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Eileen Fisher Repositioning The Brand Pdf File. How is the EILEEN FISHER brand story embodied in its products, stores, employees, and marketing and advertising? Fisher, Berenice Malka: Author ISBN: 234. Repositioning feminism and education: perspectives on educating for social change. EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand. In order for the brand to have a future beyond Eileen Fisher’s lifespan, the company must take on the risk of repositioning itself in the emerging women segment. Risk: By targeting the emerging women segment, Eileen Fisher risks alienating the very profitable established women segment who purchase their entire wardrobe through the brand.

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EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand
Hilary Old, vice president for communications, was one part excited and one part nervous, so she took a moment to adjust her scarf before she entered the meeting. It was January of 2010 and she and her colleagues were about to review the first retail sales results following a major strategic initiative to reposition and evolve the EILEEN FISHER brand.
2009 marked the 25th anniversary of EILEEN FISHER and the occasion gave the company the impetus to pause and assess its history. The company had enjoyed phenomenal success in its first quarter century: its growth in revenues and profits had been driven by both the strong brand loyalty of its core customers, and the opening of fifty retail stores dedicated to the brand. The company was consistently recognized as one of the best companies to work for and had an impressive environmental sustainability and social responsibility record. However, a startling discovery had emerged. The median customer age was currently at 59 and increasing each year, keeping pace with the age of the company’s visionary founder, Eileen Fisher. Despite the company’s best efforts to design age-less clothing to appeal to multiple generations, as Fisher herself aged, so too had the customer base. The company found itself stereotyped as a brand for older, and, to some extent, customers with larger body types. Old worried that the brand could eventually become extinct if actions weren’t taken to attract a new generation to the brand.
The company embarked on a strategic project to develop a new brand expression that would set the foundation for the future direction of the company. The project resulted in a brand repositioning. Edgier brand communications and more contemporary ways of merchandising products, such as miniskirts and skinny jeans, in advertising and in-store were used to present the Fall 2009 season to consumers. While Old hoped that these changes would attract younger customers to the brand, she understood the risk that they might alienate the extremely loyal and profitable existing customer base that EILEEN FISHER had nurtured. She also wondered how these changes set the stage for other strategic decisions over the longer term and how the repositioning could be implemented through the company’s functional areas.
Company History
The Early Days
Eileen Fisher, the company’s founder and namesake, was drawn to creative pursuits and worked as an interior and graphic designer. The world of fashion was far from her original career aspirations. Fisher’s initial interest came from her own wardrobe challenges as a working woman who wanted This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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stylish, yet comfortable clothing that expressed her personal style. Fisher eschewed cosmetics and high heels and believed that women could be beautiful and stylish, while being comfortable and true to themselves. The marketplace offered few solutions: eclectic clothing styles were inappropriate for the office, while the structured career clothing of the 1980’s that took its inspiration from men’s business attire was off-putting. As a designer, Fisher envisioned a design solution to her problem, “In my mind I kept seeing these simple shapes that all went together. I was drawn to beautiful fabrics, approachable colors, and proportions that could mix in many combinations.” Fisher invested $350 to start her company in 1984. Despite the fact that she couldn’t sew and had no fashion experience, she took four designs to the Boutique Show in New York. She sold $3,000 in orders. Later expanding the line to eight items, she brought in $40,000 in orders. EILEEN FISHER was born.
Design Philosophy
The clothes were stylish, yet simple and comfortable. As Fisher stated, “The simpler the garment, the more flexibility you have in the ways you can wear it.” The pieces in the collection were designed to work together, so customers could creatively vary their look from day to day. They were designed to make getting dressed easy and to be versatile enough to be worn to the office and then out for the evening. Fisher explained the wearability and the comfort of her clothes, “The idea is you just put your clothes on and go. You don’t have to fuss, you don’t have to think about them all day; you’re ready to focus on what’s most important to you.”
Fisher was adamant about designing clothes for real women and developed forgiving silhouettes that flattered women regardless of their body type. The fluid clothes were designed to take on the personality of the wearer. Fisher also strove to design sensual clothing that made its wearer feel beautiful, “The women who wear our clothes want to experience the magic that happens when you put on a piece of clothing that has been pared to its simple, pure essence. It comes alive on your body. It makes you move differently. It changes the way you think and feel about yourself.” High quality artisanal fabrics enhanced the sensuality and comfort, “Material artistry is integral to the beauty and quality of our designs. Built on centuries of tradition, our premium yarns and fabrics are sourced for their softness, resilience, and nuance…woven and spun into intriguing textures.”
Continuity of style was key, “The collections we design offer choice, inspiration, and above all, continuity. Design ideas flow across months, bringing energy, vitality, and new opportunities for personal expression. The collections are practical; they connect to what has come before, to fabrics our customers love and trust, to styles and proportions that are already in their closets.” Fisher sought to design fad-proof, but trend-relevant, timeless clothes that had an indefinite shelf life. The core concept team was charged with ensuring that the brand stayed true to her vision. There were things that did not feel right, regardless of how trendy they were in the broader marketplace, “There are a lot of trends that don’t make any sense for a brand like this. A huge factor for us is our brand heritage. We spend a lot of time reinventing classics and reinventing those simple, timeless designs; we create something new out of something that the customer has had for ten years and has loved so much,” said Jacqueline Hoffman, facilitating leader of design. A strong proponent of environmental sustainability, Fisher saw that this philosophy helped the company bypass the disposability cycle built into the fashion business model.
Each season, the product line featured “passion pieces,” items that Fisher felt passionate about and that she felt reflected the spirit of the collection. Frank Gazetta, president of Macy’s North explained Fisher’s key role, “When the founder and designer is totally into a brand, it never loses the spirit it starts with. The roots of the concept are good, but a lot of it is Eileen…she is very involved with the brand and she knows what she wants the brand to be: The voice of Eileen is always there.”1 This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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EILEEN FISHER designed and produced in accordance with standard industry cycles. Each year, there were three key selling seasons–Fall, Resort, and Spring–when wholesale channels typically placed their orders. Each season, on average, eighty-five new items were introduced. Fisher remained closely involved in design and would jumpstart the creative process by analyzing her own closet. Each season, she would edit and choose which items were working for her body and her life, and those she originally thought she would wear, but ultimately did not find as useful. Ideas for products came from the design, merchandising, and core concept teams, augmented by a broader arc of voices from across the company. Ideas were shared through various processes, including the “deep dive,” involving 100 employees from across the company, customers, and wholesaler partners who came together to brainstorm.
Fisher’s original tenets had remained at the heart of EILEEN FISHER’s design philosophy and had evolved into five design values: Simple. Sensual. Beautiful. Timeless. Functional. These enduring values formed the foundation of the brand’s aesthetic and served as creative anchors, grounding employees in the shared language and heritage of the brand.
Embodying the Customer
Michael Gould, Chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s believed that EILEEN FISHER’s success was due to the fact that Fisher herself lived her customers’ lifestyles, “What is uniquely distinctive about EILEEN FISHER is the soul and heart of Eileen herself. The company consistently embodies Eileen’s beliefs, convictions, and lifestyle. She never deviates from her course, while always staying in tune with the changing times.”2 Fisher’s design inspirations came from within and were informed by her own experiences as a woman. Employees respected that vision, said Rebecca Perrin, one of the members of the core concept team, “There’s a big respect for Eileen’s intuition. She’s such a visionary and she has developed this practice of listening to her intuition and what’s she’s feeling. A lot of times that takes the place of strategy. Strategy comes later. It’s really about going with your heart and what you feel is right.”
By 2010, EILEEN FISHER’s core customer was an affluent, middle aged, Baby Boomer woman. This customer base was well aligned with demographic trends and purchasing behavior in the clothing sector. Baby Boomers, women 45 to 64, represented the largest demographic segment in the U.S., accounting for a third of the country’s population and 25% of the $200 billion women’s apparel market. Women 35-44 accounted for 12% of the market, while women 21-34 accounted for 16% of the market. The Baby Boomers’ market influence was growing faster than the other age segments. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were living longer, with a life expectancy of 79.5 years for women, and they maintained a youthful, active outlook and lifestyle. Media expert, Yvonne DiVita, explained, “These are not the rocking-chair women of the 20th century. They’re vibrant, colorful, energetic, and connected women … They’re over 50 but act as if they are under 40 – living up to their expectations, not yours.”3
The company occupied a unique niche in women’s fashion. Rather than spending time benchmarking themselves against competitors, EILEEN FISHER focused on understanding their customers, explained Jim Gundell, co-chief operating officer and facilitating leader, “Our relationship with our customer is our competitive advantage. We don’t look at what anybody else is doing … It’s important what we’re doing and it’s important how we’re building a relationship with our customers.”
The company was populated with employees, many of whom had been there for decades, who embodied the brand’s ethos. Many customer-facing employees in the retail stores shared an age and a lifestyle with the EILEEN FISHER core customer. “It happened so naturally that we hired our customer. We look for a more holistic person, who loves our clothes and has outside passions and interests,” said Fisher.4 Gundell explained, “It’s almost a cult-like following. When our customer comes in, we’re friends with her, we’re connected to her, we know her name, we know her family …we just know so much about her.” This was key, claimed Pete Nordstrom, President, Merchandising, Nordstrom’s, “EILEEN FISHER This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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is absolutely clear who their customer is. Nordstrom customers are very loyal to the EILEEN FISHER brand because the collection is consistent, staying true to a woman’s wants and needs, but also evolving over time to move customers forward in meaningful ways.“5 Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and CEO agreed, “She has stayed true to her vision and has not confused the customer, as many other people have. They have moved with the times, but not forgotten who their customer is.”6
