A Teen's Story Inspires This Fashion Designer to Speak Out Against Injustice

Eileen Fisher proves that philanthropy is always in fashion.
Promoted byPromoted by Eileen Fisher
Oct 13, 2015·
TakePart Staff

When Eileen Fisher launched her clothing line in 1984 with just four pieces, she didn’t set out to change the world—she simply wanted to make getting dressed in the morning easier. But it wasn’t long before the compassionate designer learned that her business was about much more than clothes.

“In the beginning, when I started the company, it was really about the shapes of the clothes or the fabrics,” she explains in an interview with TakePart. “Over time, it was about the workers and about how we work together. And then the customers and who we could help along the way, giving back to the women who gave to us, giving back to inspire other young women. It was just a very natural, organic progression of following my own path and my inner voice.”

Eileen Fisher Inc. supports grants in the areas of activating leadership, women-owned businesses, and community partnerships, as well as programs like Training Initiatives and Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute.

“We put our feet on the ground and take one step every day,” says Fisher, regarding the social consciousness her company embraces. “Just get up and do the best you can. I think the way points itself to you, and we can’t do everything. All of us have a unique job to do and place in the world. To get in touch with what it is we can do and what’s ours to do is part of the work—and to accept that we can’t do it all and sometimes go easy on ourselves.”

This month, the brand has supported the release of the documentary He Named Me Malala, which details the remarkable story of Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out against the Taliban after it took over her village and forbade girls any education except religious lessons. In retaliation, the Taliban put a bullet in Yousafsai's head when she was 15, but the determined young woman continues to travel internationally as an advocate for female education and is the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I think the part of Malala’s story that really resonates for me is voice,” says Fisher. “I've struggled so much around voice. I've watched so many people in my organization—workers in our factories, the young girls in our leadership program—struggle with voice, struggle to speak up and to just say what's on their mind, what's really true for them. If she can speak in her situation, if she can say what she believes, then we can all do that.”

Despite all that the company does to support, empower, and encourage women, Reisa Brafman, the director of Community Partnerships and Women’s Initiatives at Eileen Fisher, admits that one of the company’s challenges is that it just can’t help everybody. But, man, does it try.

“We try to be creative about it,” explains Brafman. “Sometimes we’re able to give funds, other times we’re able to lend our space to an organization so they could do a fund-raiser or bring attention to an issue, and other times it may be to donate an auction item. If we’re not able to support them in that way, then we try to collaborate and brainstorm with them and put our heads together as to what we can do. Sometimes it may be as simple as taking a phone call and connecting one organization to another.”

Part of what makes the efforts of the brand work so well is that it feeds off the excitement of its employees, something Fisher encourages other businesses that would like to be socially conscious to consider.

“Work with the energy of the people that work in the organization,” she says. “When people are given permission to be engaged in different activities, to offer opportunities, to volunteer or contribute to different projects that might be in addition to the work, people actually light up and they really want to give back. There's a lot of energy in businesses and a lot of opportunity by really recognizing the business is about people.”