Tory Burch, Executive Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Tory Burch inspires millions of women around the globe.
But it’s not just her fashion designs that are impressive. her drive, ambition and desire to help others have led her to where she is today – at the helm of her own global fashion brand and the guiding force to many aspiring female entrepreneurs in The United States thanks to the Tory Burch Foundation.
Born in Pennsylvania Tory Burch lived a relatively humble American lifestyle before moving to New York to pursue a career in fashion. She decided to start her own brand in 2004. The Tory Burch fashion brand encourages women to embrace colour and live life to the fullest with character, beauty and confidence. Launched in 2004 with just one small boutique in Manhattan, Tory Burch has grown into a global business with more than 250 boutiques worldwide and a presence in over 3,000 department stores. The online business is a big part of the company and Tory Burch has just launched a new e-commerce site in the Middle East – allowing the brand to localize its content and appeal to the Arab customer.
Burch has become one of the most recognized female names in fashion leading her to be named the 73rd Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes in 2015. Thanks to a huge following of women including many celebrities, Burch has been able to grow her brand at a rapid speed over the last 16 years. But it’s not just her colourful designs that make her so inspiring. In 2009 Burch established the Tory Burch Foundation. The Foundation supports female entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground by providing them with access to capital, education and digital resources. This is something that’s very close to Burch’s heart. Here we discuss with Burch building her brand and how her home country has inspired her to achieve her dreams.
How would you define the Tory Burch brand today and how has it evolved?
We have always been an American lifestyle brand that inspires people and empowers women around the world to live in full colour with character, beauty and confidence. Our collection balances classic style with a modern point of view and each new season is a chance to explore while staying true to who we are. We have also expanded into new markets—we now have more than 300 stores globally—and into new categories with fragrance, home and watches.
In your own words who is the Tory Burch woman?
It’s not one woman. I am inspired by women globally.
How do you think the values and culture of the United States are reflected through Tory Burch?
The United States is known for the diversity of its people, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit—values that we certainly embrace as a company. Our collections are rooted in the American sportswear tradition with a focus on ease and effortless style.
How important is it to Tory Burch to localise its collections?
As a global brand, we have to think about customers in very different markets with different needs. For example, it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere when it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. We also understand that women in the Middle East want to be more covered up while the opposite is true for women in Brazil.
We know you were recently in the Middle East – what can you say about the market and how would you describe the style of Arab women in your words?
I was fortunate to travel to the region twice last year and met so many extraordinary women, all of them smart and entrepreneurial. It is an important market for us—Middle Eastern women are incredibly chic. I am in awe of their elegance and sophistication.
What do you think Arab women are looking for from a brand such as Tory Burch?
Colour, craftsmanship and quality materials.
You have recently launched your e-commerce site in the Middle East – what can you tell us about that and why did you think it was important to launch it at this time?
We are thrilled to be launching e-commerce in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We have been planning this for a while and with the pandemic, the timing has turned out to be fortuitous. Our customers in the region can now shop our collection from home.
Where do online sales fit into the strategy of Tory Burch and moving forward is this something you plan to explore further?
Digital has always been integral to our business—we launched with a boutique and e-commerce in 2004, which was unusual at the time. We have nine dedicated e-commerce sites globally and will continue to build out this important channel.
The COVID-19 situation has had a dramatic impact on the globe and has been a big learning curve for many – what is a lesson you will take from this situation and will you be changing any of the strategies of the brand moving forward?
This has certainly been a time of reflection and reinvention and looking at everything through a new lens. It is interesting because many of the ideas we were already exploring are being accelerated. The concept of “less is more”—less of everything and everything with even more substance—feels particularly relevant right now. I keep coming back to the classics—investment pieces that people can have and wear for a long time.
You have shown great support to society throughout the situation and we saw the face masks you have created – what can you tell us about this initiative?
We recognized early into the pandemic the need for face masks and our partners in Italy and Vietnam very generously donated their time and material—our swimsuit fabric in our signature prints—so we could offer a package of five at cost. They sold out online in a matter of days and we are working to replenish our supply. We also donated $5 million worth of product to health care workers as well as fabric to be made into face masks and hospital gowns.
What is the motto you are living by during this time?
This is a moment to embrace change and move forward with humility, purpose and optimism.
We want to talk about the Fall/Winter 2020 collection – what can you tell us?
For Fall/Winter 2020, we were inspired by Francesca DiMattio’s sculptures. Her work imbues the decorative with strength and power. The collection reinterprets classic and nostalgic themes: menswear suiting cut with a softer shape, structural details played against fluid silhouettes, historic references reworked with modern ideas. It is refined and light-hearted, especially the prints which were designed by DiMattio, based on our shared appreciation of the history of Turkish, English and French porcelain, but here the colours and patterns are bolder and more exaggerated.
What about accessories are there any key pieces we should look out for?
Our Lee Radziwill handbags and our Ines slides—modern classics.
Can you share with us a little bit about your creative process?
Finding inspiration is the easy part. It can come from just about anywhere—art, music, an old picture of my parents. The difficult part is synthesising all these different sources of inspiration and turning them into a focused, cohesive collection. If I feel stuck, I put on a great playlist. I find music very energising. It gets my creativity flowing.
What can you tell us about sustainability at Tory Burch?
Sustainability is something we take seriously. We want the changes we make to be thoughtful, impactful and for the long term.
As a woman in a world that is often dominated by men what are some of the struggles you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I got my fair share of patronising pats on the back when I was first starting out. I remember when I was meeting with potential investors—all of whom were men, by the way—I presented my business model, which had our Foundation built into it. Purpose-led business was unheard of then, and it was dismissed as “charity work.” They only made me more determined.
Not only do you have your own brand it also plays host to your name – what kinds of pressures do you face knowing that your name is so widely recognised all around the world?
It is a humbling experience. I am a very private person so it has definitely been an adjustment. My priority is shielding my family.
What can you tell us about your foundation and how you support women hoping to achieve their dreams?
I started a company so I could start a Foundation for women. Social responsibility was built into the business plan. The Tory Burch Foundation, which launched in 2009, advances women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the United States by providing access to capital, education and digital resources. Our Capital Program, powered by Bank of America, has distributed over 57 million dollars in loans to more than 3,500 women entrepreneurs; and each month, the Foundation provides online tools and digital education to more than 300,000 women and more than 10,000 women have created their business plans on the digital destination ToryBurchFoundation.org.
What is your first memory of fashion?
Sitting on the floor of my mother’s closet, watching her get ready to go out. I remember once when I was five or six, she threw on a gold lame top and a skirt by Zoran. So glamourous. My mother taught me what it meant to have personal style. She bought me my first designer piece—a vintage YSL dress for my prom.
Where is a place you love to travel to?
During quarantine, I have been looking at books and photo albums from past trips and travelling in my mind to Paris, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi… The list goes on and on. I had been planning a trip to the Middle East before the pandemic and I am counting the days until I can get on a plane again.