Tory Burch: The ladieswear designer who cares about women

Tory Burch went from socialite to billionaire designer, and now channels her energy into supporting female entrepreneurs

  • Billionaire fashion designer Tory Burch
    Billionaire fashion designer Tory Burch. Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Billionaire fashion designer Tory Burch
    This May 2012 file photo shows Tory Burch, Liya Kebede, Brooklyn Decker, Rashida Jones Costume Institute Gala Image Credit: Gulf News Archives
Tabloid

If you’re looking for an inspiring new year’s role model, Tory Burch isn’t a bad place to start. The former fashion PR last Monday took a step closer to joining Forbes’ 2013 world billionaires list when it is released in March, the result of settling a court case with her ex-husband and former business partner Chris Burch.

If Forbes’ estimates are correct -- the settlement now values the fashion company she started from her kitchen in 2004 at at least $3.5 billion -- Burch is the second youngest female on the list, behind Spanx inventor Sara Blakely, and one of the few that made their fortune themselves rather than inheriting it.

“ The Tory Burch woman in three words: “Busy. Sophisticated. Stylish.”” Tweet this

“There was a lot of skepticism when I decided to start the company,” Burch told tabloid! recently. The fashion magnate was on a trip to Dubai to showcase her label’s resort collection, with a VIP event at the Al Qasr hotel, and to celebrate the opening of her standalone boutique in Dubai Mall (she is also stocked in Bloomingdale’s). “I wasn’t a designer and didn’t have a retail background but I’ve learned on the job.”

While Burch was rising to popularity with her signature Reva flat, she kept in mind the advice she had received, and decided to pass it on, establishing Tory Burch Foundation, to support women entrepreneurs with loans and mentoring, in 2009.

“People also questioned the wisdom of creating a business with a foundation and social responsibility in mind. My parents gave me great advice, which was to think of negativity as noise, and believe in yourself. I took that advice to heart.”

The Tory Burch Foundation supports women entrepreneurs. What drove you to create this foundation and who have you helped?

When we created the Tory Burch company, we knew that if it were successful, we would create a non-profit organization to benefit women and their families. I believe that by supporting women, we build strong communities.

Natasha Wozniak of Natasha Wozniak Jewelry Design and Liz Long of Bag the Habit, an ecofriendly bag company, are two entrepreneurs who have received loans and been part of our mentoring events. They’ve been able to expand their companies as a result their involvement with the Foundation.

What challenges do women entrepreneurs face that distinguish them from men? And what are the advantages that women entrepreneurs have?

As for challenges, research suggests that women entrepreneurs are more likely to be denied a loan for which they qualify. There is also evidence that women are less likely to have mentors in executive positions than men—and the chances of starting a successful new business are much higher when there’s access to good advice as well as financial support. Finally, women often are juggling home and work, which can be difficult.

On the other hand, studies have shown that women are very effective, positive leaders. They tend to seek advice and are good at multitasking. They take initiative, work hard and share credit with their teams, all of which are essential to being a successful entrepreneur. 

Are people born entrepreneurs or can it be learned?

There are people who absolutely know from a very young age that they want to create their own businesses and work for themselves. I believe, however, that you absolutely can learn to be an entrepreneur.

The Foundation recently launched a pilot education programme in conjunction with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses that will teach women entrepreneurs how to manage and develop their companies. 

Describe your designs. Classic sportswear and accessories with an eclectic, bohemian twist.

Is Tory Burch for any occasion? As a lifestyle brand, we have always offered clothes and accessories for every part of a woman’s life, but only a small selection for evening. We are now expanding our offerings in that area because we find our customer has responded to the special pieces we have done. 

Why do you think your designs have been so successful?

Women respond to pieces that are well-made, unique and timeless that don’t cost a fortune. We also want women to feel happy and confident when they put on any of our pieces; I think they sense that. 

You feature bright prints and kaftan shapes in your collections time and time again. Have you spent any time in India or did this concept come to you from elsewhere?

When I was growing up my mother wore effortlessly chic tunics and caftans she picked up travelling; those colourful pieces have been an influence on our collection. I did, however, visit India two years ago and it was a goldmine of inspiration! We met amazing craftsmen and artisans; the colours were so saturated and beautiful. I can’t wait to return. 

What are the must-have items from your resort collection, and how can we style them for our warm climate here in Dubai?

We had a mix of opulent fabrics with casual silhouettes. I love a brocade skirt or clam diggers [cropped trousers] paired with a military jacket or a striped knit top. Our easy day dresses are great as well. All of these pieces are perfect for Dubai because they’re refined yet casual and are made from light fabrics. 

You recently showed your collection at New York Fashion Week, which you began doing in 2011. How’s the experience for you?

We have had presentations over the years in many different spaces but were ready to take it to the next level, which was a runway show. Lincoln Center is such an iconic place in New York City; it’s an incredible privilege to be part of Fashion Week there. 

I loved the recent post on your blog about muses, highlighting your mother. How has she inspired you?

She has effortless style. She’s an optimist. She taught me to always be open to new ideas, which I think about everyday as an entrepreneur. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Both of my parents have given me great advice over the years. My father, Buddy, used to say that being a gentleman isn’t a part-time job. By that he meant that showing kindness and respect toward others should be a constant. I remind my sons of it often; it’s also part of the corporate values at our company. 

In your blog you refer to other designers (such as a recent post about a Rachel Roy collaboration). This is really refreshing to read. Which designers do you admire and wear?

Dries Van Noten, Proenza Schouler, Celine and Balenciaga.