- From a tie seller to a millionaire businessman: The Ralph Lauren Case
- His beginnings in the fashion industry
- The challenges of a growing company
- Revolutionizing the fashion sector with its designs and strategies
- Facing the challenges of fashion in the digital age
- Ralph Lauren, is one of the richest and most successful entrepreneurs in the global fashion industry
From a tie seller to a millionaire businessman: The Ralph Lauren Case
The protagonist of this story is Ralph Lifshitz, known worldwide as Ralph Lauren, who was born on October 14, 1939, in a humble Jewish family that was forced to emigrate from Belarus to the United States.
Ralph grew up in The Bronx, New York, amid enormous economic difficulties alongside his three older brothers and their parents. Since they lived in a fairly modest house, the four brothers had to share the same bed. Perhaps it was because of that harsh childhood experience that Ralph set himself an ambitious goal from a very young age. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered with determination: “I want to be a millionaire”.
In his adolescence, he developed a great love for the classics of cinema, which would strongly influence his way of dressing and would become one of his sources of inspiration.
His brothers and some childhood friends say that Ralph always had something special. He was a boy who easily stood out for his personality and style. He creatively combined garments and elements in his clothing and managed to be the center of attention wherever he went.
One day, when Ralph was 16 years old, his older brother, Jerry Lifshitz, proposed that they change their last name, as they used to be teased by their peers because the pronunciation of their original last name sounded similar to “shit” (which means excrement in English). They both agreed and adopted the surname Lauren. According to some, this choice is because one of Ralph‘s favorite actresses was Lauren Bacall, whom he admired for her glamor and style.
His beginnings in the fashion industry
After completing his undergraduate studies, Ralph began studying business at the City University of New York‘s Baruch College but dropped out after two years.
In 1962, he joined the United States Army and served in the military for two years. Upon his return, he got a job as a sales assistant at a company called Brooks Brothers, dedicated to the production and marketing of clothing for different segments.
In 1964, when he was 24 years old, he began dating a girl named Ricky Ann Loew-Beer, who would become his wife and his greatest inspirational muse.
After his stint at Brooks Brothers, Ralph began working selling ties at the Rivetz company, eventually moving on to another tie manufacturing company called Beau Brummell. By this time, his style of dressing had become very sophisticated he designed his own wardrobe because he did not feel satisfied with the clothes he found in the market, so he went to his trusted tailor to help him materialize all his ideas.
At that time, ties were usually narrow and long, but Ralph did not like them at all, so he decided to create ties according to his style.
“I was selling them and I decided to start designing them because I saw that there were many things I could do better. I didn’t have any training in design, I didn’t know how to sew or sketch, but I had an eye.” -Commented the businessman in an interview.
Full of determination, he started working on his project and designed some unusual wide ties taking inspiration from those classic movies that he loved so much. In 1967, he launched his collection, which he called “Polo”, because he liked sports and he thought that the name of that sport sounded attractive and sophisticated.
With his product ready, he went to speak with a representative of Bloomingdale’s chain of stores, which he saw as a great opportunity to break into the market.
The Bloomingdale’s representative told him that the ties were too wide, that he should make them narrower and remove his brand so they could market them.
At that moment, Ralph had an important decision to make: give in to the demands of a large company to secure a large contract, or follow his instincts and look for other marketing options for his product. With complete conviction, he closed his briefcase and left the room fully confident in the potential of his designs.
Faced with the refusal, he chose to sell the ties directly, so he got a small space in the Empire State Building, where he settled with a drawer and began to write his own story.
Sometime later, the representative of Bloomingdale’s contacted him to say that they wanted his ties. They negotiated and reached an agreement to start selling them in different stores of the chain.
The success of the ties was immediate, billing more than $500,000 in its first year. The men’s market was quickly seduced by Ralph Lauren’s unusual Polo ties, however, a snag arose: the wide knot of the ties did not fit the collars of shirts intended for slimmer accessories. So the next step for Ralph was to design shirts that would work with his ties. Then he designed blazers that would go well with those shirts. Finally, he designed the entire outfit.
