In conversation with: Tory Burch on the transformative power of fashion, entrepreneurship and women's empowerment


Written by BA(Hons) Design Communication Level 3 student Nora Jo

Tory Burch is a name synonymous with elegance, style and empowerment. As a highly successful fashion designer and businesswoman, she has become a leading voice in the industry.

Tory has faced her fair share of challenges in a traditionally male-led industry but has also been a trailblazer, inspiring countless women to pursue their passions and break through those glass ceilings.

She champions entrepreneurs who embody collaboration, resilience and social responsibility, fostering positive change in their communities.

On a recent visit to Singapore to launch a pop-up store in April, Tory made a pit stop at LASALLE College of the Arts to give a talk to fashion students and invited guests.

In this email interview, she reveals the transformative power of fashion, entrepreneurship, and women's empowerment.

As a fashion entrepreneur, how do you believe the industry has changed for women since you first started?

As a woman entrepreneur, I certainly encountered sexism and naysayers when I started in 2004. When I explained my vision for a global lifestyle brand that could support the work of a foundation for women, several investors — all of them men — essentially laughed me out of the room. Until a few years ago, I was still being introduced as a ‘female CEO.’

It is an understatement to say there has been a massive sea change, but there is still so much work to do. In the US, women entrepreneurs still struggle with access to networking, resources and funding. in fact, while 50% of entrepreneurs are women, they receive less than 2% of venture capital. That is just one reason we established our foundation in 2009: to fill those gaps and help more women grow and scale their businesses.

Do you feel that your training in art history provides a different perspective and approach to what you do in fashion?

Studying art history at the University of Pennsylvania taught me to look at everything through a creative lens and to always be open to new perspectives. Art is tangible proof that there will always be another idea, another point of view. That applies to almost everything, especially fashion.

Art has been a huge source of inspiration for me, from Etel Adnan’s beautiful colour sense to the stories of women artists themselves. Art history, like most of our history, was documented through the lens of men, and women artists rarely got the recognition they deserve. I am extremely passionate about highlighting women’s contributions to art, as well as science, politics, culture, and beyond.

How do you incorporate your personal experiences and perspectives as a woman into your designs, and how do you ensure that your designs resonate with your female customers?

As a woman designing for women, I’m sensitive to the way clothing can make us feel. I wear our collections, which informs how I design; I try on every single piece of clothing, every shoe, and every handbag, and am always thinking about how our collections will help women feel confident and beautiful. The dialogue with my team is also important; our company is 80% women, and everyone brings their own perspectives and experiences to the design process.

I love being able to connect directly with my customers and gather their feedback. We have built incredible trust over the years, and they trust me to take risks and evolve with me.

In the recent talk you gave at LASALLE, you mentioned that “doing good is good for business”. Could you elaborate on how this has served you well?

Businesses today are not innovative without purpose, and I am extremely proud that we were a leader in that shift. Our mission inspires and motivates our employees, it builds community, and it has fundamentally strengthened our business.

When we interview potential hires, the foundation is often the first thing they mention. People want to work for a company with a clear, authentic purpose that aligns with their own values.

You also mentioned that “women are great investments”, which is one of the basis for the Tory Burch Foundation. How do you believe that this philosophy can empower women entrepreneurs and positively impact women’s/their lives?

It’s true: Beyond the moral imperative, equality is in everyone’s best interest. We know that when women are empowered, economies are stronger. In business, women bring unique talents and perspectives: They are collaborative, resilient, long-term thinkers who give back to their families and communities. The entrepreneurs in our fellows program are the best examples of this. In addition to building dynamic companies and paying back their loans at a 98% rate, they have social responsibility built into their bottom line.

(Photo credit: Tory Burch)