Tory Burch Encourages Women to ‘Embrace Ambition’

October 22, 2019, 2:37 PM UTC

Tory Burch still remembers the question she got from a reporter when she was launching her company: “Are you ambitious?”

It insulted her, but it also made her aware she was buying into a stereotype: women have to be humble. And she vowed to address it.

Fifteen years later, her company—Tory Burch—is an icon in the fashion world. And Burch is helping other female entrepreneurs know it’s ok to be ambitious.

“We need women and men to be part of this conversation,” said Burch at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday in Washington D.C. “If we’re just women talking about women’s issues, we’re all going to agree. We need to make it ok for all women to embrace their ambition, whether you’re a stay at home mom or an executive.”

The Tory Burch Foundation was launched in 2009, with a mission to provide female entrepreneurs access to capital, education, and digital resources. Building a global foundation for women was one of her goals when launching her company, even though, at the time, businesses with philanthropical purposes weren’t in vogue.

Burch purposefully kept the foundation separate from her company to avoid any inference it was a marketing tool. It was only earlier this year that she signed off on external promotion.

“I wanted to have real things to talk about and real impact and scale,” she said. “Now, I think, we do have real impact and scale.”

In the past 10 years, women have submitted 17,000 business plans to the foundation. And Burch has realized that the mission of helping women launch their own businesses attracts prospective employees to her company who are drawn by that purpose and its authenticity. Of the company’s 5,500 employees, 83% are women, Burch said.

Up next for Burch is a deep dive into her company’s product and creative departments (eight months ago, she stepped down as CEO, with her husband taking over the job). It’s something she’s wanted to do for years, as she never had formal training as a designer, she said.

“People ask me if it was a hard decision,” she said. “Absolutely not. I was a CEO for 15 years. It is such a relief to have someone you trust and know he has all good intentions and will be taking this business to the next level.”

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Summit:

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—”I don’t regret enforcing the law.” Former DHS head Nielsen defends family separation in heated interview
—Why 3 major companies decided to take a stand on gun violence
Tulsi Gabbard calls Hillary Clinton’s Russian jabs “outrageous” at Fortune’s MPW Summit
—Anita Hill calls on candidates to address gender violence
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