Given the success of his products, Ralph proposed to Marvin Traub, who was the CEO of Bloomingdale’s, to create an exclusive Polo by Ralph Lauren store, which was a very risky bet considering that at the time it was not common for designers men had their own shops, it was common for men to resort to tailors when putting together their outfits. Marvin decided to give Ralph a chance and so the first Polo store was created in 1970, virtually ushering in a new era in the menswear industry.
In 1971, the iconic logo of the polo player on his horse made its debut on a new line of shirts for women. Ralph confesses that it wasn’t easy for him to design womenswear because, when it came to menswear, he just followed his instinct and created thinking of what he would like to wear. To meet the challenge, he was inspired by his wife, thus managing to adapt the characteristic style of his brand to the female audience.
“My wife, Ricky, is my muse. She is a beautiful woman, a style icon, she has always been a source of inspiration and I often think of her when I design.” Ralph affirms .
In 1972, Polo presented a complete collection for women and launched what is considered to be the most successful product in its entire history: the polo shirt, a mix between a t-shirt and a sweatshirt in 24 colors that enjoyed instant success. Although Ralph Lauren did not invent the garment as such, he was the one who was responsible for making it an icon of world fashion. Eventually, the polo shirt would be added to a collection at the museum of modern art and would be regarded as one of the most important clothing items of recent decades.
The challenges of a growing company
As sales increased, Polo expanded by expanding its production capacity and establishing new stores. Unfortunately, this rapid growth caused operating costs to rise too high and the company entered a crisis that almost led to bankruptcy.
Faced with the difficult situation, Ralph made a series of strategic adjustments to optimize costs and took all his savings to invest in the business. In addition, he leveraged a loan from Bloomingdale’s, thus stabilizing the company’s finances.
In 1974, Ralph Lauren was commissioned to design the costumes for the film “The Great Gatsby”, by Scott Fitzgerald, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
In 1975, he dressed James Coco and Raquel Welch, the stars of James Ivory’s film “Fiesta Salvaje”.
Likewise, in 1977, she was in charge of the wardrobe of actress Diane Keaton in the film “Annie Hall”, by Woody Allen.
These appearances in the world of cinema helped position the Polo brand as one of the most important in American fashion.
In 1978, the company decided to enter the perfume market with its Polo for Men fragrance, which was featured in a television commercial that featured polo players in action. Later, he would also add perfumes for women to his catalog.
In 1979, Ralph Lauren is inspired by the style of the American West and launched the Polo Western collection, with garments for both men and women.
“I take things from different worlds. There are certain things that I love: the army, safaris, the west and English horse riding… they are all romantic stories. When I work on a collection, I think about characters, people, movies and books; everything is part of what happens and what arises. These are things that I didn’t know I had, that I didn’t know were part of me and they are revealed when I work. My childhood, my upbringing and my dreams of the future; all that I have experienced and all that I have seen.” –Says Ralph about his creative process.
In 1981, Polo began its international expansion by establishing a store in New Bond Street, London, being the brand’s first store outside the United States and the first independent store of an American designer in Europe. That same year the Santa Fe Collection is launched, inspired by the art and natural charm of the American Southwest.
In 1983, Ralph Lauren, frustrated by the lack of choice and poor quality in the home market, decides to create his own collection: Ralph Lauren Home, which includes a wide range of offerings ranging from bedding and rugs. to furniture and decoration, all with the essence and characteristic style of the successful designer.
“Everything I have done is based on my vision of what I would like, what I want for my children, for my wife and for my house. Nobody told me what today was, nobody told me: do it! I did it… I have always believed in a classic and timeless style, which combines elegance and a free spirit. What really interests me is the lifestyle behind the person who wears my designs.” – Says the businessman.
In 1984, the company launched the Safari collection, which was designed to take inspiration from the African continent.
Revolutionizing the fashion sector with its designs and strategies
Something that has always characterized Ralph Lauren‘s style is that his designs tell stories. Each collection is created as if it were the costumes of a movie in which the characters live various typical situations of American life; however, Ralph realized that in his stores those stories were losing life, so he set out to build a new experience for his customers. To achieve this, she leased the Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo House, a French Revival-style mansion at 867 Madison Avenue at the corner of East 72nd Street, and renovated it into a flagship store where she could bring all her stories to life. . The work lasted approx. It took 18 months to materialize and cost around $15 million. The store was opened in 1986 and represented a true revolution in the retail shopping sector.
