By Alix Langone
October 12, 2018

If it weren’t for Doris Fisher, The Gap may never have existed.

The iconic American brand, famous for its khakis and denim jeans, was founded by Fisher and her husband, Don, in 1969 when he couldn’t find a pair of pants that fit him quite right. While Don would go on to run the company as CEO, it was Doris who came up with the name. (Don wanted to call it “Pants and Discs.”)

Fashion trends come and go, but Fisher’s fortune has remained steady despite The Gap’s struggling sales. The 87-year-old is America’s oldest-self made female billionaire recently ranked #302 on this year’s Forbes 400 list of American billionaires. With a net worth of $2.7 billion, Fisher has used her money to create one of the most valuable collections of modern art, fund education, and support political causes in her home state of California.

Here’s what we know about America’s oldest self-made female billionaire and her money.

She Co-founded One of America’s Most Iconic Brands

Mandatory Credit: Photo by TOM RIGGS/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6574818a) People walk past a Gap store on Market Street in San Francisco, Calif SAN FRANCISCO APPAREL STORE, SAN FRANCISCO, USA
TOM RIGGS/AP/REX/Shutterstock—TOM RIGGS/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Fisher was born Doris Feigenbaum in 1931 to a Jewish family. She went on to become one of the first women to graduate from Stanford with a degree in economics in 1953, the same year she married Don, a long-time family friend.

Before becoming a real-estate developer and entrepreneur, Don worked at his family’s cabinet-making business. It wasn’t until over a decade later that the two decided to enter the retail industry.

Using $63,000 of their own money – Doris and Don each contributed $21,000 and took the rest from their three sons’ bank accounts – they opened the first Gap store in San Francisco, where Fisher still lives. The store only sold jeans and records at the start, or “pants and discs.” Business boomed from there and the entrepreneurial couple took the company public in 1973.

Doris served as the company’s merchandiser for more than three decades and was responsible for the Gap’s signature style. When the two started The Gap, they only sold Levi’s brand jeans, another San Francisco company. Later on, the Fishers decided to create their own Gap-label jeans, making it the first retail chain to use its store name as the brand name, the company says.

During the 1980s and ’90s, the Gap reached new heights with 3,100 stores worldwide and more than 134,000 employees, according to the company’s biography of Don Fisher. Even though traditional retailers have struggled in recent years to compete with online-only stores like Amazon, the company is still profitable thanks to the acquisitions of mall staples like Banana Republic and Old Navy and newer brands like Piperlime, Athleta, and Intermix.

Fisher retired from her full-time position on the company’s board in 2009, but has an honorary lifetime seat. Two of her sons, Robert and William, still sit on the board today. Don served as chairman of the board until 2004, before passing away from cancer at 81 years old.

The success of the Gap made the Fishers one of San Francisco’s wealthiest families. Despite the decline of retail and the Gap itself — its share of the American apparel market dropped to 4.4% in 2015, down from 5.4% ten years earlier — Doris and her three sons, Robert, William and John, still own 44% of the company, worth $4.7 billion.

“One of the Most Important Private Collections of Art in the World”

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon is presented a book by Doris Fisher, the wife of Gap founder Donald Fisher, at their art collection at the Gap headquarters in San Francisco, California October 25, 2011.
Robert Galbraith—Reuters

After the Gap went public, Doris and Don started collecting art in earnest, curating one of the most expansive and prolific art collections of the 20th and 21st centuries over the course of four decades.

“Don and I only got interested in art when we decided to decorate the Gap’s offices,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “The first things we bought were prints. It fit our budget, and you could get good Roy Lichtenstein prints for about $600 each at the time.”

Just before Don died, the Fishers donated their $1 billion art collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, putting the museum on the art world map. The complete Fisher collection consists of more than 1,100 pieces of art by some of the most famous artists in the world like Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Richard Serra, the Wall Street Journal reported. One of Fisher’s favorite artists is Agnes Martin, an abstract painter whose work Fisher discovered in the late ’90s at the opening of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M.

She’s Donated Millions to Charter Schools and Political Causes

Fisher has donated an enormous amount of money to the charter school movement, becoming one of the biggest financial supporters of charter schools in the country. She helped found KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), the “largest network of charter schools in the country,” with 224 schools in 20 states, according to Capital & Main, a nonprofit publication based in California. Fisher sits on KIPP’s board and one of her son’s, John, is the chairman.

Fisher is one of California’s biggest single political donors, according to the L.A. Times, giving money to both the Republican and Democratic parties – especially candidates who support charter schools. During the 2016 election, she contributed more than $3.3 million to charter school advocacy groups and the political candidates who support them, Capital & Main reported. The publication also reported that the Fisher family funneled millions to a “dark money group” to advance to the cause of charter schools.

Fisher did not return a request for comment from MONEY.

The self-made billionaire has also donated to a multitude of other causes including the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Cancer Institute, Congregation Emanu-El and the Boys and Girls Club of America, according to global wealth insights firm Wealth-X.


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