Tory Burch's Global Fashion Empire

How She Built a Multi-Billion Dollar Company

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Tory Burch

Tory Burch

Tory Burch created a global fashion empire worth billions of dollars.

She found a gap in the market, brought her own style to life, and created hit products that women absolutely loved.

Yes, she came from a privileged background, but you don’t become the 24th richest self-made woman in America without putting in the work to build a remarkable company.

She certainly did.

And she’d become a billionaire within a decade of starting her namesake business.

How did she do it?

Let’s get to it.

Early Days

Tory Burch, born Tory Robinson, grew up in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on a farm with her parents and three brothers in a 250-year-old Georgian house.

She’s described as being somewhat of a tomboy growing up, often spending much of her childhood playing tennis or riding horses, and always being active:

My parents would turn us loose after breakfast, and we’d just play outside until we heard the bell for dinner.

Tory Burch

At the Agnes Irwin School, she was a captain of the Varsity tennis team, and early on she was already developing her own style, a mix of preppy and jock, which would be described by friends as “Torywear,” or “prock.”

Tory’s father, Buddy Robinson, who inherited a seat on the stock exchange and a paper-cup company, sold his company early on and, as he described, “I was on the exchange, but I didn’t really work.” Funny enough, Tory and her brothers would end up being the complete opposite, as workaholics in their own industries. More on that soon.

Buddy was also a stylish man, often designing or modifying his own clothes, with Tory mentioning that he could’ve been a designer in his own right.

Reva Robinson, Tory’s mother, is a fashionable woman who Tory would get a lot of inspiration from later on when she launched her company. She also was a stay-at-home mother when Tory grew up, giving up an acting career to take care of her children.

Tory mentions having family dinners every night and family being of the utmost importance to her.

She’d carry those influences of her parents and their fashion with her to college, where she attended the University of Pennsylvania and honed her bohemian style.

A week after graduating in 1988 with an art history degree, Tory unintentionally enter the fashion world.

Skills and Relationships

After graduating college, Tory wasn’t all that interested in working in the fashion industry, but, like any graduate, she needed a job. She also wanted to move to New York after graduating from Penn, so she was on the hunt for a job there specifically.

It didn’t take long.

Within a week of graduating, she landed a job working for Zoran, a designer whose clothes were favorites of Tory’s mother, and moved to New York to start working for him as an assistant.

From there, Tory would work at Harper’s Bazaar and then with the legendary Ralph Lauren. While working for Ralph Lauren she met Vera Wang and ended up working for her as well. Later, Tory would also work for Loewe, a luxury fashion house owned by LVMH.

These experiences gave Tory, who had no business or design experience, an insider’s look at the industry.

Not only did she gain experience in fashion PR but she was also exposed to the various elements of these brands, something she’d later use when running her own company.

She also made plenty of friends in the industry, was constantly attending events, and met the person she’d be linked to forever - Chris Burch.

After leaving Ralph Lauren to work for Vera Wang in 1995, Tory met Chris who was working in the same building.

They soon became romantically involved and got married in 1996, with Tory then becoming the famous “Tory Burch” we know her as today.

But you may be wondering, who is Chris Burch?

Well, he’s an entrepreneur and investor who started an apparel company called Eagle’s Eye with his brother in 1976, grew it to 60 stores, and in 1989 sold 70% of the business, valuing it at $60 million, and later selling the rest of it in 1998.

From that initial sale, Chris bought a small apartment at the Pierre Hotel, and after marrying Tory, to which he brought three children from his previous marriage, they ended up building a 9,000-square-foot apartment in the hotel, combining neighboring apartments to do so.

Tory had twin boys and she continued to climb the fashion corporate ladder, but in 2000, pregnant with her third child, she decided to turn down an amazing offer to be president of LVMH to focus on raising her children:

I had a great career and I was offered a wonderful job, and found out I was pregnant with my third son – and I had three boys under the age of four. And I realized that I would not be able to do both well. So I had to make one of those tough decisions that women often have to make. And I gave up the career and became a stay-at-home mom, but knowing that I really wanted to go back into the workforce.

Tory Burch

It was a decision that gave her the space to eventually start her empire.

Starting Tory Burch

Not long after leaving the corporate world of fashion, Tory got the itch to start her own company.

First, she tried to buy Jax, in an effort to rebuild the brand, but she was rejected by the owner, Sally Hanson.

Then in 2001, 9/11 happened, and she put off the idea of starting her own company, knowing this just wasn’t the right time.

But 8 months after 9/11, she kept seeing a commercial on CNN, again and again, of this little cartoon figure that said, “Follow your dream, start a small business.”

