In a brief interview with Tory Burch, CEO and designer of American lifestyle brand Tory Burch and founder of the Tory Burch Foundation, we discussed the launch, evolution and impact of her philanthropic efforts, the foundation’s new partnership with Bank of America, challenges facing women entrepreneurs, and leadership lessons she’s learned along the way.
Tory Burch is CEO and designer of Tory Burch, an American lifestyle brand. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history then moved to New York to pursue a career in the fashion industry. She worked in public relations and marketing for some of the most influential American designers, including Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe. She launched Tory Burch in 2004 with a small boutique in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood and since then the brand has grown into a global business with more than 100 freestanding stores, toryburch.com and a presence in over 1,000 department and specialty stores.
Tell me a little bit about when you launched the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009. What inspired you then, and what did you want to do philanthropically?
Starting a foundation was part of our business plan from the very beginning but our company had to be successful first. Launching a foundation to support the economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs was a natural fit. We had learned so much about our experiences starting a business and wanted to share that knowledge with other women. We also knew that by investing in women entrepreneurs we would be helping them to support their families.
In the last 5 years, how has the foundation's programming and focus evolved, and what kind of impact have you had thus far?
The biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is getting access to capital, mentoring and training, and since launching our foundation in 2009 we have introduced programs to address each of these challenges. Over the past five years, we have given out more than 220 small business loans through Accion and mentored more than 1,000 women through our mentoring events. In 2012 we launched an entrepreneurial education program; the first class graduated last spring and we now have two more classes underway—one in New York and another in Los Angeles.
In partnership with Bank of America, your foundation recently launched Elizabeth Street Capital, which targets early-stage women entrepreneurs. How did this partnership come about, and how will the program work?
Our teams recognized the synergies between the two organizations. Bank of America is focused on strengthening women’s role in the economy and has capital to support this objective. Our foundation has a network of women entrepreneurs seeking access to capital and networking support to grow and scale their businesses.
Through our Elizabeth Street Capital initiative, Bank of America is providing $10 million in low-cost capital to nonprofit entrepreneurial loan centers (also known as CDFIs) in 18 cities in the U.S over the next two years. The loan centers will provide loans and technical assistance to women entrepreneurs. We will also provide mentoring and networking opportunities, creating communities of entrepreneurs across the country.
When you look around the United States today, what are some of the critical challenges facing female entrepreneurs, and how did you yourself overcome some of those odds?
Three of the greatest challenges women entrepreneurs face are getting access to capital, mentoring and training. When we needed to raise capital to get our company off the ground, I approached family and friends—and not everyone said “yes”; with the funds we raised and a personal investment, we were able to get started, we were fortunate. I was also fortunate to have a network of mentors and colleagues from the fashion industry who were generous with their time and advice. Their guidance was invaluable to me so I know first-hand that good mentors can be game-changing. Finally, learning how to run a business was a challenge. Though I had worked in the fashion industry for many years, I wasn’t trained as a designer and I’d never been a CEO. I had to learn on the job.
As the founder and chief executive of a billion-dollar company, celebrating your 10-year anniversary in 2014, what are some of the leadership lessons you've learned along the way?
I’ve learned so much and am still learning every day. I always tell women who are thinking about starting a business that you have to have a unique idea that meets a need. You also have to be able to communicate that idea clearly. You may have the greatest idea in the world but you need other people to understand its potential and join you in bringing the concept to fruition.