Last year, Shelly Fisher received devastating news: she was going to have to undergo treatment for cancer…again. She’d gone into remission seven years earlier, and wasn’t sure how she was going to muster the strength to rally for the second time. As she was was contemplating her future, Fisher found herself saying one thing to herself, over and over again.

Shelly, you can do it. You’re one tough bitch, and you can pull it together. 

Though she’s not usually enamored by phrases that could be considered offensive, Fisher told Billy Penn, she fell hard for “one tough bitch.”

“It’s the type of phrase that wakes up and offends your inner self,” she said. “It is a triggering statement that tells yourself and the rest of the world that you’re going to be just fine — and that you’re going to do this.”

As she prepared for another round of treatment, Fisher felt compelled to make a necklace with those three words. She wore it backwards around her throat, so that nobody but her could see what it said. But as other women began finding out about the mantra, the phrase took on a life of their own.

Credit: Courtesy of One Tough Bitch

Fisher started making necklaces for friends who requested them. On Mother’s Day of this year, she was interviewed by Modern Hero (an online show that happens to be run by her daughter), and Fisher mentioned how empowering the little trinket had become for her. It struck a chord, and her phone blew up with order requests.

In September, she formally incorporated One Tough Bitch as a retail company and online sisterhood. The company — which Fisher and marketing director Kristen Chase refer to as a “movement” — is based out of Conshohocken.

“One Tough Bitch isn’t just for women who are going through cancer,” Chase said. “It is for a woman whose child isn’t well, or a woman who has just gone through a divorce, or a woman who is taking care of an ailing parent, or a woman who escaped an abusive relationship.”

Credit: Courtesy of One Tough Bitch

Everything for the business came together in a matter of months, including securing local retailers, designing the jewelry, clothing and accessories, and starting a corresponding Facebook group. The hardest part: thinking up the perfect logo. Fisher needed something that came across as “one tough bitch,” but didn’t rely on stereotypes.

“When people think of a bitch, they think of a woman storming through a door or a middle finger or whatever,” Fisher said. “I wanted [the logo] to emanate inner power.”

The logo she settled on — a large triangle with a circle on top — symbolizes three things, according to OTB’s website:

  1. These “bitches” are impossible to break. Just like a triangle’s structure alleviates the pressure of any weight through even distribution.
  2. All they need is each other. Just like a triangle, whose shape is solid and stable, all on its own.
  3. They can rise above. Just like a triangle with its upward facing point.
Credit: Courtesy of One Tough Bitch

After designing several more products, such as jean jackets, bracelets, totes and patches, Fisher found that her audience wanted more than to wear a message — they wanted to live that message.

In mid-August, Fisher and Chase started a closed Facebook group called the “The OTB Sisterhood.” In just two months, the group has garnered 547 members.

Most of the people in the group are women in their 40s or older. OTB didn’t target that demographic, Chase and Fisher said, but they do have guesses as to why it’s what their “movement” attracts.

“These women…are largely neglected by other organizations and companies,” Chase said. “And many women are re-inventing themselves in this period.”

To take the OTB message beyond journals and necklaces, the company’s website gives visitors an option to nominate a tough bitch in their lives. Once a week, a new woman’s story of resilience is featured. As it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October will be dedicated to honoring nominees who are breast cancer survivors.

Credit: Courtesy of One Tough Bitch

What’s next for One Tough Bitch? For now, you can purchase OTB products online or at Lotus Apparel & Home in Doylestown and Sulimay’s in Fairmount and Manayunk — and of course, you can join the online sisterhood, free of charge. Chase is hoping to partner with more retailers — and ideally, would like them all to be women-owned establishments.

Per Fisher, the company is still “a newborn,” but that doesn’t mean she isn’t already looking forward and outward to expand the empowerment’s reach: “We’re thinking about conferences, educational workshops, maybe even a Tough Mudder race.”

First up: An online charity auction set for Nov. 14, with all proceeds from the sales of jackets decorated and designed by 20 nationally-recognized female artists going toward Give Her Camp.