The signs were clear - start a business.

She would do just that, taking the first steps and launching less than two years later.

And this gets me HYPE.


Because she could’ve easily not done so.

Think about it for a second.

She had three young children of her own and three stepchildren - this on its own is a full-time job - and she didn’t have to work at all besides that with money she and Chris had already.

But she wanted to build something of her own, she wasn’t content with sitting on the sidelines, and I LOVE that.

Here’s why Tory went for it:

So when I became a stay-at-home mom, it was for four years, and I knew that I wanted to build some company. I had so many ideas and I was so tired of hearing myself talk about things that never came to fruition.

And then I decided I wanted to start this idea of a company to design beautiful things that didn’t cost a fortune.

And it was because I was missing something in the market, but I also knew that I wanted to start a foundation for women, and I didn’t have the money to do that, so I had to build a company in order to do that.

Tory Burch

Tory had an idea, saw the hole in the market, and went about building a company, going against much of the advice of others.

And she was serious about infusing social responsibility into her company, even though this got a lot of pushback:

There was a lot of negativity and people rolling their eyes. And, by the way, it was a risk. I hadn’t been to business school, hadn’t been to design school. It was something I was delving into without the background to do it.

One thing my parents always said was, "If you’re going to do this, you have to thicken your skin and think of negativity as noise.”

And when (the investors) said not to mention social responsibility, it was part of my business plan. I knew it was an interesting way of looking at a startup and having it be part of the DNA of the company.

Tory Burch

Of course, to start the company, Tory needed capital.

Together with her husband, they put in $2 million, most of that coming from Chris according to my research, and she raised $6 million more from friends and family:

I reached out to 150 friends and family, and I said, “Put in what you’re going to lose,” because I was terrified of losing people’s money. And so some people put in $10,000, some people put in $2,000. And we raised, I think, it was $8 million. And that’s all we’ve ever raised in the beginning.

Tory Burch

It’s important to note a couple of things about this because I know many of you will be thinking about it.

First, yes, Tory was in a very privileged position to raise a couple of million dollars from her husband and $6 million from her friends and family - many entrepreneurs don’t have those connections or that kind of access. I hear you.

Second, that being said, Tory did have 12 years of experience in the fashion industry at this point, having worked at some very well-known brands, and also having built up a number of strong relationships in the industry and beyond. The fact that she was able to convince so many people of her vision and to invest in her company has to count for something.

With the funding to build her company, Tory continued to put in the work to make her vision a reality.

The early days were crazy:

It was exciting but tiring. I was so passionate, particularly as it started to pick up momentum and I could see it come together. It didn’t feel like work. It wasn’t something I was ever complaining about. For me, it was such a gift. I stumbled on my passion. That said, I had three boys under the age of 5, and three teenage stepdaughters. It was a commotion.

It was a lot about getting the children set and getting on the phone with Asia, working with my design team, working on fabrics and the design of the store, working on the concept of the culture, what might be the branding. It was a bit of everything.

Tory Burch

Tory, with the help of Chris, set up manufacturing in Hong Kong, and she went there in person a number of times which made a huge difference in convincing them to take a chance on her, a first-time designer.

The 8 months leading up to the launch of her first store were brutal:

Over an intense period of eight months, Tory and a small staff of designers worked up sketches at the Pierre apartment. Every night, Tory was on the phone to Hong Kong, where her friend and fellow Lauren alumna Fiona Kotur had set up a production office. Often sleeping only three or four hours before rising to get her children to school, Tory would get migraines.

Vanity Fair

And the company was named Tory by TRB initially, with the TRB standing for Tory Robinson Burch. Tory had tried a number of other names, but they were all taken. Two years later, the company would become “Tory Burch” as we know it today.

So Tory had funding and a name for her company. She also had her now famous double T logo, which she hired a firm to create for her, as well as a collection of initial products:

They aimed for the women’s sector known as “contemporary,” with tunics and dresses from $250 to $400, shoes from $150 to $350 and handbags from $400 to $600.


Now it was time to launch her first store.

Launching the First Store

For her first store, Tory found an old Chinese furniture store in downtown New York on Elizabeth Street, which didn’t have much on it at the time, and which had relatively inexpensive rent.

She decided to launch in early 2004, during fashion week, and she was 37 years old at the time. I mention her age only because too often we put artificial limits on ourselves for when we can start something. Tory was 37 and had 3 children and 3 step-children when she opened the doors to her first store.

