Tory Burch is the CEO and designer of her namesake luxury lifestyle brand, defined by its eclectic sensibility and attainable price point. Tory designed her first boutique in New York to feel more like a woman in her own room than a traditional retail store. If she can help a busy woman get dressed quickly and with confidence in the morning, then her goals have been met. Tory is greatly influenced by the personal style of her parents Buddy and Reva, and is inspired by her love of art, music, culture and travel. In 2009, Tory launched the Tory Burch Foundation to support the economic empowerment of women and families through grants and microfinancing. Of her Foundation, she says that to affect change in women’s lives is incredibly gratifying.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: After graduating college I worked in public relations in the fashion industry. At one point I had been interested in re-launching a label called Jax that my mother had worn and that I loved. When that didn’t happen, I started working on a concept based on the realization that while I loved fashion, the cost of wearing designer labels on an everyday basis was prohibitive. There were pieces I wanted in my wardrobe but couldn’t find: Classics like a trench or cigarette pants that felt special and luxurious but didn’t cost a fortune. From the beginning it was a retail concept. Our first shop opened in February 2004. We knew we were onto something when we sold out of nearly all of our inventory that first day. Today we have 73 Tory Burch stores worldwide, an e-commerce site, toryburch.com, and we sell to more than 1,000 retailers globally. And most importantly, we launched the Tory Burch Foundation to support the economic empowerment of women and their families in 2009. It’s been quite an adventure!
ON Career Transitions
Q: I don’t feel like this topic is talked about enough in business news. Professionals get laid off, fired, resign or change careers all the time–which can obviously be a difficult transition at first. What was the hardest career transition in your life and how did you grow from it?
A: It was hard when I stopped work completely to be a full-time mom. Basically, I couldn’t keep up the pace of my career with three young children. It was during that time that I came up with the concept for the company. As much as I love being an entrepreneur now, it’s a different kind of challenge. I’ve realized that the only constant in life is change. I’ve had to learn how to be flexible enough to deal with that.
Q: What do you believe makes a great brand?
A: One that has a unique point of view and provides an answer.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: Regardless of whether your first jobs are the right ones for you, be cognizant enough to take something away from each experience. It will help you find your passion.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: There was a lot of skepticism when I decided to start the company; I wasn’t a designer and didn’t have a retail background. 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.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: A challenge I face every day is getting over the loss of my father. His sensibilities and his value system—empathy, kindness, compassion—are integrated into the DNA of the brand. It’s reassuring to me that his legacy is so much a part of the company.
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: It was definitely a risk to launch this company as a lifestyle brand and a retail concept. We developed it in that way so consumers could experience the full breadth of merchandise in the setting we envisioned. That wouldn’t have been possible if we’d started out in a department store. Ultimately it’s a concept that set us apart from other fashion companies.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure”. What do you know for sure?
A: You have to be happy and passionate about what you do. Life moves too fast to spend your time otherwise.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: You have to set priorities. My children are the most important thing in my life.