The Tory Burch story is an aspirational example of hard work, dedication, and gratitude paving the way to great success.
Successful entrepreneurs take advantage of every opportunity, adding knowledge to a growing arsenal of experience that can be drawn upon later. By remaining true to herself as a thoughtful risk-taker, she carved out a career that would take her to the top.
Tory consistently applied the values she developed throughout her life to her business decisions & by doing so.. she has managed to create one of the most powerful brands in history.
Tory Burch Learned About Philanthropy as a Child
You might be surprised to learn that Tory Burch—one of the world’s few self-made female billionaires and an international fashion industry icon—started life as a self-professed tomboy.
Tory grew up in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania alongside her three brothers, spending much of her free time climbing trees and enjoying the great outdoors. Tory’s parents, Reva and Ira Earl “Bud” Robinson made sure the family traveled extensively, exploring far-flung locales like Marrakech, Athens, and Capri, perhaps influencing some of Tory’s future fashion designs.
Reva and Bud instilled an early sense of philanthropy in their 4 children, including them in many volunteer endeavors. Tory developed a spirit of generosity from a young age.
Tory completed her early education at the prestigious Agnes Irwin School, a small, private all-girls institution in nearby Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Agnes Irwin School was an early influence for Tory. The institution stresses the importance of generosity and gratitude from the youngest ages all the way through high school, lessons Tory took to heart.
Finding Her Professional Style
It was at Agnes Irwin where she befriended famed jewelry designer Kara Ross, beginning a lifelong relationship that would lead to several collaborative fashion projects. Tory’s loyalty would inform many of her business decisions as she built her brand.
After high school, Tory majored in art history at the University of Pennsylvania. By now, Tory had her eye on fashion and became known for what one close friend called “Torywear,” a style that fellow alumni describe as a mix of bohemian, equestrian, and Hermès-inspired.
Tory’s first job was at Benetton in the King of Prussia mall, proof that even the most successful entrepreneurs often have business stories with humble beginnings. To be like Tory means learning from every experience that comes your way and then applying that knowledge in a growth-minded way.
Rather than complain about her first jobs, Tory has said that she learned lasting lessons at these jobs that helped shape who she is as a person.
A Career Enhanced by Strong Values
Tory moved to New York City following college graduation in 1988 for a job for Zoran, a Yugoslavian designer. Tory has said she applied to several jobs during her senior year, but it was Zoran who gave her a chance. Always fearless and intrepid, Tory simply cold-called him and asked for a job, a gutsy move that should intrigue emerging entrepreneurs. The eccentric designer had one condition: get there in a week.
Tory describes her early business stories in unglamorous terms. She was Zoran’s assistant, fetching coffee and fending off unwanted visitors, but it became an invaluable experience. In true Tory fashion, she soaked in as much as she could about both the business and design sides of the fashion industry. By the time she was ready to move on, she had caught the fashion bug in a big way.
After Zoran, Tory enjoyed a meteoric rise through some of the world’s most influential companies: Harper’s Bizarre, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and Loewe, the well-known Italian fashion house. Her focus widened a bit to include public relations, which would prove quite useful as she grew her own business later.
Going Into Things With An Open Mind
Tory has said that she approached every position with an open mind and a desire to learn as much as she could, applying an entrepreneurial spirit to every venture. In time, she had made such an impact that she was asked to become president of Loewe.
At this point, Tory was pregnant with her third son and ultimately decided to press pause on her career during his early childhood. Tory has said this was a challenging time for her; she felt conflicted about potentially stalling her burgeoning career, but at the same time, her entrepreneurial spirit was driving her toward starting her own small business.
In the early days, Tory relied on fundraising to get her brand off the ground, eventually convincing over 100 people to contribute funds for a project she believed would fill a gap in the fashion world: purposefully designed clothing pieces that didn’t come with the sticker shock common to so many prominent fashion labels.
The future billionaire spent the first few years of her solo venture working out of her New York City apartment, putting together a team of designers and artists that could help turn her conceptual designs into reality.
Keeping an eye on overhead, especially at the start of a new venture is a common sense bit of wisdom that not every entrepreneur will follow. For Tory, an iconic fashion label and lifestyle brand was launched and developed inside her New York City apartment.
Tory named her label TRB by Tory Burch in 2004, partnering with a Manhattan retailer in the Nolita district. Tory and her team worked tirelessly to launch her first solo retail location in time for New York’s Fashion Week that same year. The store nearly sold out its entire inventory during its first official day of business.
Tory would later change the label’s name to the simple “Tory Burch” at the urging of her friend, jewelry designer Kenneth J. Lane. She had been hesitant to put herself at the center of the brand, as she tends to avoid the spotlight, but eventually embraced the empowering name.