The night before that first store opening though was nonstop work preparing for the big day:

The night before her first store opening, Tory got no sleep at all: she and her three stepdaughters worked for 18 hours, straight through the night. Tory went home to shower, then came back downtown to open the doors at 10 A.M. By noon she knew that all the hard work had paid off.

Vanity Fair

And boy oh boy did that hard work pay off.

On opening day, as soon as the store was open, people came flooding in:

We open the doors, and at 10:00 til 6:00, it was amazing. I mean, it was almost as if we were giving the product away. So we kind of realized that we were onto something. And as I said, it was this white space in a market that we had touched, that I was missing, and I realized that other people were missing it as well.

Tory Burch

It got so crazy that women were changing clothes in the middle of the store, which was when Tory really knew they had something:

It was probably when I started seeing people changing in the middle of the store, and watching one of my best friends like helping as a salesperson. And it just was – we couldn’t keep up. And we sold through most of our inventory.

Tory Burch

Tory’s store made more than $80,000 in sales that first day.

And she quickly started gathering praise from others as well:

“She is pioneering the idea of new luxury in a market that is hungry for style," said Stefani Greenfield, who will carry Tory by TRB in all of her 10 trend-setting Scoop boutiques in Manhattan and elsewhere.


The next year, Oprah came calling.


Early on, Tory was growing her brand by word-of-mouth and by doing trunk shows, choosing not to do any advertising for years.

She stuck with one store for more than a year and had only two wholesale accounts - Bergdorf’s and Scoop.

But that was all about to change.


The Oprah boost.

Just like Sara Blakely with Spanx, the golden touch of Oprah had a hand in the early growth of Tory Burch, but Tory nearly missed the opportunity when Oprah’s team reached out:

I thought my brothers were playing a joke on me. I’ll never forget, because it was Spring Break and we were going away. And a friend in PR sent Oprah our clothes for Christmas. And so they called and said, “We’re doing the ‘Next Big Thing’.” And I said, “Great, count me in,” thinking it was one of my brothers.

So it turned out it wasn’t a joke and they were doing the “Next Big Thing” on fashion. I went to Chicago. When we filmed a fashion show on real people, we had to figure out – we didn’t have size runs at the time. So we were using samples, and we had to figure out how to make things on the spot. But I had never been on TV. I had never been in an interview. And Oprah looked at me, she said, “Don’t worry, it’s only 30 million people.”

It’s like, “Oh, great. Thank you. That’s very comforting.”

Tory Burch

Tory’s appearance on Oprah’s show transformed her business and their website had 8 million hits that week. Thankfully, with a warning from Oprah’s team, Tory’s website never crashed.

The Oprah experience highlighted a few things.

One is the importance of luck. A producer on Oprah’s show had given her a tunic created by Tory for Christmas, Oprah loved it and became a fan.

Two is the importance of being prepared for opportunities when they strike. Not only did Tory create a product that Oprah loved, but her team was prepared to take full advantage of the moment when Tory was on the show.

Three is the value of trusting your instincts. Tory launched e-commerce for her brand very early on. Remember, this was 2004 when she launched and 2005 when the Oprah appearance happened - a much different time for e-commerce than today - and Tory had been told back then that no one would ever buy online. Clearly, they were wrong and Tory and her team made the right choice, which ended up being critical to her business.

Tory didn’t rest on that early success, working hard to exceed even her own expectations of opening three stores in five years:

Three stores in five years and it ended up being 17. We were trying to keep up with demand. We were doing trunk shows. I was having friends host events, and building it that way. I was obsessed with the Avon model and the idea of how do we build in a grassroots way. We didn’t have budgets at all. So we had to be incredibly scrappy.

In a way, our customer has helped us build our brand over the years. And certainly my friends have been a big part of that. And we would have an event, a trunk show at a friend’s house in Atlanta, and then we’d see if there was traction and would that be a great place to open a retail store. And then we’d start to study the website as best we could, which data wasn’t as easy then as it is now.

Tory Burch

Yes, Tory got a boost from Oprah, but a year after her appearance on the show, she launched a product that would absolutely take off.

The Reva Ballet Flat

In 2006, Tory would launch what would become one of her best-known products, the Reva, a $195 pair of ballet flats named after her mother.

An article in the WSJ described what made the product stand out:

Out came a high-quality, affordable, comfortable leather shoe. The ballet flat was sleek and low-cut but had a sturdy shank for support and a flexible rubber sole, which had previously been the sign of a cheap shoe but was imperative for comfort. Elastic gripping the heel area made the shoes fit snugly without gaping—a feature that made the shoes curl upward when they were out of the box—not a very upscale look, but highly functional. The punch line: the oversize buckle, a double-T logo in brass that jumped out like an Oreo cookie.