The company articulated a brand statement (Exhibit 1) to support its tagline, “Beautifully simple clothing designed to move with real life.” The brand statement illuminated three cultural values that the brand embodied: inspiring creativity, instilling confidence, and cultivating connection. EILEEN FISHER took an unorthodox approach to branding. Unlike other clothing brands, the company did not do runway shows, nor participate in New York’s Fashion Week. The brand’s advertising often featured real women. When models were used, great care was taken to present them as they were, without airbrushing. Models usually wore little make-up and flat shoes, reflecting Fisher’s personal style and feminist philosophy.
Fisher’s belief was that if the product was right, business and profits would follow. The goal of having “our mission drive our business and our profitability foster our mission” was central. From inception, EILEEN FISHER was an organization with a strong social consciousness. Fisher wanted her business to make a social difference, “It’s not really about making clothes. Clothes are the vehicle for making substantive change in the world and even though we’re a smaller company, it’s through our partnerships that we can drive bigger change. Our business is a movement.” The attention to the company’s social mission was embedded deeply across the organization. Amy Hall was the company’s director of social consciousness, “EILEEN FISHER was founded on social consciousness values. Even though they weren’t written up explicitly in a black and white statement someplace until later on, they’ve always been there.”
EILEEN FISHER’s commitment to social good guided the company’s supply chain decisions, which included an explicit focus on business practices that had an absolute regard for human rights. EILEEN FISHER was one of only four clothing companies in the U.S. committed to SA8000 workplace standards, which outline human rights standards relating to child labor, discrimination, working hours, remuneration, and health and safety. The company asked all factories to strive for compliance with SA8000 standards. The company also committed to minimizing the environmental impact of its supply chain. They embraced bluesign principles, which used a holistic view and an extensive chemical databank to steer all production processes to be sustainable. They also used fabrics made from environmentally friendly sources. When probed on the return on investment for these types of activities, chief financial officer Ken Pollak answered, “This is the right thing to do. In the long run, it benefits all of us. Profitability in the short term isn’t the bigger goal in this case.”
The company was also deeply committed to its employees. To create an environment that inspired the best work of its employees, individually and in connection with each other, the company sponsored programs to support growth and well-being. Nourishing the mind, body, and spirit and maintaining a balance between work and home life were honored. The company supported flexible work arrangements and offered $1,000 per year for wellness-related activities such as health club memberships, cooking classes and dance lessons. On-site yoga and massage were available.
Throughout years of explosive growth (Exhibit 2), EILEEN FISHER remained a privately held company that offered generous benefit packages to its employees and distributed in excess of 30% of pre- tax profits as bonuses. In 2005, recognizing the role of her employees in the company’s success, Fisher transferred 31% of the shares of the company, worth $30 million, to her employees through an employee stock ownership plan. She continued to hold the remaining shares herself. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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Initiatives targeted at the advancement of women included the EILEEN FISHER Business Grant Program, launched in 2004. Five grants of $10,000 each were awarded annually to women-owned businesses that combined the principles of social consciousness, sustainability, and innovation. EILEEN FISHER’s customers cared about buying from a company with values. Mariclare Van Bergen, vice president of sales found that “People say ‘I believe in this brand’. It’s more than just clothes.”
EILEEN FISHER in the Fashion Industry
EILEEN FISHER operated in the highly competitive, rapidly changing world of finer women’s fashion. Consumers’ fickle fashion tastes and low switching costs ensured a never-ending battle for market share among the many designers who competed for space in women’s wardrobes. Consumers usually patronized many different designers, mixing pieces from various collections to create their own looks.
By 2009, EILEEN FISHER operated 50 company-owned retail stores in sixteen states that accounted for 25% of its retail sales. Gundell explained, “Eileen wanted to open our own stores because she wanted to engage in a dialogue with our customers in a very intimate, personal kind of way. We dig in and listen deeply to what the customer is saying to us. How are we delighting her? What is she coming back for season after season?” Hiring decisions were unconventional. Rather than hiring experienced sales clerks, the company hired writers and artists who represented the brand’s customer. Fisher said, “We hire people who love the clothes, so it feels more like fun to work in the stores, rather than like a job. They’re more like clothing therapists than salespeople”7. Fisher believed that salespeople should not sell, but rather, facilitate the consumer’s shopping experience and provide guidance and support.
The company also operated an e-commerce website that accounted for 12% of its retail sales. Customers’ intense loyalty to the brand drove a click-to-receive rate of 17% and click-to-open rate of 52% in 2009, which vastly outperformed national averages.
The remainder of its sales came from its partnerships with wholesale accounts, 478 department stores in the USA and 315 specialty shops located in all fifty states. Accounts like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue loved EILEEN FISHER because it was one of the best performing brands on an important profitability metric, sell-through, the percentage of products sold at full price. EILEEN FISHER’s loyal and affluent target market was often happy to pay full price for her fashions. As a result, the company enjoyed an average of 1,000 square feet of selling space per store in major department store accounts and was one of the biggest accounts at many retailers.
Following years of growth (Exhibit 3), the fashion industry floundered during the 2008-2010 recession. Department stores were especially hit hard, as consumers turned to discount stores (Exhibit 4). Customers began holding off buying full-price items while they waited for eventual sales. Some retailers accentuated this trend by offering deep discounts on designer goods. Although EILEEN FISHER weathered the downturn better than a lot of its competitors, it too felt the pain of discounting, “Department stores were becoming more promotional. We didn’t do as well profit-wise because a much smaller percentage of our product was sold at full price,” remembered Mandy Osborne, global development and marketing leader. Industry-wide, retail prices on women’s and girl’s apparel fell 2.5% in 2008 and had declined 11% since 1998.8
EILEEN FISHER was usually merchandised in department stores as a bridge line, offering career separates and dresses in finer fabrics that sold for less than $1,000. Bridge lines occupied a market space below clothing from high end designers such as Armani, Prada, and Gucci. Sales of bridge lines peaked in the early 2000’s and began to decline, as many women started dressing more casually at work. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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Dominant bridge brands Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman both stumbled in the 2000’s after trying to reposition their brands to appeal to younger customers. New, trend-driven fashions failed to attract women in their 20’s and 30’s to these Baby Boomer brands and alienated their core customers, who fled to other designers. Similarly, Anne Klein lost its brand identity when it switched from traditional, simple, boxy lines to more daring, sexier silhouettes, “New clothes required an hourglass shape that the Anne Klein customer tended not to have, and seemed made for a glittery lifestyle she didn’t have either…[following] a number of repositionings, endless tweaks, and a long list of talented designers…[the company never managed] to build an identity as clear as the one it had so blithely abandoned.”9 St. John tried to get its older target market to try tight jackets, skinny acid-washed jeans, and sexy evening dresses. “It’s still struggling to make it up to them,” claimed fashion critic Patricia McLaughlin. She explained, “All too clearly, both Anne Klein and St. John’s makeovers were driven by a wish for younger, more exciting, more fashionable consumers–and enabled by an apparent lack of interest in the wants and needs of the established customer base.”10
Ellen Tracy eventually repositioned itself as a lower priced sportswear brand and Dana Buchman went down market to low end department store Kohl’s, leaving significant gaps in the bridge section. Anne Klein and St. John continued to struggle. The gaps they left were filled with brands like Tory Burch, Elie Tahari, Lafayette 148, M Missoni, and DKNY, which shared the bridge price point, but were more stylized, trendy, and form fitting. In the midst of all this change, EILEEN FISHER remained a steady performer for its retailer partners. Gerald Barnes, president of Neiman Marcus Direct explained the brand’s enduring value, “The apparel world is littered with companies who ruined their businesses trying to change their image and reach different customers. Her merchandise is not really very different from year to year, and that’s one of the good things about EILEEN FISHER.”11
Celebrating 25 Years
As the company celebrated its 25th anniversary, business was strong, despite the economic recession. While most companies might have rested on their laurels, EILEEN FISHER leaders pondered the future. The brand was no longer attracting women in their 30’s and 40’s who were balancing careers and families. EILEEN FISHER’s core customers had been loyal customers for decades; these women were now in their 50’s and 60’s and relied on the brand for the bulk of their wardrobe needs.
Research showed that women in their 30’s and 40’s often regarded EILEEN FISHER as a brand their mothers wore. A New York Times writer claimed, “for the fashion conscious, EILEEN FISHER clothes had as much style and shape as a burqa. To them, the line was designed for graying bobos who dabbled in ceramics and had lifetime subscriptions to The New Yorker”.12 This image kept younger women from embracing the brand. The brand’s forgiving silhouettes also made it a favorite with larger women, such as plus-sized celebrities, Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey who were EILEEN FISHER devotees. Nora Ephron’s 2009 Broadway play, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, brought the negative stereotypes to life when a character proclaimed, “When you start wearing EILEEN FISHER, you might as well say ‘I give up’.”
These perceptions made it difficult for the brand to attract a broader range, including more fashion-conscious women, “Some of the clothes seem suitable for yoga; all look perfect for shopping at the farmer’s market. Of course, the look isn’t for everyone. It isn’t hip enough to satisfy a woman who lives in Helmut Lang or sexy enough for those who like Versace; it’s too loose and flowing for a corporate executive who needs boardroom armor,” claimed author Margaret Heffernan.13 But, Old was struck by the paradoxical nature of the brand, “There are many women in the Boomer demographic who discount EILEEN FISHER as an option, because they have a perception that the brand isn’t for them,” she proclaimed. At the same time, “When new customers, regardless of age, try on the clothes, they usually find things they like and realize that there is a gap between their perception and the reality.” This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
