AIB Featured Business Leader – Tory Burch
Tory Burch is a name that connotes poise, style and success. And when your brand is your name, you make sure you live up to its image. Tory Burch, the brand, is a clothing and accessories range, described as preppy-bohemian-luxe and sitting at the upper end of the mainstream fashion market. Tory Burch the person isn’t dissimilar. As one would expect from a fashion label named after its creator, Tory Burch herself is very much the embodiment of her aspirational market. Standing 5’4” and maintaining a rigorously slim figure, Burch wears her own label under expensively groomed hair and immaculate makeup. The attention to detail and eye for design that she learned from her parents translates to her own look as well as every carefully-coiffed braid in her runway shows.
Burch’s early life was spent rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Her father was Ira Robinson, a wealthy investor who dated Grace Kelly and Joan Bennett before marrying her glamorous mother, former actress Reva Schapira. Burch remembers her parents as having “effortless style and attention to detail” in an interview with Harpers’ Bazaar. She grew up in a Georgian mansion in Pennsylvania and attended the exclusive Agnes Irwin School in Rosemount. There, she played tennis, rode horses and formed friendships that in some cases were to last her a lifetime.
Amongst her childhood friends was Kara Ross, now a well-regarded jewellery designer, with whom she remains friends to date. After high school, Burch went on to the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in art history. She moved to New York, where she worked first for a fashion designer and then for Harpers’ Bazaar as a fashion writer, going on to do public relations and marketing for a number of big names from Ralph Lauren to Vera Wang. She married in 1996, and had twin sons shortly after.
In 2000, pregnant with her third son, she stepped away from her work to spend time with her young family. In between maternal duties, she started to consider what came next. Realising that she no longer wanted to write about fashion, but sell it, she concentrated on launching her own line – helped along by a $2M investment from her then-husband, Chris Burch, in return for joint ownership. It took her three and a half years from concept to launch, but when she was ready, she held nothing back. Flouting the conventions of the ‘soft launch’ favoured by most designers, who build up a client base and a reputation before branching into a bricks-and-mortar store, she went straight to the latter. Her flagship boutique opened in New York City’s fashion mecca NoLita in 2004, and was an instant smash hit. Most of the inventory sold out on the first day.
In April 2005, Oprah promoted Burch’s line as her Next Big Thing, helping accelerate her already meteoritic rise. Burch’s brand new website received a staggering eight million hits the next week, and her fortunes have only prospered since. At the same time, she had three boys under 5 as well as three teenage stepdaughters from Chris Burch’s first marriage. “It was a commotion”, she says of the time, but with characteristic energy she powered through.
In 2006, Burch introduced the ‘Reva’ ballet flat, named for her mother and becoming instantly iconic. In 2008 she was named Accessory Designer of the Year, beating Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs. By 2009, she had launched the Tory Burch Foundation, a nonprofit supporting the economic empowerment of women. Now a partnership with the Bank of America, the foundation has launched Elizabeth Street Capital, which loans money to early-stage female entrepreneurs to help them start their business. And then in 2011, she launched her label for the second time at New York Fashion Week. Notwithstanding her immediate success on the retail level, this show was widely seen as her chance to prove that the Tory Burch label was a fashion house to be contended with. The show, like all of her projects, was a hit, and the label is now firmly cemented in the fashion industry.
By 2014, Burch had over 120 freestanding boutiques, as well as a presence in more than 3,000 retail stores across the globe. A year later, Forbes was to name her the 73rd most powerful woman in the world, an accolade that takes into account influence as well as wealth. The Obama administration named her an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship in April 2014, a group of American businesspeople committed to developing the next generation of entrepreneurs in the US and globally.
Her television appearances have ranged from Gossip Girl to a judging position on Project Runway, and showcase her talent for combining her brand and her person. As well, the brand maintains a strong online presence, with a heavily visual blog, Instagram and Pinterest boards all constantly updated. Burch is big on the magic of storytelling: she considers it the cornerstone of her success.
The story of Tory Burch, the person, continues to be inseparable from the story told by Tory Burch, the label. Her designs frequently carry the names of family members, from the iconic Reva flats named after her mother, to home products named for her grandmother. It creates a sense of intimacy, lessening the gap between Burch and her customers so that the Burch lifestyle feels accessible to all. Burch stands as a symbol of everything the modern woman wants to be: rich, beautiful, a devoted mother and celebrated host. Just this year, she became engaged to fashion CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel, ensuring that at least for one woman, the romance never ends.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Harpers’ Bazaar, Business Insider Australia, Biz Women, New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company.