Sales of the Reva ballet flat exploded, with more than 250,000 pairs sold in the first two years, and all without advertising.

Tory took full advantage of their popularity, introducing a number of variations such as suede and patent leather, and limiting the quantities in each store to control the supply and increase scarcity.

More than 5 million pairs would be sold by 2013.

Building on the Oprah appearance in 2005 and the launch of the Reva ballet flats in 2006, Tory Burch the company continued to grow, doing a reported $100 million in sales in 2007.

Around that time, she also made what would be described as a “brilliant hire” adding Samantha Gregory as her new head of PR.

It’s something we see with Tory again and again, an ability to bring in world-class talent to help her build her empire, which by this point includes a number of stores, personalized to perfection, as described by Fast Company later in 2014:

Tory Burch stores, too, are designed to be inviting. “You feel like you’re getting a peek inside Tory’s house,” says retail chief Matt Marcotte, whom Burch hired from Apple three years ago.

Even the warm orange color that’s present in every boutique echoes the walls of an expansive library in her apartment.

Marcotte has instituted several innovations to increase intimacy with shoppers, including software that allows store associates to better track past purchases (and helps hapless husbands buy for their wives); mini fridges stocked with Coronas, soft drinks, and juice boxes; and iPads loaded with Sports Illustrated and Angry Birds. “Whether you’re shopping or you’re waiting,” Marcotte says, “we want you to leave happy.”

Sonja Prokopec, a professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris, says this personal touch has distinguished Tory Burch in the affordable-luxury sector. Other designers use their own names, but few offer so much of their own lives. “A lot of the affordable-luxury brands, I don’t know how strong they are from a marketing standpoint,” Prokopec says. The personal point of view “is what makes Tory Burch really interesting. People can see something unique.”

Fast Company

Things weren’t all good in Tory’s life at this time though.

While her empire was growing, her marriage was collapsing, making for a difficult and complex road ahead.

Business & Family

Tory founded Tory Burch with the capital and some help from her husband, Chris.

In 2008, they finalized their divorce, relevant in our story because of how intertwined they are, both in the name of Tory’s company and Chris’s interest in the business, in which he still had a 28% stake.

Tory initiated the divorce in 2006, with the proceedings taking almost two years.

They didn’t talk for months after the initial separation, though a series of health scares added some perspective:

Then, as sometimes happens in a divorce, illness intervened to lend a new perspective. First, Chris went in for an operation on a herniated disk, only to lose, for terrifying months, partial use of one arm.

One close relative became sick with cancer, then another. “You realize the pettiness has to stop,” says Tory. “If you had asked me two months ago if we could work together, I would have said no. Now I think we can. I’ve been thinking about this solidly for two months. We talk on the phone now—for a while we couldn’t. Now we’re putting the business and kids first.”

Vanity Fair

Tory also mentioned that her ability to compartmentalize things, something she’s good at, helped her to continue to expand her empire while going through one of the toughest times in her life.

Around the same time, she hired some key team members and brought on key advisors, continuing to add strengths to account for her weaknesses.

These included her half-brother, Robert Isen, who she hired as president of corporate development, and Eric Schmidt, who at the time was the CEO of Google, to become a board member.

Throughout it all, Tory Burch the business kept growing.

Global Expansion & Billionaire Status

Tory opened more than 40 stores in the first 5 years.

Her company did $200 million in revenue in 2008.

The next year, she’d launch the Tory Burch Foundation, a non-profit created to empower other women entrepreneurs.

By 2011, Tory Burch did $500 million in sales, with 60 stores worldwide, and 1,500 employees. That same year, Tory won a $164 million lawsuit against online counterfeiters, one of the largest such lawsuits ever at that time.

The following year, Tory Burch would do $800 million in sales and Tory would have her Chris Burch problem reappear.

He’d sue Tory for a breach of contract, she’d counter-sue because of his C. Wonder brand, and it all was just one big mess that’s not worth spending too much time writing about.

The gist of it is this - Chris would eventually sell most of his stake in the company. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Meanwhile, Tory continued to expand her brand globally, describing her careful approach in an interview with Reid Hoffman on the Masters of Scale Podcast:

We never want to be the company that goes in with a bang. We always want to learn our markets, and be respectful, and understand cultures. We’ve been very careful that way. And often, we go into a market, and we’ll partner with someone from that market. Then we’ll have a claw back of three years and take back our business, or not.

And China was so daunting. Being an American brand, it’s daunting anyway to think about business globally. And certainly American brands don’t resonate in certain places. And we’re proud to be an American brand, but women globally are what inspire me. So I think that we definitely look to other countries for inspiration.

