NEW YORK — Dr. Brite, a little-known natural and organic personal-care Irvine, Calif., company, is about to amp up its wattage as the winner of this year’s winner of the Tory Burch Foundation’s Fellowship Program.
Burch revealed the winner at a luncheon for the 10 finalists in the Tory Sport West 19th Street offices here on Thursday. What started as a pool of 800-plus contenders was first whittled down to 30 finalists and then 10 thanks to a public online vote. As the winner, Dr. Brite founder Paris Sabo walked away with a $100,000 business education grant.
Burch told guests, “We had 10 entrepreneurs who were all insanely worthy of this. It was excruciating for all of us to narrow it down. The one thing I would say is that we’re here to help. This is a community and you’re all part of it.”
A former surgical oncologist who developed the nontoxic affordable products with her dentist sister, Sabo said the idea stemmed from her concern about toothpastes with titanium dioxide, sulfates and triclosan, (which has recently been banned by the FDA for skin care but not for oral care products). Dr. Brite’s aim is to try to change the industry. “It’s a great name, isn’t it?” Burch said.
The impetus for her foundation had nothing to do with marketing or catch phrases. “For me, it was part of our business plan. But what’s interesting is I’ve learned how important it is for the bottom line. That was not something investors wanted to hear when I first launched the company. When I said I wanted to build this global lifestyle brand so that I could start a foundation they just thought that was really bad to say in the same sentence. But I think that made me more determined,” the designer said. “What I realized over time was that it is good for the bottom line. It attracts people to want to work here. It’s great for our employees and for the customer.”
Sabo’s fellow finalists included Anit Hora of Mullein & Sparrow, Kimberly Jung of Rumi Spice, Katalina Mayorga of El Camino Travel, Jennifer Saxton of Tot Squad, Allison Schickel of Brobe International, Anita Shepherd of Anita’s Yogurt, Lauren Sweeney of Dotted Line Collaborations, Eliza Whitman of FlyDog Yoga and Janel Young of Nava Pets.
Despite having vastly different businesses and being in varying stages, participants did some serious bonding during their four-day heavily scheduled stay in New York. After the winner had been announced, Hora said, “They really want us to be collaborative. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It’s all about collaborating so everyone has been really into sharing everything.”
Burch said, “We never wanted to talk about the foundation much until we had real things to talk about. That meant real impact and scale and changing women’s lives. That was what we wanted to do from 12 years ago when I started the company. We talked a lot about it internally but externally marketing was something I was terrified of and never wanted the foundation to be associated with. So now I’m so incredibly proud to talk about it and entrepreneurs like you with incredibly viable businesses, and businesses we know will scale.”
Helping Burch select the winner were 42 Venture Partners’ William Crowder, Marie Claire’s Anne Fulenwider, KCD’s Rachna Shah, Inc. magazine’s Kimberly Weisul, Cue Ball’s Anthony Tjan and angel investor and WE Festival cofounder Joanne Wilson.
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