The median age of EILEEN FISHER’s customer base had increased by one year each year. Fisher was concerned, “There was a danger; our customer was aging with me. I didn’t want the values, the philosophy, the feeling of the clothes to belong only to one generation. I thought our design values were healthy and important for women. I wanted to break out of the box that we had found ourselves in.” The negative stereotypes also struck a personal chord, “I was heartbroken to hear that the clothes were perceived as being solely for older people or heavier people. I noticed that my 16 year old daughter wasn’t wearing my clothes, and that my son’s friends thought the clothes were for their mothers or grandmothers.” Fisher wanted the brand to reach and appeal to the broader arc and continuum of women. Old explained, “In fashion, the history and the tendency is to create brands that are exclusive, that appeal to a narrow demographic segment. We wanted our brand to be inclusive, inspiring women from many generations to want to belong to the same brand. In a way, this purpose felt radical within the industry landscape.” The question before them was how to invite more women into the brand.
The THREAD Project: The Vision and Meeting New Women
As employees began discussing how to broaden the brand’s customer base, Old realized that clarification of the brand’s target market was urgently needed before key decisions could be made, “There was a telephone-like game going on in the company. People were saying that we needed to talk to the younger consumer and that we needed to ensure that we were talking to the modern woman. These terms ‘younger’ and ‘modern’ were being tossed around, but people were using very different definitions. To some, younger meant college age and to others, younger meant 50.” To help them sort things out, the company hired IDEO, a leading design and innovation firm, to clarify the company’s brand vision and to apply those principles consistently across retail channels to reach new audiences, without alienating veteran devotees.
The IDEO team first spent time with over sixty EILEEN FISHER headquarter employees in one to one interviews, workshops, dinners, and retail visits and then worked as sales people in two company stores. They then embarked on a multi-phased consumer research project, spending time talking, shopping, and closet-raiding with women of distinct ages. The research included individual interviews, focus groups, and shop-a-longs to understand women in the context of their everyday lives, both within and beyond retail stores. Current customers of EILEEN FISHER and women who had never purchased the brand were included. Old found the insights to be valuable, “The two big ‘aha’s’ were first hearing what a non-customer said, ‘It looks like a sack’ as she held up an ad that we, at the time, felt was really modern. Second, hearing a woman who we would consider to be our core customer say she was looking for more edginess from EILEEN FISHER and was going to other brands to find it because she didn’t feel like it was in our collection.” The research was eye-opening for Fisher and the rest of the team, “IDEO did the research to show us how we were seen on the outside. It’s so important to see yourself the way others see you. We were in our successful bubble and, in order to break out, we needed to understand it from the outside in. The learning highlighted our opportunity to communicate differently.”
The research illuminated three distinct consumer segments–Established, Emerging, and Nascent (Exhibit 5) that displayed different perspectives, life stages, shopping behaviors, and brand attitudes. EILEEN FISHER needed to decide whether and how to address each of the segments, in the short term and into the future.
The STITCH Project: Repositioning the Brand
In the short term, Fisher wanted to communicate a strong and focused message to consumers about how the company and its products had evolved, to dismantle the negative perceptions and stereotypes This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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that were boxing in the brand. In a provocative move to kick off the second phase of their work, called the STITCH project, IDEO transformed their offices with a gallery of images, created at an “illicit” photo shoot. The photos featured EILEEN FISHER models wearing the company’s clothes mixed with items from other brands. Old recalled the moment, “Eileen was a little shocked. She virtually never wears other people’s clothes and she doesn’t always relate to how many of us mix her clothes with other brands. What this did was nudge us into a zone of considering how far we might push our edge, what we were willing to give ourselves permission to try. This exercise inspired us to remember that not everyone is going to wear EILEEN FISHER in the way that people have been wearing it in the first 25 years.”
The company made some significant changes. First, they highlighted the relationship between products with more body-conscious fits (tank tops, leggings, skinny jeans) and core shapes (boxy sweaters, long cardigans, and soft jackets). Metallic fabrics and embellishments like sequins were featured. A knit biker jacket and a miniskirt made their first appearances in the line. Images of the collection were photographed with new art direction, which focused on the clothes as designed objects and more edge was infused into the frame, including high heels and lipstick. The photographs were shared at the Fall market, where retail buyers were invited to take a fresh look at EILEEN FISHER, with catalog copy that highlighted the shift in attitude,
An Art School Biker jacket, recast and re-imagined…This is a season of contradictions. Finding inspiration in the unfamiliar…We love surprises. Especially when we surprise ourselves. Short skirts, skinny jeans, biker jackets, that unexpected peek of bling…one thing shifts and the whole world changes. You thought you knew yourself…yet a few mysteries remain. Push your edge. You won’t fall off. A dangerous biker jacket is recast as a fluffy cocoon. And the craggy bomber jacket becomes so smooth and level-headed it wouldn’t bomb a thing.
They changed the way clothes were merchandised in store. For the first time, loose, flowing silhouettes were cinched at the waist by belts, a new accessory line for the company. Clothes were shown with high heels and boots rather than flat shoes. Short skirts and skinny pants were featured more prominently, mixed with traditional pieces. The EILEEN FISHER retail stores received a more radical makeover. Old explained, “We wanted to create more synergy between the advertising and the merchandising and the store look and feel. If we were going to ask the public to take a fresh look at EILEEN FISHER and attract some people we hadn’t attracted before, then we didn’t want them to get into the store and feel like nothing had changed.” Stores now featured sections to clarify the product messages that were linked to advertising and designed to appeal to Emerging women (Exhibit 6).
They adjusted their advertising strategy and in-store visuals (Exhibit 7). “We were trying to give a stronger attitude to the clothes…all of a sudden this is a fashion-friendly company [with design at the forefront of its message],”said IDEO project leader Martin Bone.14 Ann Gilligan, marketing planning director, explained some of the creative strategy changes, “In order to better spotlight the clothes, the decision to continue to feature models was an important one. Using a “real woman” puts more emphasis on the woman–who she is, what she does. We wanted to keep the focus on great design. The way the models were positioned was also different. Before, the relationship between them or the mood they were projecting was as important as the clothes. Now, the model was most often solo in the frame, expressing a range of moods, but always holding the focus on the clothes.” The brand’s media strategy was also altered, as spiritual, wellness, and feel-good publications were deleted from the media mix and high fashion titles like Vogue were added, as well as online sites Style.com and Hulu. As a New York Times writer claimed, “She has capitulated to other fashion norms…her advertisements now feature models who glower as convincingly as any on the runways. Gone are the silver-haired models smiling serenely into the distance.”15 Lastly, they redesigned their website, adding more video to the site and to retail stores, which helped to bring the clothes to life. The website’s art direction was consistent with that of the
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EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
advertising, which communicated the visual luxury and feel of the products. This completed the shift across all channels.
Fisher characterized the changes as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, “The essence of our clothing isn’t so different. What’s different is the way we’re showing these pieces. We’re showing that timeless pieces can be put together in ways that are really modern.”16 Fisher believed that the Established customer would appreciate the changes, “Even our core customers were asking us to be a bit more edgy. I want to serve our Established customers by moving them forward as we also appeal to an Emerging customer.17 The line is an evolution. It doesn’t change so radically. We have fabrics that we know and trust. We repeat certain colors. Because the line works holistically, customers can add a few new pieces to their old pieces and they can feel modern. And that’s exciting.”18
However, some of the changes were difficult for Fisher, “I was philosophically against high heels. I don’t wear make-up, so putting lipstick on the models was different. I had always said ‘natural look, natural hair, natural make-up’ and to have red lips and high heels… It was difficult for me. I really had to take a step back and take a few deep breaths…I thought ‘That’s not the EILEEN FISHER woman’. As a feminist, it made me uncomfortable.19 I had to ask myself if we were going against our core values.” When younger designers in the company brought forward new items for the line, Fisher struggled to understand how some of them would work with the EILEEN FISHER system. Member of the core concept team, Candace Reffe recalled, “I had a really interesting interaction with Eileen about the miniskirt. She kept saying, ‘I can’t wear it.’ And I kept encouraging her to just try it, to just put it on. She kept asking me, ‘But, how do you wear it?’ She couldn’t conceive of wearing it with bare legs. After I suggested she try it with leggings or with tights underneath, it transformed everything.”
The Established Customer Responds
Employees were nervous that the brand was changing too fast. “It was really important to understand the loyalty of our customer and to understand that with respect to going after a younger customer. We were a little bit concerned about alienating our Established customer,” said Pollak. Gilligan was anxious, “I had a lot of anxiety because a lot of the things we were doing were going against traditional marketing teachings, like ‘know your customer’, ‘don’t stray from your base’, ‘don’t lose your brand focus’. “
The sales staff worried that the changes would be too much for their retail buyers to stomach, especially given the turbulent economic climate, “Sales teams were nervous. Buyers were going to have the perception that we were climbing out of the box they had put us in and we weren’t sure how they were going to feel about that from a business perspective. They depended on us for their bread and butter, so we weren’t sure what these changes were going to mean to them,” said Old. Osborne worried, “Department stores have been successful with our core customer and so, for us to mess with that formula or make variations in the way the products are merchandised could be a challenge for them.”
Sell-in for the Fall 2009 line was strong, but many worried that sell-through to customers wouldn’t match department store wholesale buyers’ enthusiasm. The customer-facing staff in the retail stores was anxious about all the changes and worried that they needed to change the way that they related to customers, given the Emerging customers’ different shopping and sales assistance preferences.
The corporate website and social media provided some initial feedback from customers. Old recalled, “We definitely heard some questioning around, ‘is this still for me?’ Customers are a little bit concerned with the way the brand is imaged, worried that there isn’t enough of the Established woman in the imagery. A little fear. But, what we’ve noticed is that when women who are nervous about the changes come into the store, they usually still find something that they love.” This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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Gundell heard flack about the advertising and in-store communications, “We’ve gotten some feedback regarding our model. ‘She’s pouty, she never smiles, she’s waif-like, she’s less approachable. That’s not me, and is that you, EILEEN FISHER?’ But other women say, ‘I love the energy, she makes me feel good, I can see myself wearing some of those pieces too.’” However, it was in social media where the company experienced its most negative response from Established customers. When talk show host, Rosie O’Donnell, a loyal fan of the brand and emblematic of many of its Established customers, asked Fisher about the disappearing role of plus sizes in the line, she was bitterly disappointed with Fisher’s response. According to O’Donnell, Fisher replied that plus-sized women were “not really our demographic…you know, we sell a lot of size 2…just not the image we’re going for”. Fisher remembered the conversation differently, claiming that she said that EILEEN FISHER was serving a whole range of women from a size 2 and up. O’Donnell, insulted, declared that she would no longer patronize the brand.20 The resulting publicity set off a wave of criticism about the brand’s changes:
