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When we think of Startups, the first thing that comes to our mind is that a startup always starts with maximum financial constraints and minimum know-how in marketing and branding. In fact Eric Ries of The Lean Startup fame defines a startup as:

“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

We may be right in thinking so in most cases but not all.

There are start-ups that are actually born into business families and start their own businesses with considerable financial support and guidance in marketing.

And to elaborate my point, I take Tory Burch in this write-up.

Tory Burch – the billionaire designer who wanted to be a psychiatrist!

Tory is a businesswoman who believed ‘you can have it all’ when you know how to organise your time.

Born as Tory Robinson, this American hoyden played with her brothers in a Valle Forge farmhouse in Pennsylvania and studied at Agnes Irwin School where she rode horses and played tennis, captaining the school tennis team. She did her degree in Art History.

She is from an affluent family: father was an investor and mother was an actress, both very romantic personalities. Tory confesses that she got her taste for fashion designing from them as her father designed his own clothes and always looked immaculate in his attire, and mother was very particular about looking great, and also that their trips to the other parts of the world made her look at different fashions.

Tory Burch, the No 2 on the list of the 50 sexiest CEOs, made a billion in a decade, which shows that it’s not just her designing talent as she never took any special course or training in designing, but something more than that. She had never been to any business or design school, either. It could be her interest in psychiatry which she may have used as a tool to survive in an industry which is best known for the craziest minds, and probably got her investment strategies from her father and her second husband.


Success isn’t overnight

However, she says success is seldom overnight and real achievement is gained one step at a time. And the ‘one step’ for people like Tory Burch must be such a giant step that it has taken her to the top position in just over a decade.

After college, she worked for some clothiers and later for some fashion designers of the top order: Vera Wang, Harper’s Bazaar, Lowe, and Ralph Lauren whom she still regards as her ‘boss’. Meanwhile she made her own designs and sold them at some retailers.

In Business, struggle is inevitable

After some struggle, as is the norm in the fashion world, especially for a woman designer or model, she started her own label in 2004 with the help of her husband, J Christopher Burch, with an investment of $ 2 million.


It is the tunic, her No. 1 John Hancock and the Reva ballet flats that shot her up. The Reva ballet flat is named after her mother. Tory Burch feels ambivalent at times about the naming — sad to name a pair of footwear after her mother but glad her sentiment worked and the pair made her famous. So, to compensate, she named a one piece swim suit after her mother, to balance the equation. According to one Los Angeles Times report, in 2008 alone, some 300, 000 pairs of the Reva ballet flats were sold, and in every season customers were kept on waiting list.

At present Tory Burch’s designer bags, sunglasses, shoes, other fashion items and jewelry are sold like hot cakes off the shelves of the prestigious department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Saks, and her brand is as popular as brands like Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade, to name a few.


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An entrepreneur who likes to be bohemian

tory-burch-logo-designTory Burch has an empire with over 150 stores, attended by about 12000 employees, in more than 50 countries, including Rome, China, Dubai, and in all the major cities, including Beijing, San Francisco, Nashville, Waikiki in Hawaii, and boutiques in over 1,000 department stores world over, supported by her most-visited online marketing website. In fact one of our clients, a Dubai based fashion retailer, competes with the likes of Tory Burch!

The imposing Tory Burch logo design is the quite a popular logo in the fashion world, not only in terms of respect and recognition but also in actual use of it in the products. The ‘double T’, an upside down T on a T below surrounded by a circle, written in medieval fashion, is used as buckles on the belts, as clasps on some handbags and shoes, as rivets on some footwear models, besides being embossed on leather and fabric items of clothing, especially the multi-colored flats with oversized Burch’s logo on each of them.

The logo on some items is so conspicuous that a customer is known to advise other Burch fans to have one or two pieces, but not a bunch because the wearer looked “Tory Burch” ad, for she (Tory Burch) used that medallion logo a lot! And she’s damn right.

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Weathering the storm

She has, as is the invisible canon in the world in general and in the fashion world in particular, had some friction with her spouse and with other companies over copyright issues.

Tory Burch, the 48 year-old fashion Dona, has had two divorces. The first marriage did not last long… just over a year, and the second marriage with Christopher Burch, in 1996, had seemed a great success but nothing in this ever-changing world remains the same, and in 2007 it, too, ended.

In this glamorous show and fashion business, nobody is immune to gossip; no one can escape the tarnishing episodes, and Tory is not an exception. There have been rumors of her having intimacy with a couple of celebrities, like Lance Armstrong, the cycling star, and Lyor Cohen, the music industry executive.


The marriage between Tory and Burch was a ‘blow hot and cold’ type of relationship. They are together in business but are separated in marriage. May be Tory’s psychiatric ability played a major role in keeping her ex-husband still in business after their divorce. Tory had to sue her husband, Christopher Burch who invested in her first venture and stood by her all along, on charge of copyright infringement. (Mr. Burch released a line of his own clothing under the brand name ‘C. Wonder’)

And then there is this case with Lin & J International, a jewelry distributor. Tory filed a lawsuit against Lin & J for selling cheap counterfeits of her jewelry patterns through Isis, a wholesale fashion brand owned by Lin & J. The entire fashion industry lauded Tory for her brave act of defending her precious designs from knock-offs. The bone of contention in this case is the logo: Tory Burch Company says Lin & J copied their logo in their jewelry designs. However, Lin & J, counter sued arguing that the design used in their items was actually the resemblance of the Coptic Cross and that they had been using it since 2003 whereas Tory Burch debuted only in 2005.

Tory Burch Foundation

TBF_logocutTory Burch, with the strong belief that women should be as ambitious as men and be proud of it, set up her own foundation in 2009 with a view to help businesswomen who want to take up a career in fashion industry but shy away for lack of finance. The Foundation offers loans, and gives guidance and training. This is a very appreciable step in an industry where people forget their past once they reach their stardom. Tory knows the difficulties female entrepreneurs face in the fashion business and still remembers her own struggle to get her brand to the forefront. Now her Foundation in tandem with the Bank of America with a capital amount of $ 10 million, called Elizabeth Street Capital, is giving a chance to several potential Tory Burches of the future.

Not a tenderfoot

Though she looks charming and innocent, Tory Burch is not a tenderfoot blondie, nor is her success a mere gimmick. She hasn’t come to the top for nothing. As a full time mother of three sons and as a step-mother of three girls (Christopher Burch’s daughters), she spends as much time as she can, even taking the kids on tours while keeping the company running smoothly.

In an interview with Harry Smith for NBC’s Brian Williams’ Rock Centre in 2012, Mrs Burch confessed she had never expected things to get this big, that she took a big risk in setting up her eponymous fashion label, and also added that she was a sensitive female, and so it was even harder to stay above waters in this competitive world. (By Sara Nathan;)

She has won a number of awards for her creative work and her designs are worn by princes and princesses. Prince the singer and actor wore Tory’s tunic in 2008, and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who usually prefers English designs, wore Tory’s dress on her Royal Tour.

Get fit… in style

Being athletic, she realises the importance of being fit, so she mixed fitness with fashion when she joined hands with Fitbit Inc., a company that makes wireless wearable activity monitoring devices that record the amount of work done, number of calories burnt, the number of steps taken, etc., by the wearers. Tory’s silicone bands are similar to Fitbit Flex band but a bit more stylish.

Let’s hope the lady who brought fashion to the women who could not reach fashion, keeps giving ‘luxury’… at affordable prices!

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & CEO of SpellBrand. Since 1998, Mash has helped conscious brands differentiate themselves and AWAKEN through Brand Strategy and Brand Identity Design. Schedule a Brand Strategy Video Call with Mash.