An Unexpected Journey: Tory Burch

Tory Burch takes a look at her path to career success.

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WWD Collections issue 11/09/2009

It’s early in the morning on the Wednesday of New York Fashion Week, and practically every major retailer and editor is crowding the Salon venue at the Bryant Park tents. They have come to see Tory Burch’s spring collection, which was inspired by the works of Alexander Calder and William Eggleston, and features a charming mix of American classics and fashionable must-haves. Burch herself is in the middle of the room, mobbed by well-wishers, admirers and photographers trying to get a shot of the petite designer.

This story first appeared in the November 9, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


The atmosphere and frenzy about Burch that morning is perhaps emblematic of just how much her star has risen since launching her namesake line out of her Fifth Avenue living room in 2004. Ironically, Burch never set out for her business to grow so rapidly.


“I had a five-year plan and it looked very different,” Burch says, sitting in her office on West 19th Street a few weeks after her hit collection. “I think the plan called for three or four stores, one in Los Angeles and one in Texas. It was a sort of watered-down version of where we are.”


It’s also a far cry from the 22 freestanding stores the company operates and a wholesale network of 450 doors worldwide.


Since launching her label with a boutique on NoLIta’s Elizabeth Street in New York, Burch has become something of a fashion phenomenon, one of the few lifestyle brands to come out of America in recent years with a major impact. Women across America and, increasingly, the world have helped make Burch’s Reva ballerina flat a fashion icon, and they have embraced her tunics-and-totes aesthetic, which is often marked by the “double-T” logo.


In the process, Burch herself—who was once known mainly as a Manhattan socialite—has transformed into a bona fide entrepreneur and businesswoman, with close to 400 employees and a total volume estimated to exceed $200 million. She also has become something of a fashion celebrity, even appearing on a recent episode of Gossip Girl.


“I never imagined that I could be a designer,” Burch says. “I never thought it was a possibility. I never went to design school, so for me, this has been a journey that is about cultivating a great team, and creating an environment that is healthy and innovative at the same time.”


Much has changed chez Burch this year. After a much-speculated search for additional financing, she sold a minority stake—estimated at 20 to 25 percent—to Tresalia Capital, a Mexico City–based, family-owned and -operated investment company that once owned Corona. Burch and her former husband, Christopher Burch, still co-own the majority stake in the company.


“We got completely lucky with finding the right person to partner with,” Burch says. “It’s three women—two sisters and their mother—that banded together to become entrepreneurs later in their lives. I really relate to that on so many levels.


“We are also completely aligned in the way we look and think out of the box in growing a business,” she continues. “Ours is the first investment they have had in our industry. They have been involved in telecommunications, education and many different industries, so for them, this is a fun investment, and they are really interested in learning the business.”


While her day-to-day hasn’t altered much since the deal was inked last summer, Burch hopes the new partners—Lucrecia Larregui de Aramburuzabala and her daughters, Mariasun Asunción Aramburuzabala and Lucrecia Aramburuzabala Larregui—will be able to come tothe brand with a “fresh set of eyes.” She’s also counting on their new “entrepreneurial skills,” which will come in particularly handy in her plans to expand the business in South America. Her American sportswear with a bohemian, David Hicks–type twist should bode well in that market.


For spring, she wanted the clothes to exude America by way of Calder and Eggleston, and give them an “eclectic, eccentric spin, “whether we put a moccasin on the heel or mix tie-dye leather with a trenchcoat, or beads or washed denim,” Burch recalls. “For me, it was pushing and evolving our collection and pushing and evolving our customer.”


Burch doesn’t appear to take success for granted, nor does she let it go to her head. “I don’t think that’s who I am as a person,” she says. “I don’t look at it as, ‘Wow, we’re successful.’ I see so much that we can do and evolve, and I feel like we’re just beginning.


“I can’t wait to do a home collection, because there are so many things that I think could be done in an accessible way for home,” Burch adds. “At some point, a fragrance would be interesting. I would love to do men’s, but in a small and edited way, like dress shirts, ties, swim trunks…something that’s more about gift giving, perhaps.”


She also hopes to stretch her price points a little. “As far as product, women are becoming savvier in the way they shop,” she adds. “They are not buying as much as they used to, so we need to create that special piece that they really can’t live without and that’s our challenge, particularly at our price point. I feel that I want to have more varied price points. Our average price is $220, but we have things for $45. I want to design more special things and things that women can’t live without, and they might be a little bit more expensive.”


Before the end of the year, Burch plans to open stores in Short Hills, N.J.; Ginza, Tokyo—her first in Japan—and the Philippines. A store in Korea is planned for next spring. At press time, she was close to signing the lease for her first European unit, rumored to be in London.


Despite the constant flurry of developments and changes, Burch maintains her cool. “I don’t look at myself in any different way than I ever [did] and I don’t think anyone I know does, either,” she says. “My good friends look at me the same way and so does my family. I think my mom is now known as a shoe. That might be one change, but I think she laughs about it.”

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