“Too bad for Ms. Fisher…how many size 2’s do you know? She is giving up about 65% of American women’s business if she gives up plus sizes. The average American woman is a size 14 and almost 40% are more than that. Shop at Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Catherine’s…they have nice styles and good prices. If she doesn’t want our business, go shop where they do! Let her go out of business with the skinny’s.” (Nancy, blogging on Stylelist)21
“She’s saying she’ll have more edge for younger people, but does that imply older people don’t have edge? It’s phenomenally short-sighted.” (Geri, blogging on Fab Over Fifty)22
Unfortunately, the company was not well established in social media and, therefore, did not have a ready way to respond to the criticism. EILEEN FISHER did not have a Facebook page, nor did it have a Twitter feed. Director of website and e-commerce, Lauren Croke recalled, “In social media, we had to decide whether to jump into this conversation or allow it to lose steam over time. It was complex because Eileen’s comments weren’t represented accurately so to set up a different context would have been complicated and could have come off as defensive. We chose not to enter the discussion.”
Gundell felt that social media was a necessary investment for the company, “Customers and potential customers are using this medium and are coming to conclusions based on our participation or lack thereof, so it seems right that we get into the game and insure that our point of view and our level of engagement is done on our terms. We also see social media as an opportunity to proactively get our message out which hasn’t always been construed or understood as we would like it to be.” Reffe echoed his thoughts about the need for a significant social media effort, “Social media is the present, not the future, and the sooner we do something about it, the better, or we’ll be stuck in the past. In social media, we are behind, we have to catch up in this area.”
Looking Ahead to Bigger Decisions
Over the longer term, the brand repositioning would inform several major strategic decisions that were swirling around the company. Although the company had taken some significant steps to change the image of the brand, there was still a question in the company about who to target with the brand. There seemed to be three viable options for customer base expansion:
1.) To exclusively target the Established woman and expand EILEEN FISHER’s penetration in this valuable segment. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
2.) To target the Emerging woman by communicating the collection in ways that appealed to her sensibilities. Old wondered if this could be done without alienating the Established women currently patronizing the brand and accounting for the majority of sales.
3.) To target Nascent women by introducing more trendy styles and lower price points into the EILEEN FISHER brand. Although this strategy seemed in line with Fisher’s vision of inclusivity, there was concern around whether this could stretch the brand too far and alienate the Established customer.
The Emerging women seemed attractive as customers, as they were more likely than Established women to make purchasing decisions with social consciousness values in mind. However, as Gilligan explained, they were less profitable, “The Established customer is more likely to buy ten pieces, but the Emerging is likely to buy one or two. These women aren’t going to wear 100% EILEEN FISHER.” Reffe echoed that Emerging women felt confined by the EILEEN FISHER system approach to dressing, “I don’t want to be circumscribed or defined like that,” they said. Gundell worried about trading Established customers for Emerging, “Our Established customer has a net worth in excess of $2 million and has a lot of disposable income for shopping. The Emerging customer doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of income and buying power. If we trade customers one for one, we’re going to lose.”
The strategic targeting decision precipitated several other marketing decisions. If Emerging and/or Nascent women were targeted, the company would have to consider adjusting the prices of the EILEEN FISHER line, as many items were out of the reach of the more price sensitive women in these two segments, “Women in different life stages are looking for different price points. We’re looking to identify products that universally appeal to women in all three segments, so that we can invest in those products in a way that brings the price point down to make it more competitive with the other brands that the Emerging women are buying.” Price point changes, if too radical, might jeopardize EILEEN FISHER’s position on the Bridge floors in department stores, moving the line down to the less expensive Contemporary section.
Looking ahead, the company needed to decide in which retail formats to invest for its future. This decision had global implications as EILEEN FISHER looked to expand the brand into the UK and Canada in the near future. The company was experimenting with and evolving different retail store formats. One was the EILEEN FISHER Company Store (more commonly known as outlet stores). Gundell explained “The customer – across demographics – wants our clothes, but can’t always afford them at regular prices. Now, she has greater opportunities to buy not just left-overs, but things that we have really loved in the line and customers have voted on by buying them at regular price, but are now offered at a better price.” Another was the EILEEN FISHER LAB store, a new format offering a combination of regular-price, samples and recycled (gently worn) clothes. This store allows customers a more eclectic mix of product and price points, the recycled goods in particular appealing to socially conscious women.
The idea of launching a separate brand for Nascent women was also circulating. Fisher found that the company’s designers were generating some product ideas that wound up on the cutting floor, “We have all these great products that don’t make it into the line because they don’t fit a wider range of people. We could see the possibility of a younger line. Do we create another brand? Do we open a different kind of retail store? Or, do we just market these items differently?”23 A sub-branding strategy might allow the company to reach younger women without putting off its older customers.
In 1997, the company experimented with splitting the product line into two distinct brands. Fisher had become more sophisticated in her personal tastes and was able to spend more on clothing as she entered middle age. As her design thinking simultaneously matured, she began experimenting with more expensive fabrics and more intricate piecework that drove up the price point of the line. When employees This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
512-085 EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand
worried that the new price points would price some people out of the brand, the idea for a new sub-brand, EILEEN FISHER New York, emerged. The new, more expensive sub-brand was positioned as feminine dressing for powerful women in important careers. The effort, however, was short-lived, as Old explained, “Our retailer partners made choices between the two lines. It was more of an either/or than a both. EILEEN FISHER New York cannibalized sales from the base EILEEN FISHER line.” The splitting of the line was also problematic, as it conflicted with the holistic concept that EILEEN FISHER clothing was part of a wardrobing system and could be mixed and matched across category and price point.
Finally, the company was discussing product line extensions to supplement the core women’s fashion product line with shoes, jewelry, handbags and other accessories. The success the brand had experienced through its scarf collection seemed to reflect an opportunity to develop other products. The team wondered if the company should build these product lines internally, or whether they should license the EILEEN FISHER brand name to companies already having competencies in these categories. For the past several years, EILEEN FISHER had enjoyed a strong licensing relationship with the catalog and online retailer, Garnet Hill, for bed and bath household products. Garnet Hill produced and sold the products, which carried the EILEEN FISHER brand name, and the company received a percentage of the sales in licensing fees. IDEO had suggested that the company consider co-branding with a brand beloved by women in their 20’s as another answer to the question about how to serve the Nascent woman.
As Old pondered the future, Fisher’s words of wisdom echoed in her head, “We know our brand and our values will not resonate with every woman, no matter what stage of life she is in. Our values are our core beliefs, our foundation; they will not be compromised to attract new customers. As a strong, sophisticated, and nuanced brand, we already have within us what it takes to appeal to a wider group of women. Instead of changing who we are, we will highlight different aspects of our values to strengthen our appeal. They are, after all, what makes us uniquely EILEEN FISHER.” This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
Exhibit 1EILEEN FISHER Brand Statement
At the heart of EILEEN FISHER is great design, ideas brought to life through clean lines, simple shapes, and sensual fabrics. Our design strives to balance the timeless with the modern, function with beauty. Ours is an organic system, always evolving, changing, building upon what’s come before. It’s a dialogue between seasonal perspectives and enduring ideals. Our values ground us in the essentials of design – simple, sensual, beautiful, timeless, functional. These values are threaded through every collection we create. They are where we started and where we will always start again. Our culture of design is born of passionate individuals. We inspire creativity, we translate the beauty of the unexpected into artful expression. Abandoning ourselves to the spirit of creative play, we encourage surprise and discovery, courage and vision, instinct and intuition. We instill confidence, we honor our voices, letting each one ring out as valid and valued. By supporting and nurturing each other, we find our individual strengths. We bring the love of self expression to our customers, instilling confidence through the beauty and performance of great design. We encourage connections. We each listen seeking to be surprised by what we don’t know, inspired to reach beyond the shadows we cast. From our nearest whispers to our most distant touches, we demonstrate singular action and collective impact and bear the essence of Eileen Fisher, a woman and a community. Beautifully simple clothing designed to move with real life. EILEEN FISHER.
Brand Statement: Beautifully simple clothing designed to move with real life.
Design Values: Simple. Sensual. Beautiful. Timeless. Functional.
Culture Values: We inspire creativity. We instill confidence. We cultivate connection.
Service Values: Authentic. Inspiring. Collaborative. Intuitive. Inclusive.
Source: Company documents. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
512-085 EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand
Exhibit 2EILEEN FISHER Total Sales Growth (in $ millions)
Source: Company documents.
This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
Exhibit 3 U.S. Personal Consumption Expenditures on Clothing and Shoes
Personal Consumption Expenditures on Women’s and Girls Clothing (in $ billions)
Women’s Clothing Expenditures as a Percentage of Total Personal Consumption Expenditures
Source: Casewriters, compiled from “Trends: An Annual Statistical Analysis of the U.S. Apparel and FootwearIndustries,
American Apparel and Footwear Association, August, 2009, www.apparelandfootwear.org, accessed June, 2011.
This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org
or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
512-085 EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand
Exhibit 4U.S. Apparel and Footwear Retail Sales by Type of Store
