Small Business Spotlight Special: Tory Burch Foundation Fellows

Five small business owners share what they've learned as part of a community of female founders.

Tory Burch at The Tory Burch Foundation Summit
(Image credit: Tory Burch Foundation)

When you think of Tory Burch, you probably think about her widely loved and celebrity-approved clothing, accessories, and, most recently, her fragrance (opens in new tab) line.

Since she launched her eponymous organization, the Tory Burch Foundation (opens in new tab),  in 2009, she has also become increasingly well-known for supporting small businesses and fostering a sense of community among blossoming women entrepreneurs. Its Fellows Program (opens in new tab), a yearlong intensive geared toward helping early-stage companies scale, has already provided more than $1,200,000 in grants to female-owned businesses. The Tory Burch Capital Program, a partnership with Bank of America, has provided over $75 million in loans. We spoke with five passionate creators and entrepreneurs at the Tory Burch Foundation Summit on June 14 for this special edition of Small Business Spotlight.  

El Guapo

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Community building extends well beyond the foundation's initial capital-building, scaling, and education. Entrepreneurs are also encouraged to, well, encourage one another. "All roads lead back to strong relationships," explains Christa Cotton of El Guapo (opens in new tab). Her New Orleans-based business sells handcrafted bitters, syrups, and mixers. Cotton stresses that for her, community building hinges on attitude and respect. "I'm always surrounding myself with positive, encouraging people that will help propel my business forward while teaching me along the way," she says.

Her advice for other women looking to strike out on their own? "It can be really overwhelming to start your own business. Rome wasn't built in a day, and you don't necessarily have to take a million different things to market. Our product always evolves and changes, but starting with one concept, building a foundation, and then going from there is essential. Remember, it's about progress, not perfection."

Sayblee Products

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A mission-driven mindset is another common denominator that ties many of these entrepreneurs together. "I went to beauty school in 1996, and, back then, hair products were chemical-infested," says Sayblee Darsale, founder of Sayblee Products (opens in new tab). Her hair care line provides safe and healthy options for those struggling with hair growth. "I believe everybody should have healthy hair from the inside out. My goal is to ensure that everyone can have healthy hair regardless of whether they're on hair-damaging medications or have health problems," Darsale explains.

Sassy Jones

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Charis Jones, the founder of the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brand Sassy Jones (opens in new tab), mentions how valuable the Tory Burch Foundation community has been in developing her small business. "My class was 2020, so we were in the thick of the pandemic and trying to figure this all out together," Jones recalls. Now, not only has her business managed to thrive during and beyond the worst of the pandemic, but Jones has a newfound passion for giving back. "The foundation has inspired me to offer classes to help women entrepreneurs so they can have a bird's eye view into my organization the way I did into Tory's," she says.

As a female small business owner, Jones says learning to follow your intuition is an important skill. "Prioritize your voice and trust your gut because, especially as women, we do a lot of crowdsourcing, like, What do you think? Or Give me your opinion. Girl, you know what you're supposed to be doing! We like affirmation from our friends, sisters, or mom when sometimes we need to get super still and quiet and prioritize what we say to ourselves. That inner voice will never steer you wrong. If you are a newbie, listen to your gut. The more you strengthen that muscle, the less you'll find yourself back-peddling," she says.

Little Postage House

"Entrepreneurship is a very lonely path," admits Loly Orozco, founder of Little Postage House (opens in new tab), a customized paper goods and postage company. "It's not a conventional [career] path and often very isolating." Orozco, an attorney before starting her business, says it was tough to transition from a relatively social career to a solitary one. "I went from being in a courtroom and being around people to just me. I craved community, and the Tory Burch Foundation creates that. It introduces you to the women in your cohort and the fellowship community from previous years. We have an online group where we support each other and can ask for help."

In an entire industry based on event planning, Covid was an unexpected hurdle for Orozco. "You have to be innovative and resourceful while willing to be flexible," she says. "People were canceling their weddings, and I tried to handle each situation with as much humility as possible to help my clients. They might return to us for their birth announcements or Christmas cards because of the way we handled the situation during Covid. So sometimes you need to be human."

Hugo

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Claudia McMullin, the founder of Hugo Coffee Roasters (opens in new tab), was a stockbroker, lawyer, and local councilperson before starting her fair-trade coffee roasting company, which gives proceeds to animal shelters and sanctuaries nationwide. She says the journey to a passion-driven, mission-based entrepreneurial career is far from easy—perseverance is the key to doing what you love. "It's fulfilling, but you need to have some chutzpah," she quips.

McMullin says that community building is also the key to brand recognition. For her small business, that's often through potlucks and rescue events that help achieve her goal. "I want to impact animal welfare nationwide and save as many animals as possible," says McMullin.

Gabrielle Ulubay
E-Commerce Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things fashion and beauty. She's also written about politics, gender, and sex for publications like Bustle, HuffPost Personal, and The New York Times. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.