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Tory Burch Builds an International Brand

The designer is getting ready to open her first freestanding store in Dubai, her third Hong Kong boutique and her first Singapore boutique.

In less than eight years, Tory Burch has built a brand by designing relaxed American sportswear with a definitive point of view, but courting international shoppers has been a priority from the beginning. Now, the designer is getting ready to open her first freestanding store in Dubai, her third Hong Kong boutique in January and her first Singapore boutique that month as well.

Burch is so committed to overseas markets that she opened a Hong Kong office for sourcing and manufacturing before she unveiled her Elizabeth Street store eight years ago. Lydia Park Forstmann, the company’s vice president of international and licensing, shared this footnote and many others to illustrate time and again how interwoven non-U.S. regions have been in the brand’s history and how essential they will be to further growth.

Today, Burch has 53 freestanding stores and seven more will bow by the end of the year. The aim is to have 100 by the end of 2013. The label is also carried in 1,000 department stores and specialty stores, which is a big increase compared with five years ago when overseas wholesale distribution started with Lane Crawford, and Harvey Nichols in London and Dubai.

Through it all Burch and her team have tried to be successful in a few countries before moving on to new locales, Forstmann said. For the past two years, executives have been zeroing in on Japan and South Korea. In Japan, the brand now has 25 points of sale and in South Korea there are 18, as well as one freestanding store.

To appeal to Internet-happy shoppers in China, the Burch Weibo — China’s version of Twitter — site was recently launched. As another means of brand building in China the company is cooking up Toryburch.cn.

Forstmann, who relocated her family to Asia for a year to fine-tune that business strategy, noted there is no substitute for on-the-ground training. The designer isn’t afraid to try some ingenuity, like re-creating the interior of her expansive New York apartment in the Pierre Hotel in her South Korea store. The objective was to give Korean shoppers a better understanding of the essence of the brand, Forstmann said.

Burch also has three stores in Taiwan and one in the Phillipines, with a second set to bow there by the end of the year. This month the first Bangkok boutique will be unveiled, Forstmann said.

From the start, Burch set out to be a lifestyle brand by offering 11 categories. Today there are 14, with each meant to convey the label as a lifestyle brand, an iconic logo and an expression of the designer herself.

“We strive to be focused, nimble, collaborative, consensus building and have the ability to deal with ambiguity,” Forstmann said.