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FAIR TRADE

SUPPORTING A COMMUNITY: THE FAIR TRADE SWEATER

by Claire Whitcomb


Our alternative supply chain in Arequipa, Peru, is designed with a focus on family and quality of life.


Here’s what it’s like to visit the workshops where our organic cotton and alpaca sweaters are knit: "You're greeted at the door with a tray of Inca Kola, the neon-yellow local soda," says Julie Rubiner, our Design Director. "Then comes the tour." 

Industrial knitting machines might fill a converted garage or an added-on room in a house. “Brothers, cousins, aunts and neighbors work together taking shifts and watching each other's children," says Julie. “Work is integrated with a focus on family and quality of life.” 

This alternative supply chain, which EILEEN FISHER has been part of since 2005, is a fair trade model conceived by Jessica Rodriguez of Art Atlas. "First we give the knitters training," she says. "Then, we give them a knitting machine. And then, we give them constant work. If we cannot give them work, we are no help." 

Typically a community workshop employs four to sixteen people, though the number might be as high as thirty-five during peak production times. If there are lean times, Art Atlas juggles projects, trying to make sure that the entire supply chain has steady work. 

Knitters are encouraged to be entrepreneurial. If they want to purchase additional knitting machines, no-interest loans are available. If they want to improve their skills, training—including a diploma in technical knitting—is provided.


Back in 2005, the level of knitting skill was a concern for EILEEN FISHER. "We decided that if we wanted a true partnership, we had to roll up our sleeves and invest in the relationship," says Julie. She and her team started going to Peru when samples were produced so they could point out the myriad small details that make up an EILEEN FISHER sweater. At one point, Julie discovered that EILEEN FISHER had a different way of measuring a raglan sleeve: "We adjusted our specs to their system—it was an 'aha!' moment."