After finishing college at the University of Iowa, Eileen Fisher moved to New York City and bounced around between a couple of jobs before working for a Japanese graphic designer.
She had many Japanese clients, and visited Japan frequently. While there, she noticed the simple and elegant beauty of the Kimono. This gave her a flash of inspiration.
She had always loathed getting dressed. As a woman, this was a rather arduous chore compared to how men get dressed. She had a vision of clothes that were made of simple shapes that were easy to coordinate, like men’s attire, but were also elegant and comfortable.
In 1984, at the age of 34, she decided that she was going to start a clothing business based on her vision. There were two significant obstacles, however. She didn’t know how to sew, nor did she know anything about business.
She believed in her vision, though, and soon discovered that her designs really appealed to people. The first four simple shapes she created generated $3,000 worth of orders at the Boutique Show she was encouraged to attend. Based on that success, she expanded her line a bit to eight pieces and generated $40,000 in orders at the second show she attended.
Although Fisher’s innovative designs clearly played a large role in the success of her company, she mentioned to me another key element of her success when we spoke recently in Washington, D.C. It turns out that her greatest obstacles were actually her greatest strengths.
“I’ve always been a ‘don’t knower’,” she said. “I’ve always been very comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know.’ As a result, there’s a sense of openness. When you don’t know and you’re really listening intently, people want to help you. They want to share.”
As the company was first getting started, Fisher’s “don’t know” approach allowed her to get great advice, for free, from many experts and successful business leaders. The help she received was instrumental in helping her get her business off of the ground.
Today, Eileen Fisher, Inc. employs over 1,100 people, has over 60 retail stores, and will likely generate over $300 million dollars in revenue in 2015.
This story was originally posted with the Huffington Post. To continue reading, please click here.
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