Source: Casewriters, compiled from “Trends: An Annual Statistical Analysis of the U.S. Apparel and Footwear Industries, American Apparel and Footwear Association, August, 2009, www.apparelandfootwear.org, accessed June, 2011.
$0$20,000$40,000$60,000$80,000$100,000$120,000$140,000$160,00019921993199419951996199719981999200020012002200320042005200620072008Department StoresWomen’s Apparel StoresDiscount Stores
This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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Exhibit 5EILEEN FISHER Customer Segmentation Research
Established Women
Emerging Women
Nascent Women
Women in their late 50’s and 60’s who are enjoying their earned independence and freedom. They have learned to master their substantial professional obligations, and their children have grown. Their earnings have increased, and these women have more money to spend. Through life experience, these women have gained a confidence and perspective that has led them to better appreciate simplicity and quality.
We are living in the richness of a life well deserved, full of rewarding workweeks and weekend escapes, old friends and new family. We know how to focus on the things that matter most. We’re taking time for early morning walks and mid-afternoon yoga, for Japanese lessons and jaunts to the Spanish coast. We’re swaying on the porch swing, sipping sangria, looking out into the world. We’re done sweating the small stuff. We’re seeing it all in perspective.
The 30’s and 40’s are a busy, thrilling time for many women. As they start to feel increasingly confident and in touch with themselves, family obligations grow and professional responsibilities become greater. Priorities shift to address these challenges. As women learn to balance a multitude of responsibilities and needs beyond their own, convenience and versatility become increasingly important in the things they buy for themselves.
We are packed full with life: growing families, good friends, careers on the rise. There are birthday parties to plan and houseguests to host, laughter and late nights, work and play and work some more. We are collections of short stories, objects edited and organized, crafted and curated, a mixture of the old and the new. We are bookshelves packed with educations and escapes, cabinets stocked with organic foods and global ingredients, files filled with future plans.
Young women in their teens and early 20’s who are immersed in a process of self-discovery. They have the luxury of new independence paired with the burden of self-definition. They are actively exploring many paths, trying on different personalities and wearing different styles that reflect those versions of themselves. They are just beginning to make their way into the world.
We are ready for the world, ready to get out there, to take a risk, to try and to see. We are testing our limits, ruling things out, discovering who we really are. We believe in living for the moment and dressing for it, too. We believe in bringing good to the planet and good to each other. We are writing our life stories in quick phrases, stringing together sentences with little regard for punctuation or pacing, doing things our own way. Some days we end up with awkward aesthetics, some days with stunning poetry.
“I am the intersection of then and now. I seek things that are my equals in comfort and meaning. I value the shared experience.”
“On my best days, I trade in my Blackberry for these gloves and this trowel. And in truly indulgent moments, my whole world is this cup of tea.”
“We looked a long time for this place, and found it when we stopped looking so hard. I can move from the kitchen to the porch to my studio without taking my eyes off the sea. This, my salty existence.”
“Suddenly, I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t need as much stuff. I found a style that works. I know what I want.”
“I live an artful life of my own design and lately, I’ve been thinking: what can I create next?”
“I am eclectic, mixing high and low. I seek things that can play in new arenas, but feel like old pros. I want it all to move with me.”
“This is what I crave: an hour alone with Vanity Fair. A bath without interruption. Coffee that doesn’t come in a paper cup. Simple moments like this.”
“Somewhere my balance beam turned into a tightrope. Little League games on top of piano recitals on top of rehearsals for the play. I make it look effortless. I’m trying not to look down.”
“Me: a body of unrelated instincts, an iPod on shuffle, James Taylor follows Jay-Z follows Blondie…Part of me loves ballads and part of me loves beats. Part of me, the silence in between.
“I am coffee shops and barstools and freelance paychecks. I am shared living rooms and labeled cereal boxes and arguments over dirty dishes, small closets or no closets and the bathroom’s down the hall. I hope for stability but live amidst impulse.”
“This is the skyline as seen from my bike: an outline of everything I want, a metropolis I can’t crack. I carry my life in my bag in case of emergency costume parties, sleepovers, rooftop barbecues. I can meet up at midnight for 1 a.m. wristbands, 2 a.m. turntables, a 24-hour diner.”
“Now, after a decade of effort, a folder of rejections, finally, my name, in smudgy black-and-white. The tiniest of bylines that feels like a neon marquee.” This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
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Established Women
Emerging Women
Nascent Women
Concerns with Clothes
Many think in terms of outfits rather than in terms of mix and match pieces. They are aware of changes in their bodies and are looking for ways to flatter their figures.
Prefers a more traditional/classic aesthetic
“I can be devastatingly gorgeous or absolutely ordinary. I can embellish or I can tell it straight. Yes, it’s expensive, it’s one outfit, but I love it. Sometimes I’m not what you expect at all.”
They are eclectic: they creatively mix high-end and low-end brands, as well as old and new pieces together to achieve distinctive looks. They think in terms of pieces rather than outifts. They are concerned with health and fitness and many keep their figures in shape by working out and eating carefully; many are interested in a more body-conscious fit. They are more aware of and interested in trends, but less inclined to follow trends as closely as Nascent women. Convenience, versatility, and value are increasingly important. They are starting to invest in high-quality “heirloom” items.
“This is a still life of a full life, unpredictably arranged. I’ll buy those shoes now and choose the occasion later. I’ll figure out how it all fits.”
Of the three segments, their style preferences tend to be the most trendy and eclectic. They experiment with mixing used and vintage clothes with low-end and some high-end pieces. They may buy a few high-end pieces; those pieces tend to be accessories or something that they can wear often.
They are looking for the most fitted silhouette of the three groups.
“I am a closet full of things that seemed great at the time. My secret is really, they were.”
Approach to Shopping
Higher expectations of personal service and are more comfortable receiving help or guidance from a sales associate.
Seeks guidance and validation from sales staff.
Head-to-toe or single brand dresser.
Earning power is increasing, but they are saving for something big (home, kid’s college fund) so they are still watching their spending. While they appreciate good service, excessive service can at times make them feel uncomfortable and burdened. They are used to and actually prefer shopping independently.
They look for sales and hunt for bargains. Good service is a low priority; price and style are the biggest concerns. In terms of social responsibility, they are the most savvy shoppers of the three segments, in part due to the sheer amount of Internet research they engage in on a daily basis. They are as impulsive as they are informed.
Perceptions of EILEEN FISHER
“EILEEN FISHER is for people like me. The clothes and fabrics look right for my body.”
They know our products intimately, confide in us, believe in us.They champion our brand to others.
Our creative collaborators, letting us know what’s missing, what’s working, what we could improve.
Brand is great match for them. However, many, including loyal EILEEN FISHER customers, are still craving more structured pieces and a more fitted silhouette. They enjoy EILEEN FISHER accessories that enable them to customize their look without needing to shop outside the store. Many have only a vague awareness of the social and environmental initiatives the brand supports.
“EILEEN FISHER is for people who are older or bigger than me. The clothes look shapeless. I can’t tell how they’ll fit. Loose and boxy clothes don’t fit my body.”
Significant biases against and negative associations with the brand. They comment that the clothes are for their mothers, the clothes are maternity wear, or the clothes are not flattering. Even those who shop at EILEEN FISHER wonder whether they are shopping “older” than they should be.
The system of dressing has less resonance for this group, who thinks more in terms of mixing and matching across brands, curating their own system. The clothes are expensive.
EILEEN FISHER products are just too expensive for most women in this group.
If they have any awareness of the brand at all, they tend to associate it with their mothers or grandmothers.
Source: Company documents. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
Exhibit 6 EILEEN FISHER Old vs. New Retail Store Layout
Source: Company documents.
This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org
or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
512-085 EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand
Exhibit 7 EILEEN FISHER Old vs. New Visual Presentations
Source: Company documents.
This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org
or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.
EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Brand 512-085
1 Beckett, Whitney (2007) “Eileen Fisher: A Pocket of Prosperity,” Women’s Wear Daily, October 17, 2007, p. 9.
2 EILEEN FISHER Fall 2009 Market Book.
3 DiVita, Yvonne (2011) “How to Market to the Baby Boomer Demographic,” American Express Open Forum, March 18, 2011, http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/marketing/article/how-to-market-to-the-baby-boomer-demographic-yvonne-divita, accessed November 16, 2011.
4 Beckett, Whitney (2008) “Founder Power: A Key to Success in Tough Times,” Women’s Wear Daily, 196 (101), p.8.
5 EILEEN FISHER Fall 2009 Market Book.
6 Beckett, Whitney (2008) “Founder Power: A Key to Success in Tough Times,” Women’s Wear Daily, 196 (101), p.8.
7 Beckett, Whitney (2008) “Founder Power: A Key to Success in Tough Times,” Women’s Wear Daily, 196 (101), p.8.
8 “Trends: An Annual Statistical Analysis of the U.S. Apparel & Footwear Industries,” (2009) American Apparel and Footwear Association, Arlington, VA, http://www.apparelandfootwear.org, accessed November 15, 2011.
9 McLaughlin, Patricia (2009) “Does Eileen Fisher’s Clothing Line Really Need a Makeover?” Universal Press Syndicate, November 7, 2009.
10 McLaughlin, Patricia (2009) “Does Eileen Fisher’s Clothing Line Really Need a Makeover?” Universal Press Syndicate, November 7, 2009.
11 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
12 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
13 Heffernan, Margaret (2008) “Not Knowing How to Sew Didn’t Stop Eileen Fisher from Turning $350 into a Clothing Empire,” More, May 2008, pp. 84-88.
14 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
15 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
16 Liu, Christine (2010) “Eileen Fisher Reimagines Her Clothing Line While Thinking Locally and Globally,” The Boston Globe, April 8, 2010.
17 Lau,Vanessa and Axelrod, Nick (2009) “Who Wears the Clothes? Balancing Brand Image and Customer Reality,” Women’s Wear Daily, 198(110), p. 1.
18 Liu, Christine (2010) “Eileen Fisher Reimagines Her Clothing Line While Thinking Locally and Globally,” The Boston Globe, April 8, 2010.
19 Rubin, Sylvia (2010) “Eileen Fisher Sports Younger, Brighter Look,” The San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2010.
20 Gatecrasher (2009) “Rosie O’Donnell Sticks up for Eileen Fisher in Play ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore,” New York Daily News, October 5, 2009.
21 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
22 La Ferla, Ruth (2009) “Eileen Fisher’s Shifting Silhouette,” The New York Times, October 11, 2009, p. ST1.
23 Beckett, Whitney (2008) “High Times for Eileen Fisher,” Women’s Wear Daily, March 28, 2008, p. 2. This document is authorized for use only by Michelle GU (himichellegu@gmail.com). Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Please contact customerservice@harvardbusiness.org or 800-988-0886 for additional copies.