In 1991, Polo launched a particularly limited edition teddy bear dressed in clothing from the brand. Said bear was inspired by a teddy bear that the staff gave Ralph. Seeing the success of the bear in the market, they decided to start using it as a hallmark of the brand, embroidering it on sweaters, sneakers, and accessories.
In 1992, the Stadium collection of the new Polo Sport line was presented, a technical design clothing proposal with attractive graphic prints inspired by the world of athletics. The goal of this line was to start competing with brands like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma. Since then, the company has developed garments for the practice of disciplines as demanding as skiing, sailing, golf, and horse riding.
In 1993, Ralph Lauren launched a special collection called Double RL, which included garments based on his most personal vision.
“This is my closet. It is not fashion, it is something real.” -Said the designer at the time of presenting the collection.
In 1995, Purple Label is launched, a clothing collection inspired by the most sophisticated European tailoring; and Ralph Lauren Paint, a line of paints with more than 400 exclusive shades based on lifestyles.
In 1997, the Ralph Lauren Corporation decides to go public after exceeding $1 billion in annual sales, raising a total of $767 million in its Initial Public Offering (IPO).
In 1999, after conquering various markets with his brand, Ralph Lauren ventured into another sector, opening his first restaurant in the city of Chicago.
Facing the challenges of fashion in the digital age
In the year 2000, the company rides the digital wave by launching the Polo.com website, however, its objective was not to focus exclusively on online sales, but to provide a complete experience to its visitors by offering them immersive digital interactions, exclusive interviews, style tips and live presentations of the brand’s runway shows.
In 2006, Ralph Lauren becomes the official supplier of the Wimbledon tennis tournament; and, in 2008, it became the official supplier of the United States team in the Olympic and Paralympic Games that were held in Beijing.
Over the next several years, the company continued its expansion by establishing new branches, flagship stores, and restaurants in cities such as Paris, New York, Chicago, and Milan. In addition, he developed a bar concept in New York and started a chain of coffee shops that already has several establishments around the world.
In 2015, taking into account the challenges posed by the digital age, the brand defined the conquest of millennials and generation Z as one of its priorities. That same year, Ralph Lauren stepped aside and left the position of CEO of the company, remaining as executive president and creative director.
In 2018, the company presented at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics an innovative coat that provides up to 11 hours of electronically controlled warmth through a unique integrated technology system. Although the garment was exclusive to the US Olympic team, it served as the basis for the later development of commercial coats with similar technology.
In 2020, with the crisis caused by the pandemic, Polo Ralph Lauren was forced to undertake changes to adjust business finances to the new economic reality.
On the road to recovery, and to evolving its online platforms to attract new generations, the company reinforced its investments in marketing with a significant commitment to digital advertising and social networks.
A product of this innovative vision that he adopted is his collaboration with the technology company Snap Inc., parent of the applications Snapchat, Spectacles, Bitmoji, and Zenly. The alliance produced the firm’s first digital collection, garments that are worn virtually by Bitmoji avatars. Also, it offers the option of acquiring the outfits through its physical stores or from its website.
The company then entered the gaming world through an alliance with G2 Esports, one of the world’s largest esports and entertainment brands. And, recently, it announced that it is ready to conquer the Metaverse with digital clothing and the creation of virtual experiences for its customers.
Without losing the essence of the lifestyle that has always sold his brand, the designer shows that, at 82 years old, he is capable of reinventing himself to stay on the crest of the wave.
“There will always be changes and you cannot rest on your laurels: you must know how people feel and why, and plan your work on it… I want to continue improving. It’s a little harder now than it used to be, you can’t take anything for granted, but it’s okay that it is.” -Ralph affirmed in an interview with the newspaper El País of Madrid .
