After years of working in the fashion industry in marketing and PR, I was taking some time off to raise my three young sons. It was after 9/11 and I was watching CNN around the clock; I kept seeing a commercial about following your dream and starting your own company. It sounds cliché, but it motivated me.
I’ve always loved design. During my years in fashion I noticed a void in the market for chic, beautifully-made pieces that didn’t cost a fortune. I knew what I was missing from my own closet and thought other women might be looking for similar things. I started putting together image books — sketches and photographs of my parents whose casual elegance embodied the concept of this company.
I started working out of my kitchen with a couple of people who helped bring my concepts into a form that could be turned into a collection. (Sketching is not one of my strengths!) I spent months traveling to Hong Kong where we set up an office. We had to convince manufacturers to take a chance on our concept, promising that, if they did, we would stay with them for the long term.
Eventually, the team working in my apartment grew to 16, not including my boys, who would play hide and seek around the rolling racks of samples. At night, I would be on the phone with our Hong Kong office, sometimes until 4 am. I would often wake up to a voice on the other end saying, “Tory, are you awake?” It was extremely difficult. There were many times when we wondered if it was crazy to think we could pull this off, but we really believed in what we were doing.
We did one round of fundraising; with the capital and our own investment, we were able to get a lease on a 1,900-square-foot space on a remote street in lower Manhattan — and our first shipment of products to fill it. I was warned many times against opening a retail store. 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 shopping experience. Retail design at the time was very minimalist. I wanted the boutique to be warm and inviting, like you were walking into a room in my home. It was also unusual to launch with multiple categories, but from day one it was a lifestyle brand.
In February 2004, during New York Fashion Week, we were ready to launch. We told everyone we knew to come: editors, retailers, friends and other people I knew from my years in the industry. My stepdaughters and I worked through the night so we could open our doors at 10 a.m. — without the actual doors which hadn’t arrived! Everyone pitched in — even my mom was selling product. By 6pm, we had nearly sold our entire inventory and we realized we might be onto something.