How I Get It Done: Eileen Fisher, Founder of the Eponymous Sustainable Basics Clothing Line

Eileen Fisher. Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Eileen Fisher is the fashion designer and founder behind the clothing brand of the same name. She describes herself as “totally tech resistant” and tries to work from her home outside of the city at least four days a week. She loves to meditate and would always prefer an in-person meeting over a phone call. She reduces stress by repeating the same mantra, “Breathe, relax, feel.” Here’s how she gets it all done.

On a day in the life of a well-known designer:
I always wake up a little bit stressed, so I start my day with meditation and yoga. I do short meditation for ten minutes and stretching yoga for ten minutes. I usually get up around 6:30 or 7 every morning, but I set three 15-minute alarms that I frequently ignore. It’s just how things roll. And on many days, I don’t start doing anything work-related until around 9:30 or 10.

After stretching, I have my lemon juice and water and my coffee. Then I sit in what I call “my purpose chair” and I journal. I organize myself with what I think matters for the day and ramble around. On this particular day, I started with a nine o’clock phone call from my new personal financial consultant. I recently hired him to help me understand my money holistically, around my foundation and things of that nature.

I’m trying to work on a visual expression for the Eileen Fisher Learning Lab at the moment. My art director has been playing with an idea, so I looked at a bunch of things he sent and we spent a half hour or so talking back and forth about it. It’s fun — I always like to have a few of those kind of inspired, visual, creative conversations in my day. Then we worked through details about the Wisdom Conference, which we attended in mid-February. We talked about what I wanted to say in my presentation.

After I finish work, I check in with the news, I check my phone and read a few articles. I do a little more yoga. Ten minutes. I reconnect to myself and wake myself up, because I can be tired at the end of the day. I try to make a point to do that before I eat dinner. That night, I played mahjong with a group of friends in town — two women I work with and two women who are local friends. I won all four games, for the first time ever. I’ve been on a really bad losing streak.

I aim to go to bed at 11. Sometimes I don’t get to bed before midnight. I journal or I make puzzles. I don’t do that too often during the week, but definitely at the weekend. It’s a visually relaxing thing that I do. It’s a way to hang out and have a conversation with my daughter, and it’s not as intense as playing a game. It’s a carryover habit from my childhood.

On how clothes are always part of the conversation at her company:
Clothes are always a part of our conversation. “Oh, I’m wearing the same pair of socks you’re wearing!” That happens all the time where we work. It’s the first part of every meeting. [Lately] I’ve been wearing my new jeans — I had been desperate for a new pair and I hadn’t worn jeans for a long while. [At a meeting] I asked if we could make a pair of those wonderful jeans with an elastic waist, and lo and behold, they made me some.

On why she always prefers to have in-person meetings:
As much as possible, I love to hold in-person meetings. Things happen, energy is transferred, you see when people are excited. But when we’re not able to do that, I have Skype calls. I do everything I can to avoid going into the city because I’m much more relaxed out here in Irvington. I used to love the city when I was young, but I prefer to limit my time there now.

On the restorative and necessary properties of therapy:
I love therapy. I’ve been going to therapy for 30-some years. I try to meet with my therapist every other week, or sometimes I talk to her on the phone. It keeps me focused. I can be a workaholic and it reminds me of other things in my life that I care about. I talk about my kids. Sometimes I talk about work-related things.

On her stress-reducing mantra:
“Breathe, relax, feel.” It really helps me. When I’m in a stressed-out state, I just stop and say, “Breathe, relax, feel.” It’s kind of like being in a dark room when you’re scared and you turn the light on and it goes away. It’s little secrets like that that help. And I certainly have stress. I’ve learned to manage it by repeating a mantra. “Breathe, relax, feel.” Be with the stress and notice it. The other thing is I work hard, so I have to not worry about stress, but instead chase meaning. The last few years, I’ve been doing this purpose-work where I assess what feels meaningful, what feels right. If I know what I’m supposed to be doing here, and I know what I’m doing feels meaningful, then I actually have more energy at age 66 than I did at 25. I’m trying to figure out how to use the business to make a difference, to help women feel comfortable.

On how she survives as a Luddite in this day and age:
I am totally tech-resistant. It’s terrible. I’ve been a bad influence on the company in that way. I was probably the last one to get a cell phone. I resisted getting a computer and email years ago. I finally was convinced to use a calendar on my phone. I had a paper calendar and a colleague of mine had to make sure someone was updating my calendar all the time. I’ve got the phone calendar working, so I’m kind of proud of myself.

I think all of that is because I am easily overwhelmed. There have to be several filters before things get to me. No emails on the weekends. I love when people feel guilty for sending emails on the weekend. At the office, people apologize for sending email on Saturday or Sunday. I love that.

On how being the boss has changed her:
I keep saying I’m not the same person I was even two years ago. In the last year or two, I’ve become more confident and more comfortable. I think I chose to make such comfortable clothes because I’m such an uncomfortable person. I’m more comfortable with myself now; I’m more direct. I’ve always been shy and afraid of public speaking, but I’m learning to communicate better. I always marvel at what people do that I couldn’t have done myself. I’ve learned so much. I feel like I have something to share.

How Fashion Designer Eileen Fisher Gets Everything Done