China was a place that just seemed like the Wild West – and still is. And we just wanted to be careful. I just think it was almost like Brazil. Everyone started talking about Brazil. Everyone went in, including us, not in the best way, and realized we had to pull back and get a partner in Brazil to make the business okay. China, I wanted to wait and see.

Tory Burch

In 2013, with the sale of Chris’s stake in Tory Burch, the company was valued by Forbes at an estimated $3.5 billion.

With Tory’s 28.3% stake in her company, she becomes a billionaire for the first time.

The next year, her company does more than $1 billion in revenue, 10 years after its launch.

It’s interesting because Tory never worried about becoming the biggest brand:

I’ve never been inspired by becoming the biggest brand, I wanted to be the most extraordinary brand.

Tory Burch

Well, being an extraordinary brand certainly led to her becoming one massive brand as well, expanding into a number of categories, from dinnerware to watches.

And yet, 10 years in, Tory was still as ambitious as ever:

When I ask Burch, a youthful 48, how she marked her company’s 10th anniversary, she says: “I was working. I know it’s 10 years, but it’s not like we’ve done that much.” The understatement is typical Burch–emblematic of her modesty, her shrewdness, and her enormous ambition.

Fast Company

And in 2014 Tory also brought in a Co-CEO, Roger Farah, from Ralph Lauren, to help expand globally:

We have grown significantly over the last 10 years and Roger is uniquely qualified to help us continue to build and scale the business.

Tory Burch

Roger was the COO of Ralph Lauren for 14 years and helped the company quadruple revenue in that time to $7.5 billion.

By January 2015, Tory Burch had 136 boutiques globally and 70 in the U.S.

A few years later, Tory would hand off the CEO role completely, allowing her to focus all her attention on the creative side of the business.

CEO Handoff & Tory Burch Today

In 2014, Tory Burch started dating a man named Pierre-Yves Roussel, who at the time was working for LVMH. They had met two years earlier in Paris, at a breakfast with investment bankers, becoming friends not long after.

The two got married in 2018 and at the start of 2019, Roussel became CEO of Tory Burch, leaving his role as CEO of the LVMH Fashion Group.

But taking the CEO position took years of convincing from Tory, as she jokingly described:

I had to marry him to get him to be C.E.O. It took me many years of convincing him and it allowed me to rethink everything.

I went from spending 20 to 30 percent of my time on creativity and the product, to almost 100 percent. It’s night and day, quite honestly.

Tory Burch

The decision for Tory to bring him on board was an easy one for her.

Roussel would help Tory Burch navigate the pandemic, with temporary store closures and employee furloughs, and continue their global expansion.

In 2022, Tory Burch would do $1.75 billion in sales.

Today, they have more than 370 stores around the world.

And the additional time Tory has had to spend on the creative side of the business the last few years?

It’s led to what the New York Times has described as “A new energy” and “A creative reinvention” at the brand.

Tory is now 57 years old, she’s been building her business for 20 years, and yet, it seems like she’s just getting started.

Tory Burch’s Wisdom

In each edition of the Just Go Grind newsletter, I like to include a few more quotes at the end from my research into the founder who is featured, sharing their wisdom.

On their “Buddy Values” at Tory Burch:

So the values came from the first day. I think working in our industry, one of the things that struck me is that women have a more difficult time. I was taught that you treat everyone the same, whether it’s a cab driver or the Queen of England, if you were ever to meet the Queen of England.

And I feel that you get the best work when you have a great environment, and you’re creating a place that people want to come, that’s inspiring. It’s about excellence, but it’s also about being transparent and straightforward, and having a healthy environment.

We named it after my dad, which is kind of funny. He would have loved that. He was very sarcastic, and he had a very dry sense of humor. So in a way, having our culture named after him would be just up his alley.

Tory Burch

On knowing when to trust your instincts:

I don’t think you always know. I think when you realize you’ve made a mistake, I think being agile is the most important thing you can do – and quickly recovering.

I always think of grace under pressure because if you’re frenetic and have drama at the top, then your whole company feels that – and so do your children. So I really try to be calm. For some reason, when things get frenetic, I get more focused.

But I don’t think you ever really know until you take the plunge and really do it. Particularly in our business, as you said early on, the macro is changing at lightning speed.

Tory Burch

The advice she’d tell her younger self:

I would probably say to be more present and really be in the moment and take it all in. I feel like the last 15 years have been a bit of a blur and I wish that weren’t the case. It was just so busy and so crazy all of the time, as you know, that I wish I was more present.

Tory Burch

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