“I never went to fashion school. I didn’t know what a designer was. I knew I had something, but I didn’t know what it was. And it could just have easily been nothing.”
Ralph Lauren is an entrepreneur and clothing designer, and one of the best. His clothes are classically elegant, transcending momentary fashion trends in favor of timeless style. A fixture in the American fashion landscape, Polo Ralph Lauren is a clothing company that has become synonymous with American luxury.
Born in 1939, Lauren was the son of Jewish immigrants who escaped from Belarus. He grew up in the Bronx, then named Ralph Lifshitz, later changing his name to Lauren after years of bullying. He went to a public high school in the Bronx and from there went to business school, which he never finished, and worked at Brooks Brothers as a clerk.
Lauren explains his beginnings:
“I didn’t graduate. At nineteen I was a salesman for Brooks Brothers. Then I went into the Army, and when I got out I was an assistant buyer for Allied Stores. After that Beau Brummel hired me. They are a clip-on tie company in Cincinnati. I sold them an idea – using different kinds of fabric for wider ties. I had the ties made by a contractor, packed them myself and delivered them to the stores wearing a bomber jacket and jeans. They went wild for the ties…”
Lauren expanded into other clothing items, an unprecedented move in the fashion industry at the time:
“In those days, a shirt company made shirts, a tie company made ties, a suit company made suits. But I made them all. That was a radical thing.”
Many employees of Polo Ralph Lauren went on to become successful fashion designers and owners of clothing companies, including Vera Wang, John Varvatos, and Jeffrey Banks, who said in an interview that Lauren trusted him with an entire fashion show when he was only 18, which was a huge success.
Now, Lauren has a net worth of more than $6 billion and a successful public company that has been around for almost 50 years. He’s built a global clothing empire, and is even an official outfitter for the US Olympic team. Lauren never let others decide what he could do — the clothing tells a story of a world he didn’t grow up in.
Creating your own destiny is the beauty of the marketplace — Lauren’s creative vision allowed him to become the authority on the “Ivy League Prep” clothing style without ever graduating from college.
In building his company, Lauren was able to provide value to those who worked for him, more than a formal education ever could. Banks said, “There’s an expression in the industry: Did you go to Polo University?”
This guest post was written by Daisy Belden, an aspiring entrepreneur and writer. She writes at www.daisybelden.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter at @daisybelden.