NEW YORK — In what is a sure sign of next-level commitment to future generations of creatives, Tory Burch and the School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design have formed a five-year partnership.
Aiming to bolster creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship via different degree programs at the art and design school, the alliance includes the creation of the Tory Burch Empowering Future Fashion Leaders Endowed Scholarship Fund at Parsons with a gift that will be matched to set up a $1 million fund to offer ongoing financial aid to students annually.
The Empowering Future Fashion Leaders will bring together students in BFA Design, MFA Textiles and AAS Marketing and Communications programs with Burch’s company. The idea is they will glean innovative solutions to design, product development and marketing challenges that the fashion industry is dealing with. The tie-up is the first that Ben Barry, who joined Parsons as dean of the School of Fashion in July, has been involved with.
The two parties have similar principles — advancing fashion through creativity and innovation, a dedication to mentorship — and each is committed to helping women and marginalized communities have greater educational opportunities, scholarships and real-world experiences. Championing women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the U.S. through access to capital, education and digital resources has been a priority for the Tory Burch Foundation since it was created in 2009. The New York-based company was started in 2004 and has since expanded into a multitude of other categories.
In a joint interview, Burch, executive chairman and chief creative officer of Tory Burch LLC, and Pierre-Yves Roussel, chief executive officer, discussed the Parsons partnership and what they hope may come from it. “Super excited” about tie-up, Burch said, “Over the last couple of years and seeing the impact of COVID on our industry, I’m really trying to figure out how to give back to our industry. That’s something that is obviously a big part of our company, since the beginning. But we realized, as we were working on a store downtown on Mercer Street, that part of what giving back would look like would be Parsons, which was a school block away.”
In addition, 41 people on Burch’s team are Parsons alumni, “so the exceptional talent that we are always looking for, many of them come out of Parsons,” she said. Thinking collectively, they set out to support Parsons students in pertinent ways “and help in our own way create leaders of the future.”
During the multiyear partnership, students will have the chance to visit Burch’s ateliers, be mentored by the designer’s team and join forces with the brand for special projects. The establishment of the ongoing scholarship fund will not only ease students’ financial pressures, but it will help create greater educational access and a more diverse industry. Burch and staffers at her $1.5 billion company will share their expertise and pointers with students, during in-class talks, public lectures and real-life work experience.
The five-year initiative is a first for Parsons.
Roussel said, “It’s interesting that Parsons has never done something like this in the past,” given that they have close partnerships with companies via having people teach at the school, internships are offered to students and it receives some corporate funding. “This is really part of the making of the university in the U.S. — not as much, by the way in other parts of the world or in Europe. It was interesting to us that most of Parsons’ funding was coming from tuition [fees] from the students, and a very small portion was coming from corporate sponsorship or the type of a partnership that we are doing with them. It was really unusual compared to the way that it usually works in the U.S. We really thought that it was not only a great fit — we had all these relationships — but also a great way to really help the school and vice versa. We will receive a lot of benefits ourselves. Finding great students and great talent for us is something that is very critical for the continuous development of the company.”
The fact that Parsons is an international school, with 35 percent of the students coming from outside the U.S., is another benefit, he said. “They have a campus in Paris as well. We’re a very international company so we’re building internationally. It’s great to also have talent that are trained in New York and can work in New York, but in other parts of the world as well, as we’re building the business.”
As for how this commitment might encourage others who might be thinking of ways that they can contribute to future generations to take the first step, Burch said, “It was important for us as a company to create something that had longevity, would have real impact and scale, and would affect these exceptionally talented students that exist from a creativity standpoint. How do we help them on their journey? As far as being someone to show other people the way, I think everyone has to find their own way. That’s very much a part of why I started the company to begin with — to have impact and help change the dynamics for people in general. This is another way that we can do that.”
While some educational institutions still consider fashion to be an entity into itself, Parsons has embraced a multidisciplinarian approach for some time. Roussel discussed the importance of bolstering that ideology: “Parsons is quite unique. When you look at all of the other schools, in Europe in particular, they are mostly design schools or technical schools. Whereas Parsons has always embraced, since its creation, creativity, business, [and] design, but also technical expertise. In a way, Tory built our business with all those left-brain, right-brain approaches of finding an incredible vision and creatives, building technical expertise and also [having] a great understanding of how you build a business. Parsons is pretty unique in that aspect, because it can train students in all the fields that are required to build and make a fashion business successful.”
Having Parsons students visit the company is meant to give them a clearer idea or better understanding of what goes into a business or a career in fashion “just by being exposed, being here and learning and listening,” Burch said. “It’s also the idea of looking at all aspects of the business. It’s certainly the design and creativity. But then to go from fashion design to textiles to marketing [and] seeing a 360-approach of the business is quite important.”
Barry said via email, “Tory’s purpose-driven approach will offer students a deep look into a fashion business model where making profit and creating social change work in harmony. At Parsons, we teach and train our students to work for brands and start their own with a social purpose, and Tory developed this purpose-driven approach to fashion business long before it became an industrywide conversation and priority. Students will gain firsthand experience in how a purpose-driven business model operates in fashion, and they will be ready to take this learning into their own practice to enact social change through fashion.”
Asked if any part of her college experience (at the University of Pennsylvania) has played into this, or anything that she wished she had experienced, Burch laughed, “I can tell you that when I started the company I was starting from scratch. I didn’t know anything about design. I didn’t know anything about business. But I did have experience in our industry and I was exposed to incredible creativity. Certainly in college I was an art history major so in a way that was my design background and really learning from that. I became a creative thinker. I became interested in the idea of entrepreneurship and thinking differently. If we can give students the ability to see different ways that companies operate, it would be invaluable to them.”
All in all, the Parsons partnership has been a “pretty delightful” experience so far. “We all have really high hopes. We’re very excited to build something really unique and distinctive,” Burch said.
Along with giving students “an immersive, industry-focused understanding of individual disciplines of fashion — design, textiles and marketing —” they will “develop a holistic understanding of a fashion brand, and how to extend and amplify experimentation and creative process by working not in silos but across these disciplines.” Barry said.
With any luck, the Tory Burch partnership will generate some collegiate copycats. Barry said, “We are hopeful that our collaborative partnership with Tory will serve as a model for other fashion and design schools throughout the country.”