updated 9 Nov 2013, 22:18
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Sun, Nov 03, 2013
Urban, The Straits Times
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Scoring an Asian hit: Tory Burch
by Stacey Chia

In just nine years, American designer Tory Burch, 47, has turned her fashion and accessories label from a small design studio in her New York City apartment to a worldwide success with 100 stores around the globe.

The secret may well be in her logo, which features prominently on her clothes, shoes, bags and accessories.

Made up of two Ts within a circle, it was given the stamp of approval by a fengshui master.

"He loves it and he says it's really positive. The roundness, I hear, is good karma," says Ms Burch, who was in town last week to visit her boutique at Wisma Atria for the first time.

The designer consults a fengshui master on many things, including the location of her boutiques.

In an interview with Urban at the Raffles Hotel, Ms Burch was friendly but sounded exhausted, which was understandable as she had flown in late the night before from Hong Kong.

She had launched a pop-up shop in Lane Crawford and met reporters to preview her debut fragrance, which launched in the United States in September. Here in Singapore, she was at her Wisma Atria store early in the morning to meet staff, before Urban's interview with her at 11am.

Even so, Ms Burch's skin was glowing and she looked perfectly poised in a blue-and-white printed shirt with a matching sweater, navy blue pants and nude slingback heels, all from her label.

"We had a five-year plan of three stores when we started; it is a very different company now from the one I had imagined then," says Ms Burch.

She stresses that her success was based not just on pure luck, but also on identifying a niche in the market.

When the company started out in 2004, there were very few brands offering well-tailored luxury casual wear that she felt was also reasonably priced. T-shirts start from $165 to $450, blouses range from $335 to $600, and dresses can cost $560 to $2,525. The price can go up to $3,425 for a long coat made from cotton with sequins and beads.

Asian expansion

The brand has done especially well in Asia, since it started opening stores globally in 2009. She now has 100 stores around the world, 40 of which are in Asia in cities such as Tokyo, Bangkok, Beijing and Seoul.

Her first store in Singapore in Wisma Atria opened last May and her second opened last month in the departure transit lounge of Changi Airport Terminal 1. There are no plans to open another store here but she plans to open outlets in Malaysia and Indonesia in the future.

"We also want to be careful; we don't just want to be everywhere. It's about looking long-term. Our brand is still quite young and we feel we have a lot of runway ahead of us," says Ms Burch.

She says her reason for wanting to expand in Asia has to do with the strong customer base here.

In Singapore, her shoes were sold at On Pedder before the store at Wisma Atria opened.

"The shoes were selling very well and we always look at sales before expanding around the world. We look at where we have traction," she says.

Currently, the international stores in Asia, Europe and the Middle East contribute about 20 per cent of her total revenue, and the majority of that comes from the stores in Asia.

According to Forbes magazine, the business raked in US$800 million (S$991 million) in revenue last year.

Ms Burch says she is still baffled as to why her brand is such a hit in this part of the world.

Her factory outlet at Woodbury Common Premium Outlet, close to New York City, is often filled with throngs of Asian tourists.

People sometimes send her pictures of the queues outside her stores, she says.

"I love colour and different mixes of print, and I think that is one thing that Asian women like," she adds.

As is the case elsewhere in the world, her Reva flats (photo) and handbags are top-sellers in Singapore.

While her business keeps her extremely busy, Ms Burch says her priority in life is still her three sons - twins Henry and Nicolas, 16, and Sawyer, 12. She was previously married to venture capitalist Chris Burch, 60, with whom she started the business in 2004. They divorced in 2006.

"I take them to school every morning, to their lacrosse games or doctor's appointments and I am home by 6.30pm. I'm a hands-on mum and they inspire me," says Ms Burch.

This family friendly approach to work is something she has incorporated into her workplace, which has about 2,300 employees, of whom about 70 per cent are women.

She says the management is not concerned if employees need to take time off to take their children to see a doctor or run other errands.

"We want to create an environment that really embraces being a mum," says Ms Burch.

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