Eileen Fisher’s core customer is herself. She has always designed her clothing according to her own preferences, and as a result, the brand has aged with her. She is growing older as are the customers which her brand currently appeals to. The threat to Eileen’s existence is her own evolution as she ages beyond the main market of women purchasers.This is leading the brand to its own end, and she must build a new strong brand. Eileen Fisher should expand its core brand by targeting the segment of 35-44 year old “emerging” women in order to achieve higher growth. It should spin off a new brand called Emerge.

Why Emerging Women?

  • Emerging women are more similar to established customers than nascent women (ages 21-34).
  • The emerging age group (35-44) is going to sequentially transform into the established customers’ age group (45-64).
  • Nascent women’s negative perceptions are too high to nullify or overturn.
  • Emerging women command stronger buying power than the nascent group.

By employing the multi-branding approach, Eileen Fisher is mitigating the risk of transferring negative associations from the current brand to the new target market segment. Also, this position makes it possible for Eileen Fisher to target a very specific age group that can grow into full-fledged customers of Eileen Fisher in the future. We consider emerging women the “younger, cooler” customers that are up and coming. They can grow into Eileen Fisher’s core brand. Given that there are high negative biases against the Eileen Fisher brand within this group, the company must be nimble and spin off Emerge from the current brand. By spinning off Emerge, the company is mitigating the risk of losing core customers with the new approach.

