Inspired by her love of art, music, culture and travel, designer Tory Burch has an eclectic sense of style that has become her signature. Between overseeing her brand in more than 1,000 retailers worldwide, raising her three sons and running the Tory Burch Foundation, which supports the economic empowerment of women and their families, she shares some tips for building brands, pursuing your passion and cultivating confidence.
Claudia Chan: How did your professional journey begin?
After graduating college I worked in public relations in the fashion industry. At one point I had been interested in re-launching a label called Jax that my mother had worn and that I loved. When that didn’t happen, I started working on a concept based on the realization that while I loved fashion, the cost of wearing designer labels on an everyday basis was prohibitive. There were pieces I wanted in my wardrobe but couldn’t find: Classics like a trench or cigarette pants that felt special and luxurious but didn’t cost a fortune. From the beginning it was a retail concept. Our first shop opened in February 2004. We knew we were onto something when we sold out of nearly all of our inventory that first day.
Related: 10 Things to Know about Starting a Business in 2014
CC: What was the hardest career transition in your life and how did you grow from it?
It was hard when I stopped work completely to be a full-time mom. Basically, I couldn’t keep up the pace of my career with three young children. It was during that time that I came up with the concept for the company. As much as I love being an entrepreneur now, it’s a different kind of challenge. I’ve realized that the only constant in life is change. I’ve had to learn how to be flexible enough to deal with that.
CC: What do you believe makes a great brand?
One that has a unique point of view and provides an answer.
CC: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
Regardless of whether your first jobs are the right ones for you, be cognizant enough to take something away from each experience. It will help you find your passion.
CC: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
There was a lot of skepticism when I decided to start the company; I wasn’t a designer and didn’t have a retail background. People also questioned the wisdom of creating a business with a foundation and social responsibility in mind. My parents gave me great advice, which was to think of negativity as noise, and believe in yourself. I took that advice to heart.
Related: Making the Most out of a Bad Day in Business
CC: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A challenge I face every day is getting over the loss of my father. His sensibilities and his value system—empathy, kindness, compassion—are integrated into the DNA of the brand. It’s reassuring to me that his legacy is so much a part of the company.
CC: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
It was definitely a risk to launch this company as a lifestyle brand and a retail concept. We developed it in that way so consumers could experience the full breadth of merchandise in the personal setting we envisioned. That wouldn’t have been possible if we’d started out in a department store. Ultimately it’s a concept that set us apart from other fashion companies.
Related: Violet Lim, Entrepreneur: How One Woman’s Risk Paid Off
CC: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure”. What do you know for sure?
You have to be happy and passionate about what you do. Life moves too fast to spend your time otherwise.
CC: How do you balance career and motherhood?
You have to set priorities. My children are the most important thing in my life.
Inspired by Tory Burch? Take a look at Claudia Chan‘s other interviews with enterprising women.
Nancy Lublin: Making the Next Move a Success
Zainab Salbi: Helping Women Survivors of War
Jane Wurwand on Redefining Skincare
Suparna Bhasin on Helping Women Find Their Calling
Dee Poku on Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Leaders
Bobbi Brown on the Business of Beauty
Joi Gordon on Dressing Disadvantaged Women for Success
Ingrid Vandervelt on Overcoming Self-Doubt and Empowering Others
An Entrepreneur Turns a Passion for Cooking into an Cookie Empire