Tory Burch Foundation:
Founder & Creative Director, Sandra Baquero
MICROFINANCING WOMEN: GREAT RETURN ON INVESTMENT
By Tory Burch
In 1998 Sandra Baquero moved to New York from her native Bogotá, Colombia, with $500, a suitcase, and a dream: To start her own clothing design business.
Over the years, Sandra supported herself by working minimum-wage jobs from McDonald’s to a beauty salon, where she learned to speak English. “People like to talk in beauty salons,” Sandra explains with a smile, “and I didn’t have time to go to school.” After getting married and having a baby, she provided home care for an elderly neighbor while taking care of her own daughter. And through it all, she continued to design and sew. Finally, in 2007 she launched Sandra Baquero, a women’s wear collection.
The future looked bright. Sandra’s designs resonated with customers at pop-up markets and trade shows, and she and her husband qualified to buy a home in New Jersey with no down payment.
Then the economy stalled. Sandra’s husband lost his job, and they fell behind on paying the mortgage. Sandra suddenly could not come up with the $2,000 entry fee to participate in trade shows — her family’s primary source of income. “The business is my passion, but at the same time it’s our money,” she says. Similar to many new women entrepreneurs with little or no credit history, Sandra was unable to get a bank loan to keep her company — and her family — afloat. Her small business was in jeopardy at a time when its success mattered more than ever.
I know what it’s like to launch a business from your home because I have done it. It’s not easy, but I was very fortunate. I was financially secure and had a supportive network of friends and family who believed in me and were able to invest in my venture. That’s not the case for many women, who are early stage entrepreneurs with great ideas and talent but without the resources they need to grow and scale their businesses — such as Sandra.
That’s why I launched the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009. We support the economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and their families in the United States through microfinancing, mentorship, and entrepreneurial education.
I was surprised to learn that it’s easier for an entrepreneur in a developing country to get a small loan than it is for women entrepreneurs right here in the United States to get one. The numbers are incredible: The Aspen Institute estimates that only 2 percent of potential U.S. microfinance customers are being served, compared to 17 percent being served in the developing world.
Therefore, one of our goals at the Tory Burch Foundation is to provide greater access to capital for women entrepreneurs in the United States. To that end, we are partnering with Accion, an international microfinance nonprofit, to provide loans to promising women entrepreneurs here. Since its founding, the Tory Burch Foundation has given microloans — typically about $7,000 to $10,000 — to more than 100 women in a range of fields from design to skin care to food services. And we see many more businesses that we are eager to support.
Sandra Baquero is one of our loan recipients. With small-business loans from Accion and the Tory Burch Foundation, she has been able to reach new customers and build her business. “A loan helped me to grow faster,” says Sandra, wearing a denim suit from her collection. “It put my business in a good position.”
Sandra used her first loan for $6,000 to participate in three trade shows, where she earned $30,000. As a result, she and her husband were able to get back on track with their mortgage payments and focus on scaling Sandra’s business. It continues to grow, generating $135,000 in 2012 — more than double her revenues from 2010 — providing the family with a level of financial security that was unimaginable to Sandra a few years ago. Her daughter Nicole, now age 9, takes occasional trips to visit their family in California. “We can pay for that,” says Sandra with pride, adding that her daughter “has her own computer and her own iPad,” which Nicole plays with when she accompanies her mother to business meetings.
Women such as Sandra are our best investment. They pay back their loans — Sandra repaid hers in half the allotted time — and they invest up to 90 percent of their income in their families and their communities. They are also engines for economic growth and job creation. In fact, small businesses “creat[e] nearly two out of every three new jobs,” providing approximately 60 million Americans — about half of the private-sector workforce — with employment. It’s also worth noting that women are one of the fastest-growing segments of small-business owners in this country.
In the past year, Sandra brought her husband in as a business partner and hired one full-time and two part-time employees. “When I have a big order, I work with two small manufacturers in Queens,” she says, noting that her designs are available at six stores across the United States. You can check them out at sandrabaquero.com.
It is truly thrilling to see early stage women entrepreneurs take their ventures to the next level, and you don’t need to have an MBA or start a foundation to make a difference. You can invest in women entrepreneurs through crowdfunding efforts such as Kiva or Kickstarter or by supporting their businesses directly; you can find many of them at etsy.com.
There is another simple but invaluable way that we can help women who are struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families: We can become mentors. Having benefitted from the wisdom and insight of many mentors over the years, I understand how important the voice of experience can be. Each one of us can be that voice for those who are finding their way. Sandra Baquero herself is sharing her own experience with women in the Tory Burch Foundation’s mentoring and entrepreneurial education programs.
Anyone can be part of these very potent, high-impact solutions. Through microfinancing and mentoring, we can leverage our own resources to help women achieve financial security. Doing so benefits not just these women and their families, but also their communities and, by extension, all of us.