The day when exceptional women CEOs are recognized simply as exemplary CEOs, without the need for special emphasis, is fast approaching. However, until that day arrives, it remains crucial to highlight the unique skills and perspectives that women bring to the table in terms of leadership, particularly in companies that strive to make a positive impact.
In this series, we begin by featuring one of the masters: Eileen Fisher, both the woman behind the brand and the contributions of her eponymous women’s clothing company. It is my hope that their achievements will inspire you as much as they inspire me.
Eileen Fisher, founder of Eileen Fisher, Inc., has been practicing values-based business since the company’s establishment in 1984. As a benefit corporation and certified B Corp, Eileen Fisher, Inc. operates with a quadruple bottom line, encompassing financial, social, environmental, and employee well-being. Eileen herself has expressed the company’s vision: “We don’t want sustainability to be our edge. We want it to be universal.”
The company actively works to reduce its environmental impact by carefully selecting materials and managing its supply chain, tracing back to the farm level. Taking responsibility for the entire life cycle of their clothing, they employ organic dyes, utilize “responsible fibers” like chlorine-free wool, practice land and sheep stewardship, and incorporate recycled fibers as part of their low-impact approach.
Eileen Fisher, Inc. has also implemented programs to disrupt the consumerism cycle and minimize waste. Their Renew program encourages the resale of gently worn Eileen Fisher clothing, while Waste No More transforms end-of-life garments into unique artwork and home decor, diverting over 1 million garments from landfills since 2009.
Social impact holds significant importance for this successful company, demonstrated through fair trade purchasing, adherence to minimum supplier practice standards such as living wages, and global monitoring of human rights labor standards.
Regarding employees and governance, Eileen Fisher adheres to esteemed standards for employee ownership and diversity. In 2017, 40.5% of the company was owned by employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), while the remaining ownership rests with Eileen Fisher herself. The company is led by a collaborative CEO group consisting of six leaders, and its executive leadership team and board of directors are comprised of two-thirds women, with ongoing efforts to increase gender representation in alignment with their benefit report, as 84% of their employees are women.
Furthermore, Eileen Fisher, Inc. supports women through various initiatives. Programs like Green Eileen donate recycled retail profits to support women, girls, and the environment, while the Women’s Business Grant Program provides funding for women-owned businesses. The Activating Leadership Grant aims to develop leadership qualities in women and girls by offering financial support for relevant programs.
Notably, Eileen Fisher’s success story stands out as she has never involved investors, a departure from the norm for companies of this caliber (with sales reaching $440 million and 60 branded stores worldwide).
This visionary company and its trailblazing leader have played a significant role in guiding other companies through their intentional leadership and leading by example. Eileen Fisher’s commitment to making their clothing environmentally responsible has evolved from incremental steps to a recent realization that greater urgency is needed to lead the fashion industry in effecting change.
To conclude this spotlight, let us reflect on Eileen’s words: “Everyone can make a difference. Everyone has to lead at different times. There are so many large and small things that we can all do. I really think it is so much about individuals. And it is amazing how one person can have a real influence.”
The journey toward creating impact does not begin when a company becomes large, like Eileen Fisher’s. It starts with a decision early on—your commitment to making a difference both personally and through your business. Once that choice is made, your path becomes more intriguing and fulfilling.
Eileen Fisher and other women entrepreneurs serve as valuable role models to inspire you as you navigate your own unique path.
Ursula Jorch, a speaker, business coach, and consultant, specializes in helping entrepreneurs grow successful businesses that create positive change in the world. With her 21 years of entrepreneurial experience, Ursula assists you in defining the difference you want to make and developing strategies and marketing approaches to expand your impact.
You can find Ursula on her podcast, Work Alchemy: The Impact Interviews, where she engages in conversations with impactful entrepreneurs and leaders such as Seth Godin and Marianne Williamson. Visit WorkAlchemy.com for free resources to support you and your business.