it.
Martin: Hmm, sounds like you’re still excited about things. So what…
Fisher: Why am I going anywhere? Where am I going?
Martin: Yes. What made you decide that at least now is the time to step down as CEO?
Fisher: Yeah. Well, I guess I’m very passionate about certain things. And I want to focus on what I love best and leave the business part to others. And I do what I want See, I’m always looking for what I want to do. I love going to the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And it’s a lot of fun. And, as you know, other days not so much. Can I come in only when I’m having fun? For example, I am 72 years old, can I just do what I love?
Martin: I think the answer is yes. Congratulations to all.
Fisher: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thank you for visiting us. And please forgive me for asking like this. What do you want people to think when they see the name Eileen Fisher?
FISHER: Oh, I want them to think of good design, good company, great, timeless, great things, and great people.
Martin: Well, it was fashion designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Eileen Fisher. Eileen Fisher, thank you very much for your time. It was really – it was just a pleasure. I am very happy to have the opportunity to visit with you.
Fisher: Thank you, Michelle. You yourself were overjoyed. Amazing. you made it easy.
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