NEW YORK, United States — Tory Burch has evolved from one woman’s dream to a billion dollar brand in just ten short years. In 2004, designer and entrepreneur Burch founded a company based on both her tastes and, crucially, her beliefs. What started as a modest “accessible luxury” clothing, footwear and accessories line rooted in a global aesthetic has now expanded to also encompass fragrance and beauty products, sold across a retail network of more than 120 Tory Burch boutiques and over 3,000 department and specialty stores worldwide and at toryburch.com.
But the Tory Burch brand has, from its very conception, also been a very personal proposition for Burch, catering to the needs of women, while also supporting women and women’s entrepreneurship through philanthropy and social responsibility activities across the world. The Tory Burch Foundation was launched in 2009 to empower female entrepreneurs and their families through small loans, business mentoring and entrepreneurial education.
Founder and chief executive office Tory Burch tells us how being a woman entrepreneur has shaped her business.
BoF: How has being a woman entrepreneur impacted the way you have built Tory Burch the company?
TB: My experience as a woman entrepreneur has shaped our company in many ways, especially in terms of our culture. As a working mother and an entrepreneur, I wanted to create an environment where people feel that they can have a family life and a fulfilling career. We want people to have the flexibility to take their children to the doctor or watch them in an after school basketball game. It’s about the quality of the work. When you make it easier for people to have a great personal life, it breeds creativity and happiness.
BoF: As a woman entrepreneur, what challenges have you faced?
TB: My greatest challenge is balancing work and family. It’s difficult but my three boys come first no matter what. I have found a way to make things more manageable by setting clear priorities, focusing on time management and setting boundaries. This means being clear about what I can accomplish in any given week. Every day is different and my schedule is always changing but I take my boys to school every morning and I make it home in time for dinner most evenings, even if it means having a meeting in the car en route to my apartment.
Another challenge was hiring a great team and I’m happy to say that many people have been here since the beginning.
BoF: How has being a woman entrepreneur defined Tory Burch’s company culture?
TB: We talk about culture a lot — it’s very important to all of us. From the beginning, I was very clear about wanting to create a culture that is very supportive and collaborative. We have our “Buddy Values,” named for my father, Buddy Robinson, who treated everyone with kindness and respect. Every year we have our Buddy Award winners, people on the team who embody these values; the winners take a trip to a location that can be anywhere in the world — our 2014 winners spent a week in LA.
Our “Day It Forward” program is a key element of our company culture. Each team receives a paid day off to do something together in the spirit of giving back, whether it’s a coat drive or a fundraiser for global literacy campaigns. It’s great for the team — they have a lot of fun together and feel good about what they’re doing — and it’s great for the organisation that benefits from our employees’ time and energy.
We think of ourselves as a family and cultivate that sense of community but our company is also very performance-driven. It’s about doing excellent work. When people are happy they do great work.
BoF: How does this impact the kind of talent the company seeks?
TB: We are very careful in our approach to hiring. We want to be sure that everyone who joins our company will do a great job, be a team player and embrace the culture. Every prospective hire meets with many different people on the team not only so we can learn about them but so they can understand who we are. It’s not just about what we do but how we do it. We also want to be creative and entrepreneurial in our thinking and we often hire outside our industry. Our head of retail is from Apple and our chief financial officer came to us from Mars, the candy company. It’s a very collaborative environment and we believe our company benefits from having many different voices and perspectives.
BoF: What excites you most about the future of Tory Burch?
TB: There is so much that I’m excited about from the upcoming launch of our watches this Fall and the opening of our new flagship in NYC’s Soho to the publication of our first book and our continuing international expansion.
In addition to our boutiques in London and Milan, we recently opened stores in Istanbul and Munich, and will launch in Paris in 2015. We see a lot of opportunity for our brand in Asia and are continuing to expand in the region. I’m looking forward the launch of our flagship in Shanghai later this year.
BoF: Tell us about the work the Tory Burch Foundation is doing to empower women around the world.
TB: Social responsibility has always been very important to me and starting a foundation was part of our business plan from the very beginning. We launched our foundation in 2009 to support the economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and their families through small business loans, mentoring and entrepreneurial education. Our focus is on the U.S. but we hope to expand internationally.
We recently introduced Elizabeth Street Capital, a new initiative with Bank of America. We launched with an initial investment of $10 million in low-cost capital from the bank to support women entrepreneurs by providing access to capital along with mentoring and networking opportunities in cities across the United States. It’s an exciting opportunity to reach more women and help them to start and scale their businesses.
Interestingly, we find that many of our employees really care about our foundation and our entrepreneurs — they want to be involved. We also find that it attracts people to our company, which is not something we ever expected.
This post is sponsored by Tory Burch. To explore career opportunities at this company, please visit the Tory Burch company page on BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.