The Tory Burch label quickly became an industry and consumer favorite. Early on, Tory Burch caught the eye of none other than Oprah Winfrey, who invited Tory to appear on her popular daytime talk show. The episode allowed Tory to directly connect with potential customers, who responded enthusiastically to her authentic, approachable personality, reflected in her fashion offerings.
The Oprah appearance proved quite fruitful, attracting over 8 million hits to the Tory Burch website in a matter of a few days. Tory blanches at the idea that her Business story is an example of an “overnight success,” as some media outlets proclaimed. By contrast, she points to the tens of thousands of hours of work leading up to this moment and the deep industry knowledge she and her team had amassed in the preceding years.
The Tory Burch Brand Today
Today, the Tory Burch line can be found in over 3,000 department stores and at 250 free-standing stores worldwide.
You might want to follow Tory’s example of remaining true to herself throughout this impressive growth if you’re hoping to develop your own business success story. Remarkably, the Tory Burch style is still drawing on her sporty, bohemian college fashion sense. Tory has never forgotten where she came from.
The Tory Burch line has been described as preppy, bohemian, and sporty, combining classic, clean fashion with prints and accessories inspired by Tory’s international travels. Typical Tory Burch touches include tie-neck blouses, distinct collars, and flowing-yet-constructed pants and dresses.
Tory Burch accessories complete the look. Popular selections include perfectly matched handbags, shoes, and jewelry. Her ballet flats and vibrant tunics are emblematic of the Tory Burch brand.
Tory exemplifies loyalty, a trait new entrepreneurs would do well to emulate. Her partnership with long-time friend Kara Ross produced the wildly popular “Evil Eye” line. Tory has also introduced fashion pieces with a nod to her friend, including the ‘Kara’ Wedge Pump.
Another lesson Tory offers budding entrepreneurs is centered on the importance of remaining accessible to consumers. Tory regularly reaches out to her 2.2 million Instagram followers, posting both personal photos and professional marketing shots of the label’s latest designs.
Take note that Tory’s prolific posting is always on-brand, even when she is sharing moments from her personal life. She is an entrepreneur whose business is an extension of her true self, which is surely one big key to her success.
Tory Burch: Award Collector
Tory has collected several industry awards over the years, a testament to her laser-focused dedication to her brand. All eyes were on Tory nearly from the start. Early on, she received the 2005 Rising Star Award for Best New Retail Concept from Fashion Group International.
The Accessories Council Excellence Awards selected Tory Burch as the Accessory Brand Launch of the year in 2007. This was quickly followed by her 2008 Accessories Designer of the Year win, award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Tory’s accolades extend beyond her fashion brand. She has gained recognition as an entrepreneurial powerhouse, making the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women several times. Working Mother included her on their list of the 50 Most Powerful Moms in 2015.
Tory has used that power for incredible gain. Forbes estimated that Tory crossed the into billionaire category by 2013. While most entrepreneurs won’t realistically reach this unfathomable milestone, Tory’s business story is a prime example of the importance of persistence and embracing your unique strengths.
The Grateful Billionaire Emerges
Throughout her business success, Tory has prioritized working on causes aimed at helping people. Entrepreneurs who take time out to express gratitude along the way often achieve more balance and overall satisfaction with their lives regardless of how successful they ultimately become.
One such cause is Tory’s work with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which awarded her the Sandra Taub Humanitarian Award in 2015. She has also been recognized for establishing her own non-profit organization, The Tory Burch Foundation, which focuses on women entrepreneurs.
Tory clearly remembers how hard it can be at the beginning of a business venture, and routinely extends a hand to women coming up behind her. The Tory Burch foundation grants small business loans and offers mentorship and entrepreneurial education. Tory Burch stores offer products that help to support this work.
Tory also sets a strong example for budding entrepreneurs by giving back to the community through volunteerism, serving on the board of directors for several organizations, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Startup America Partnership. She manages to stay tied to her Pennsylvania roots through her work with the Barnes Foundation, an art school and museum based in Philadelphia.
Tory has even received governmental recognition for her work. She was named an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, or PAGE. The group works to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the U.S. and internationally.
A True Entrepreneurship Story to Remember & Learn From
The Tory Burch story gives entrepreneurs an example of success that perhaps seems unattainable. It is true that most entrepreneurs will not become billionaires or launch a brand that becomes internationally iconic. However, Tory’s business story is filled with lessons for entrepreneurs that can lead to both personal and professional success.
To be like Tory Burch means to embrace an indefatigable work ethic, an interest in deep learning, and a clear vision. It also means remaining true to the values you hold dear. For Tory that has meant loyalty, generosity, and accessibility, traits that have helped pave her pathway to success.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.