Famed fashion designer Tory Burch, the entrepreneur behind the Tory Burch brand, delivered a commencement speech Saturday at the “only school that has focused its curriculum on entrepreneurship for the past 35 years”: Babson College.
Burch warned the graduating class overnight success doesn’t exist. She quoted Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who said, “Timing, perseverance and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”
The good news, Burch added, however, “is that if you’re willing to pursue your passion, put in the hard work and believe in yourself, you will succeed.”
The words are ones she didn’t comprehend when she was the age of the Class of 2014, though.
Burch admitted she had no idea what she wanted to do upon graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history. The first time she had ever sported a dress was at her senior prom. But, three days before graduation she cold-called a Yugoslavian designer named Zoran, whose clothes her mother wore, and asked for a job. He agreed, but only if she could start in a week.
“It was a whole new world,” Burch said, sharing anecdotes of Zoran and her time there. “It was a fantastic entrée into the fashion industry.”
From there, she worked at Harper’s Bazaar, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Loewe, telling the students before her, “What I learned is what Babson taught all of you: even if you’re not yet an entrepreneur, you can be entrepreneurial in everything you do.”
Burch began developing the concept for her company when she was pregnant with her third son, and started working out of her apartment with a small team. Eventually, she set up an office in Hong Kong for production and sourcing, as well as “a small space on a low-rent corner of Manhattan.”
“I was warned many times against opening a retail store,” Burch said. “There were a lot of naysayers who thought I should start with a wholesale partner and build the brand from there. But I wanted a unique experience. Retail design, at the time, was very spare.”
On the day of the store’s opening, she nearly sold through the entire inventory by 6 p.m. And, after appearing on Oprah, the brand’s website garnered eight million hits.
“The media called us an overnight success,” Burch added. “I guess that made sense — if you didn’t count the 20,000 hours we put into building the business up to that day, or the combined half a million hours we all spent learning the industry in the years before that.”
Burch shared the best advice she’s ever received from her parents: “To think of negativity as noise.” She urged graduates to believe in themselves and what they’re doing.
Although, it might have been what she said at the beginning of her speech that had the most impact:
Here’s what Babson has taught you: Being an entrepreneur isn’t just a job title, and it isn’t just about starting a company. It’s a state of mind. It’s about seeing connections others can’t, seizing opportunities others won’t and forging new directions that others haven’t. It’s about being entrepreneurial wherever you are and in whatever you do. It’s about having the courage to give in to passion for an idea that makes your heart race. If it doesn’t scare you, you’re probably not dreaming big enough.
Image via Babson College