The fashion designer and philanthropist on entrepreneurship, ambition and women running for President in 2020
The Tory Burch brand turns 15 this year. What have you learned in that time about being a creative and an entrepreneur?
I’ve basically learned everything. When I started, I had never gone to business school or design school. One thing I am proud of is that part of the business plan from the beginning was to start a foundation and a purpose-driven company.
Your foundation’s Embrace Ambition series addresses double standards around ambition and gender. Have you ever felt vilified because of your ambition?
If I have, ignorance is bliss, because I don’t know about it. But I don’t think I was always taken seriously, and it bothered me. The first article that was written about me, I remember the journalist saying, “You’re very ambitious,” and 15 years ago, I was taken aback. It was very clear in the article, because a friend of mine called me and said, “Nice article, but don’t ever shy away from the word ambition.” It really struck a chord.
Were there any female entrepreneurs you looked up to when you were starting your business?
My mom, even though she didn’t work when I was really young. She’s been an organic gardener since the ’70s, and it developed into a business. It really emboldened her and made her confident. I saw it firsthand.
Why did you decide to focus your foundation on female entrepreneurship?
Women are the backbone of society and their families. Helping them, in turn, helps communities and families. I realized I had the experiences and challenges many women faced and could give them advice. Women are at a disadvantage–it’s very simple. They have a harder time getting access to capital. We passed the $49 million mark last year in giving access to low-interest loans with Bank of America.
To what kinds of businesses?
There’s a woman who owns a hot-dog stand in New Orleans called Diva Dawg. One woman started an all-natural chocolate company out of Maine called Bixby & Co. One woman was working on film sets and saw so much waste, so she created a company to make sure things were recycled. Often, they have more than one job. Sometimes, they’re single mothers. They’re the inspiring ones to me.
You’ve talked openly about being a working mom. Are people talking enough about working dads?
It’s funny, at our summit [last year], I turned that question around when I interviewed [Representatives] Kevin McCarthy and Joe Kennedy III. I said, “I’m going to ask you the question I’m asked every single interview: ‘Tell me, what are you wearing?'” They both were taken aback. And then I asked, “How do you manage being a father and having a career?” I don’t think people are talking about it as much.
You helped design a T-shirt for Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2016 campaign. What do you think of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls?
First of all, I think it’s amazing how many women were just elected to Congress. I think it’s even more amazing that so many women are putting their hats in the ring to run for President. I’d rather weigh in on issues of humanity than politics at the moment, but I’m not scared to weigh in when the time is right.
Women’s success is often attributed to the men in their lives. Have people tried to apply that narrative to you?
It’s happened more times than you can imagine. Listen, you hope your success speaks for itself. The people that know me know the work that I’ve put in to build this company, and I’m not really interested in hearing the folly, as my grandmother used to say.
This appears in the March 18, 2019 issue of TIME.
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