Tory Burch on why being an exceptional brand is more important than the biggest one

The founder has revolutionised the world of luxury fashion over the past 20 years, but at the heart of the entrepreneur’s ever-evolving brand is an inspiring focus on female empowerment.

Harper's Bazaar India

Tory Burch dials in from her atelier, looking as chic as you would anticipate in trousers of her own design and a boldly striped Loewe shirt, over which she has donned what looks like an Alaïa harness. "It’s a back brace," she says with a laugh. "White-water rafting is not my friend." Not a confession you might expect from a fashion designer known for her elegant aesthetic—but then, Burch has never played it safe. 

Her accessible-luxury brand, which she launched from her kitchen in 2004, made her a billionaire in under a decade. But in 2018, Burch decided to hand over the role of CEO to her husband Pierre-Yves Roussel, formerly the chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, to focus entirely on design. "It was all so fast-paced for so long, with the travelling and the store openings," she explains. "One of the silver linings of Covid was that it gave me time to step back and think about how I felt about creativity. Now the brand is a much more personal extension of me." Post-pandemic, Burch’s S/S 22 presentation paid tribute to the mid-century American designer Claire McCardell and drew critical praise for its edgy freshness. Subsequent collections have explored the idea of imperfection—a particularly interesting choice from someone hitherto synonymous with preppy polish—and the tension between masculinity and femininity, enabling her to attract a new high-fashion clientele while retaining her loyal customer base. 

In part, what makes Burch’s vision so appealing is that it has, from the outset, been inspired by supporting other women. A tomboyish upbringing with three brothers on a Pennsylvania farm had not prepared her for the discrimination she encountered in the workplace. "I saw it with my peers, and I also experienced many things myself—everything from asking for a salary increase to the way women were perceived in the workforce, doing the same jobs but being treated differently." Her dream was to create a charitable foundation to help other female entrepreneurs. "Instinctively, I felt that if I could create a company that stood for positive change, and helped alter the dynamics for women, that would be exceptional for business," she says. "But I didn’t have the financials to start a foundation, so I had to build a successful brand to do it." 

Easier said than done, of course. "I hear myself saying some of the things I said back then, and it feels slightly embarrassing because I didn’t know what those 18 years would entail," she says. "Learning how to become a designer and to understand numbers—that all happened on the job." The Tory Burch Foundation launched in 2009, and, to date, her brand has contributed more than $85 million to it, along with other women’s empowerment initiatives; the majority of her senior team is female, and the business employs some 4,500 people. "I’m very proud of moving the needle, but I feel we have a lot more to do—in many ways, we’re just getting started," says Burch. "I’ve never been interested in being the biggest brand—that’s not inspiring to me. It’s how we can be the most exceptional."

Feature Image: @toryburch/Instagram

Images: Pinterest

This piece originally appeared in the Dec 2023/Jan 2024 issue of Harper's Bazaar UK