Ralph Lauren, is one of the richest and most successful entrepreneurs in the global fashion industry
Currently, the company Ralph Lauren Corporation (RL) has a market value of more than $6,100 million, invoices more than $6,400 million annually, generates employment for more than 24,000 people, and has more than 13,000 points of sale. sale all over the world. Ralph Lauren, meanwhile, is 82 years old, has a personal fortune of $6.5 billion, ranking 350th among the richest people in the world according to Forbes magazine, and continues to serve as CEO and creative director of his business empire, controlling the84% of the voting rights. Throughout his successful career as a designer and businessman, he has garnered important recognitions, such as the Coty Fashion Award, the American Fashion Legend award, the keys to the City of New York, Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and the Order of the British Empire, among others.
In the documentary “Very Ralph”, produced by Susan Lacy for HBO, it is mentioned that much of the success of Ralph Lauren is because he managed to build his version of the American dream with the influence of European sophistication through his designs. , thus making its brand aspirational among different market segments. Additionally, the company redefined marketing in the fashion industry by adding authenticity to the message through the lifestyles it was inspired by and the stories it wanted to tell. Each commercial he launched was like a short film that made consumers dream. And, it is important to mention that, although Ralph Lauren has always been true to his classic and timeless style, he has never been afraid to challenge stereotypes to develop new concepts that allow him to take his stories to unexplored scenarios. Some of its most characteristic marketing strategies are: showing entire outfits in stores instead of individual garments, designing scenes and characters that people could relate to, using mainly ordinary people instead of celebrities in advertising campaigns, acquire various advertising spaces in magazines to be able to tell stories through the pages and build a narrative around an aspirational lifestyle. His clients include personalities such as Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Woody Allen, Hillary Clinton, Morgan Freeman, Melania Trump, and Kanye West, among many others; even Prince Charles and Princess Diana came to use garments from their brand.
But Ralph doesn’t just stand out for his fashion and business skills. On a social level, in the company of his wife Ricky, he has led various philanthropic causes. Together they have supported the fight against cancer worldwide through the launch of special collections such as the Pinky Pony, organizing charity galas, carrying out fundraising campaigns, and supporting the financing of research centers that develop treatments for the disease. The designer’s interest in promoting the cure for evil stems from his own experience. In 1987 a brain tumor was detected and he defeated it through surgery.
“I had brain cancer, I got through it very well, I was very lucky. I remember when my friend Nina Hyde, fashion editor of The Washington Post, told me that she had breast cancer, I turned to the fashion industry in order to give voice and I support this topic. She died and one day I asked myself: what else can I do?” -These are her words from her on the matter.
Support for victims of HIV and natural disasters, as well as causes related to respect for diversity and preservation of the environment, are also part of its humanitarian and ecological efforts.
But for Ralph, not everything is working. One of his passions is collecting cars. While most millionaires invest fortunes in paintings and sculptures by famous artists, he boasts a $300 million collection of 70 classic vehicles, saying cars are art in motion. His collection of him, considered among the most important in the world, went almost unnoticed until 2011 when the Louvre Museum in Paris dedicated the exhibition “The Ralph Lauren Car Show” to him. It was the first time that the public had access to twenty of his exclusive copies of it. It has pieces like Mercedes SSK Count Trossi (1930), a Porsche 550 Spyder (1955), a Jaguar D-Type (1950), a Ferrari 250 GTO (1962), and a McLaren F1 LM (1996). Although his favorite of his is a 1955 Morgan Plus 4 Drophead Coupe, for connoisseurs the jewel in the crown is a 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic, of which only two units currently exist in the world.
Regarding his personal life, he is a family man and enjoys spending time with his wife and three children: Andrew, David, and Dylan. Of them, only David, the second, has ventured into the Ralph Lauren firm, where he currently holds the vice presidency. Andrew, the eldest, is a Hollywood producer, while Dylan, the youngest, owns a candy chain.
Thus we conclude the inspiring story of Ralph Lauren, an ambitious designer, and entrepreneur who was not afraid to follow his instincts to create his own version of the world, thus becoming one of the richest, most influential, and most successful people in the fashion industry. global level. In his own words:
“Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion ends fast, style is forever. I don’t make clothes for fashion critics, but for real people… Actually, I hate fashion. I have never followed trends, but my own voice. I bet on garments that have a narrative, quality and longevity. I have survived 52 years doing what I do, it has not been bad for me and it seems that today it is understood much better than decades ago.”