The quality of the core brand centers on high quality artisanal fabrics with premium yarns that provide durability and comfort. Eileen Fisher uses a traditional design approach incorporating seasonal “passion pieces.” In order for Eileen Fisher to compete in the “younger, cooler” arena, the company will have to adjust its traditional and individualized passion-driven approach to a competitive price-conscious customer preference. Durability and comfort will have to be compromised to some extent for the sake of price and cost.

Emerge is a brand that will maintain the core values of Eileen Fisher while increasing the accessibility of its product for emerging women in an efficient and effective way. This new brand will bridge the gap between emerging and established women. The company will maintain its core design values while being socially-conscious and committed to its employees. However, the company will make the products more accessible by saving busy mothers’ and professionals time by promoting an online marketplace for those who prefer less service. The product must be more form-fitting since emerging women are concerned with a body-conscious fit. They are trendy but not overly trendy and still favor the design values of Eileen Fisher. Emerge’s products will also be versatile and will allow the emerging women to mix and match pieces with other brands as well. This aligns with the company’s overall repositioning strategy.

Eileen Fisher can initially cultivate brand awareness for Emerge by investing in promotion and developing social media presence. Emerging women engage with companies via social media. Such active engagement drives loyalty more than the push marketing in newspaper and TV ads. Eileen Fisher must support its efforts to increase brand awareness and accessibility by building the brand association and image for Emerge. Emerging women must associate the new brand with fashionable women who are on the go and on the rise in their careers. The company will advertise via Facebook and Instagram pages as well as higher-end fashion magazines. These advertisements will show women wearing Emerge pieces while heading into an office setting or with young children. Emerge’s target customers balance family and work, carefully allocate resources for clothing purchases, but yet maintain higher fashion. The new brand’s promotional media will project a brand identity that emerging women can identify with and see themselves as.

Emerge must work towards perceptions of brand quality by consistently delivering strong products. Earning premium brand status requires that the customers perceive significant value above pure functionality. Since emerging women lead busy lives and prefer minimal service, Emerge can offer them added value by incorporating online shopping into its distribution channels. The company must consider and take on new channels when attacking a new market. Younger customers do not demand the same service level. The company needs to include online shopping. While an online format reduces sales consultancy, it adds value by creating accessibility and convenience. To ensure competitive advantage, Eileen Fisher must conduct research on the online offerings of Emerge’s potential competitors. Eileen Fisher must differentiate Emerge and command a premium for its products by filling online offering gaps. The new brand must achieve a perception and understanding of its high quality inputs, and the parent company’s core values make those high quality inputs possible. In order to market to a younger and cooler audience, Eileen Fisher should use a hybrid between current distribution channels and those attractive to the emerging women market.

By delivering on its promises, Emerge will encourage loyalty unaffected by age. As emerging women transition into the established women’s market and attain more affluence, Eileen Fisher can transition them into its traditional product line. Thus, the company will simultaneously maintain the current established women segment and prepare emerging women for the Eileen Fisher brand in the future. As Eileen Fisher champions this repositioning strategy, it will lower and maintain a younger average age for the company so that it does not retire out. In this way, the company will pipeline new customers to the Eileen Fisher brand as they emerge into established women.

In the future, the company can alter the Emerge brand name to “Emerge by Eileen Fisher.” It is important that the company wait to do this because of the negative associations that emerging women currently have with the Eileen Fisher brand. In time, Emerge will establish its own brand equity. Then, Eileen Fisher can attach her name to the Emerge brand so that customers will begin associating her core brand with Emerge. That way, when emerging women grow older, they will more likely transition to the Eileen Fisher brand. In order for this to be possible, Eileen Fisher must make sure that Emerge and Eileen Fisher have congruent features and concepts. The company’s ability to meet the needs of a new marketplace will help Emerge “back-transfer” positive associations to Eileen Fisher. If consumer associations with the new brand back-transfer to the brand image of the core brand, the back-transfer would be positive to the firm’s brand equity.


