January 2012

IMAGE: Appearances T Time

Not only is TORY BURCH unafraid of competition, she nurtures it  by BOOTH MOORE

PHOTO: PATRICK DEMARCHELIER

While you’re probably familiar with Tory Burch’s preppy boho-luxe contributions to female wardrobes, you may not be aware of her aid to women entrepreneurs—some 275 of them throughout the United States over the last two years, in the form of mentoring and microloans.

Jela Lalic, owner of the Organique restaurant in Manhattan; Flor Diaz, owner of the FlorquiDiaz bridal shop in Queens; and Undra Duncan and Shekima Francois, co-owners of Cousin & Co. handbag collection in Brooklyn are just a few of those on the receiving end of a partnership between the Tory Burch Foundation, founded in 2009, and microlending organization ACCION USA.

In Duncan and Francois’ case, loans totaling $16,000, one-on-one meetings with Burch and guidance from industry execs enabled the duo to produce a line of samples, sign with a showroom for sales and officially launch their brand. “We’re trying to do just what she’s doing, so for her to give us advice is invaluable,” says Duncan.

Though it may seem incongruous for a designer to lend money to a potential competitor, especially in the cut-throat fashion world, that’s not the case here. “With Tory, it’s just the opposite. She has an amazing circle, and she opened that circle to us.”

The designer says she’d always intended for philanthropy and education to be a part of her fashion label, ever since it was launched at her kitchen table back in 2004. “When I said that to one of my first investors, he told me never to talk about philanthropy. But I said that’s what it’s going to be—take it or leave it.”

At first, the altruism took the form of encouraging customers and employees to give back, but then she became intrigued with the practice of going right to the people who need it. “The idea of microfinance really interested me,” she says. “But it didn’t happen so much in the U.S., and there is such a tremendous need here.”

Burch tapped Terri McCullough, former chief of staff to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, to serve as executive director, tasking her with seeking out ways to integrate the foundation into the fabric of the business.

“There is a new generation for whom public service and doing good are part of their decision making when it comes to choosing corporations to buy into,” says McCullough. “At a time when we’re all talking about economic challenges, small businesses are the engine that drives job creation.”

Women entrepreneurs apply through ACCION, and shoppers support the effort by buying special items with profits designated for the fund or by donating directly at toryburchfoundation.com.

Now, Burch has pulled up a chair with the likes of Steve Case, Michael Dell and Magic Johnson, having been named CEO and CCO of the Startup America Partnership, a White House initiative to gather resources for small companies with high growth potential.

Meanwhile, her own business is expanding at a rapid rate as well, with 50 boutiques slated to open worldwide in the next two years and the first fragrance planned for 2013. Burch’s path will continue on an upward trajectory, and she doesn’t mind sharing the space.