Drapers gives you an exclusive preview of this weekend’s interview with Eileen Fisher, the founder of her eponymous US premium womenswear label.
Did you always want to be a designer? No. I sewed with my mum when I was young but I was from the Mid-West and I don’t think I knew what a designer was. When I was in college I was studying maths and I was pretty terrible, but my roommate was studying interior design and it seemed like fun - maths was too much work So, I ended up studying interior design instead.
How did you start the Eileen Fisher brand? I went to Japan a couple of times and was inspired by the simplicity of Kimonos; it intrigued me that clothes could last that long and one style and shape could be worn in so many different ways. I was also frustrated looking for clothes that I wanted. I was thirty three at the time and I had a boyfriend who was a sculptor so I ended up at the Boutique show in New York with him. I remember walking around there and thinking, ‘I could do this with clothes’. So I committed to a booth [at the next edition].
Why do you think it was so successful initially? There just wasn’t much like it at the time. There was a lot of loose clothing and people were interested in natural fibres, but I had this particular French terry and I’d got the manufacturer to soften it up more, so they had made it especially for me. For years I was the French terry lady, which wasn’t really my vision. Then I started doing wool jersey and raw silk and linen and the simple shapes translated beautifully.
Are fabrics and materials still very key for you? How do you source them? We have a fabric team that’s constantly researching and goes to Premiere Vision in Paris, and people come to us and work with us and help us to develop new fabrics. We’re into sustainability, and very into organics. We’re doing organic linen now, which we’re really excited about, besides just the organic cottons.
What can you tell me about your stores which sell your recycled clothing? Yes we have two stores, one in New York which opened two years ago and one in Seattle that opened this summer. They only sell our recycled product.
So do you go in and see things you designed years before?Yes. At first I was terrified, but the great thing is that you see young girls in there. In our main stores our clothes are pricey, so while young people might be attracted they can only buy one piece and mix it with other things.
How does it work? People bring their clothes or send them in and the customers get $5 [£3.11] for each garment. At some of the stores we also do this in the back, we’ll maybe have a rail. We sell the clothes from say $20 [£12.45] up to $90 [£56.06] or $100 [£62.28]. Then, we give all of the money to charities to support women and girls. We have people who are addicts who have closets full of our clothes and they don’t like to part with them, but everybody feels good when they clean out their closets, especially for charity.
Who is your customer? I used to say she was an artist or a therapist. These days she’s 45 and over for the most part, maybe more of an intellectual type and not so much a fashion person. I’m always saying we’re walking that edge between timeless and modern.