Repositioning the brand poses several risks to Eileen Fisher. The company must acknowledge those risks and mitigate them. An analysis follows.

Risk: Success has been based on Eileen Fisher's personal intuition and she does not know the market or style of the younger segments (Nascent and Emerging). There is a risk that core competencies and understanding are lacking in management’s ability to grow the brand.

Mitigation: The company has conducted extensive market research with IDEO. In order to keep the brand current, Eileen Fisher must continue to commission such research. Thanks to IDEO’s research, Eileen Fisher understands the differences between the two possible segments. Emerging women bear more similarities to established women in their taste and therefore pose less of a risk to Eileen Fisher. In order for the brand to have a future beyond Eileen Fisher’s lifespan, the company must take on the risk of repositioning itself in the emerging women segment.

Risk: By targeting the emerging women segment, Eileen Fisher risks alienating the very profitable established women segment who purchase their entire wardrobe through the brand.

Mitigation: Eileen Fisher will employ multi-branding strategy to spin off the brand with a different name. In this way, it will avoid alienating its core segment.

Risk: The emerging women segment is less profitable. These younger buyers are more focused on price, they look for sales, and they bargain hunt. Eileen Fisher’s social consciousness in supply chain distribution and manufacturing means that the company must charge a premium in order to maintain current margins. The company follows the SA8000 Standards governing child labor, discrimination, working hours, remuneration, and health and safety.

Mitigation: Eileen Fisher must ensure that its new spinoff brand adds value in order to command a premium price in the emerging women segment. For example, the company can extend its distribution channels to include online shopping so that emerging women receive the convenience which they crave in their busy lives. This will simultaneously prove more cost effective for the company, which will help reverse any decrease in margins. Importantly, younger customers strongly relate to Eileen Fisher’s social values and may likely make purchase decisions based on them.

Risk: Repositioning the brand could cause brand confusion. Negative associations with the core brand could carry over to the new brand. Consumer surveys revealed opinions that wearing Eileen Fisher was essentially giving up on fashion. Consumers perceive the clothing to be for older and heavier people. Women in their 30’s and 40’s are no longer attracted to the brand and see it as something their mothers wear. Some had difficulty embracing the brand because of negative reviews of its style in news publications. Emerging women associate Eileen Fisher with high prices—something particularly undesirable in a more price-conscientious segment. Emerging women’s current perception of Eileen Fisher is the brand’s biggest obstacle to growth.

Mitigation: Spinning off the brand under a different name will prevent any brand confusion for the core brand. Additionally, it will eliminate the risk of transferring negative associations to the new brand.

Risk: Eileen Fisher could fail at repositioning its brand. There are multiple examples of brands that have failed at expansion. For example, Ellen Tracy repositioned itself as a sportswear brand, moving away from its bridge status. Similarly, Dana Buchman tried to move to a lower price segment. They both experienced difficulties when they later attempted to recapture lost customers.

Consideration: Eileen Fisher’s customer base is aging with the brand’s founder, and eventually her generation will stop buying clothes. If Eileen Fisher does not take action to reposition the brand, the company will fail regardless.

Risk: Eileen Fisher underserves nascent women, and if the company continues to ignore them, this group will not grow with the brand. Nascent women may not aspire to wear Eileen Fisher as they get older and more affluent.

Consideration: Marketing the current Eileen Fisher brand to the nascent market is highly incongruent. Many of Eileen Fisher’s values and strengths are misaligned with nascent shoppers. Even after spinning off the brand under a different name, nascent women will remain undesirable customers due to the cost of developing the core competencies necessary to serve them. Their extreme price-conscientiousness will not help counteract the cost of the drastic changes required to capture their market share.


There are many potential benefits to pursuing this brand repositioning and expanding the Eileen Fisher brand through the Emerge fashion line. This expansion into a younger target market will ensure that the Eileen Fisher brand does not die with Eileen. In using a multi-branding strategy that spins off a separate brand, the company can still supply the same level of quality as the established core brand. This will benefit the company by attracting and encouraging loyalty among the emerging women market segment. The company can later redirect this loyalty into the Eileen Fisher brand, increasing the length of customer relationships.

IDEO’s consumer research revealed that both emerging and established women are seeking an edgier look. This indicates demand for the new brand, which will increase the company’s bottom line. While many retailers may compete in the emerging women segment, Eileen Fisher has the advantage of over 25 years of experience. One should note that for many years of that experience, Eileen Fisher was competing in that same segment since the company has moved through the different segments as its customers have aged. The company’s experience and core competencies will aid in its success in the emerging women segment, benefitting profitability.

IDEO’s consumer research has helped uncover this clear positioning opportunity. It is an opportunity beneficial to the company’s growth goals. During the company’s growth, it will consider new distribution channels. Like Eileen Fisher’s style, the company’s distribution channels have not been keeping up with changes in the market. Eileen Fisher can utilize alternative retail formats including online presence to market to the younger segment. By introducing the new distribution channel of online shopping, the company will benefit from a vast enlargement of its potential customer base.

Re-positioning the brand through multi-branding will give the company an indirect opportunity to improve its core brand equity. Once the company successfully promotes positive brand associations for Emerge, it will add “by Eileen Fisher” to the Emerge brand name. As consumers see Eileen Fisher’s name on products that they know and like, they will begin to positively associate her name with features more in line with their values. Thus, Emerge’s brand equity will eventually back-transfer to the core brand and benefit the company overall. As the company is developing new core competencies, it should take advantage of the opportunities that social media provides. The company can utilize social media to raise awareness about Emerge and further repair Eileen Fisher’s core brand, yielding even more benefits.

Since Eileen embodies the target customer, she has been very successful in creating inspired designs by listening to her intuition. However, the company has realized that the founder’s intuition is unsustainable. The average customer age is increasing and Eileen Fisher is losing touch with modern fashion trends that appeal to nascent and emerging women. This brand expansion increases the target market size and provides the company with the ability to obtain lifelong customers who can dress themselves in Eileen Fisher clothing throughout all stages of their lives.

Eileen Fisher has the benefit of positive associations coming from distribution channel owners such as the CEO of Bloomingdales, a B2B customer. He mentions her heart and soul, values, strong intuition and views her as a visionary. The retail employees provide a direct example of Eileen Fisher’s values and beliefs by acting as disciples to her brand. They share an age and lifestyle with the core customer. This provides social proof to customers that enter the store. Currently, Eileen Fisher designers throw away good designs which do not suit the established women market segment. This brand expansion gives them the opportunity to put many of these good designs to use by marketing them to the younger customers.

Eileen Fisher’s current aging market (ages 45 to 64) represents 25% of the $200 billion women’s apparel market. There is potential demand within both the 35-44 and 21-34 age groups that accounts for 12% and 16% of the apparel market. The emerging women market (ages 35- 44) accounts for over $56 billion in market share revenue. Targeting the emerging market of women would allow Fisher to position its brand in a manner more consistent with its current target market.


The Eileen Fisher brand stands out as simple, stylish clothing meant for real working women. Eileen Fisher took an unconventional path to brand building by engaging itself with real women. Meanwhile, its contemporaries took to models and big brand fashion shows. Eileen Fisher appealed to baby boomers and found a loyal base. Its customers went for comfort and clothing. With the average lifespan of women stated to be 79.5 years, Eileen Fisher is running out of time to find a new customer base. To maintain current core business, Eileen Fisher will adapt her current designs to maintain the baby boomer crowd. To gain ground in the emerging market, Eileen Fisher can leverage current distribution channels and department store connections to get her product seen by consumers. However, she must also incorporate marketing techniques and strategies used by competitors in the emerging women market in order to have a realistic chance of increasing consumer market share. Eileen Fisher must anticipate some brand enthusiasts’ pushback against brand expansion. As a defense, there should be a completely new spinoff brand, Emerge, with a different image and identity from Eileen Fisher. The core values are the same, but the product, price, promotion and placement are different.

  • суббота 04 апреля
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