American designer and entrepreneur Tory Burch has built a global apparel and accessories brand in just nine years. “There were a lot of people doubting what we were doing in the beginning,” Burch, both creative director and chief executive of her eponymous fashion company, told BoF on the eve of her Spring/Summer 2013 show. “I’m an information gatherer, I like hearing what people feel and think, but at the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself and go with your instinct and gut.”
Known for its American, bohemian-prep sportswear, her lifestyle brand, stocked globally in 180 Tory Burch boutiques and over 3,000 department and specialty stores, driving an estimated $1 billion in sales.
The designer still eyes further expansion, “We see emerging markets as a wonderful opportunity,” she told BoF, “whether it’s Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, India.” Burch plans to visit Brazil in October, followed by the Middle East in November. “We want to look at different places in the world and see how different women are dressing and responding to our collection.” Importantly, the brand adapts its product to fit local tastes and customs. “We make some longer things for the Middle East,” said Burch. “In Brazil, we made our bikinis a bit more skimpy.”
For her first job she “cold-called Zoran,” Burch recalled. “Really interesting man and a beautiful designer. My mother wore his clothing. He said, ‘You can have a job, but you have to start in a week.’ So a week after I graduated, I moved to New York and started a full induction into fashion. It was a very interesting time. He looked like Rasputin and vodka would start at ten o’clock in the morning. That was my first job.”
Burch went on to work as a sittings assistant for Harper’s Bazaar, then moved into PR and advertising at Ralph Lauren , Vera Wang and Loewe during Narciso Rodriguez ’s tenure. “Each of those experiences have added some element to how I run and build this company,” she recalled. “I talk to entrepreneurs a lot about how each job might not be the perfect job, but you really learn from each job and you take something from that.”
“Against a lot of people’s advice,” she decided to launch her own store on day one. “You could see who we were immediately, just by walking into an environment that we could make look exactly how we wanted — everything from the branding to the candle burning to the music playing. It was really an experience and we wanted the customer to feel that from the beginning.” It worked. By the end of its opening day, the original Tory Burch boutique at 257 Elizabeth Street had almost completely sold out of inventory.