Tory Burch was in town Monday evening to the delight of about 40 women who descended upon the dainty King of Prussia boutique — one of 300 worldwide — amid a collection of colorful tote bags, sneakers, and appropriate winter floral prints.

The Tory Burch Foundation invited the women to the store, as well as to stores in Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, and New York, to kick off its Embrace Ambition Series, a week of intimate conversations that are live-streamed on the foundation’s website and that are designed to inspire women to live their best entrepreneurial lives.

Monday night’s girl power hours included mini-speeches from female business owners, including a stirring talk by 16-year-old Jacqueline Means, who founded a nonprofit STEM initiative for young girls in Wilmington. But the moment we all waited for was an Oprah-style chat during which Burch interviewed her mom, Reva Robinson, for whom her iconic Reva flat is named.

“People say, ‘What was the inspiration to your company? My mother. Where did come up with your designs? My mother," Burch said in her intro. “Every single thing comes back to my mom.”

Tory Burch (right) and her mother, Reva Robinson, served on a panel in King of Prussia about empowering women and entrepreneurship.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Tory Burch (right) and her mother, Reva Robinson, served on a panel in King of Prussia about empowering women and entrepreneurship.

When Burch, who grew up in Valley Forge, launched her casual, chic clothing women’s wear line in 2004, the plan, she said, was to start a nonprofit that would give back to the community in some way.

“Back when I was raising money for my company, I was clear that I wanted to build a global business so I could start a foundation,” Burch said. “[The men] were patting me on the back like it was charity work. One person looked at me and said, ‘Don’t ever say business and purpose in the same sentence.’ I knew that I was going to one day come back to him."

Burch launched her foundation in 2009, and the organization did most of its work internally. “We wanted to be very careful about talking about it externally, never be perceived as marketing in any way.”

Two years ago, the foundation launched the Embrace Ambition Series with a PSA that included such celebrities as Kerry Washington and Gwyneth Paltrow to remind women that their ambition should not be seen as negative. This year, the foundation has embarked on a week of events in the days leading up to International Women’s Day on Friday.

Jennifer Robinson (left) of Bala Cynwyd and Anna Welsh (center) of Wynnewood with Tory Burch.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Jennifer Robinson (left) of Bala Cynwyd and Anna Welsh (center) of Wynnewood with Tory Burch.

Burch is a force in the fashion industry, but she’s usually very reserved. There was something about Robinson that brought out the giggles in her and in all of us Monday night. She was candid, relaxed, and authentic.

Here are some of the things she shared with the audience about her life that may offer a window into how she was able to embrace her ambition. And because she’s the billionaire owner of a multimillion dollar fashion empire, it’s clear she knows what she’s talking about.

  • Robinson’s mother was concert violinist Lillian Schapira, who was a bandleader during the 1920s and ’30s and one of the first female orchestra leaders in the country. For Robinson, it showed her that women could be more than just homemakers.
  • Robinson was an actress and worked as assistant to CBS casting director Robert Gale Martin. “That was the beginning of knowing the power I had,” she said. “Every actor from Marlon Brando to Steve McQueen wanted their resume on his desk, and I was the only one that could give it to him.” (Robinson once dated Steve McQueen; her dad, Buddy, who held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, went on a few dates with Grace Kelly.)
  • Burch grew up in Valley Forge on a spacious farm. But it’s not widely known, Burch said, that the family bred German shepherds. Being around the puppies, she said, is among her most beloved childhood memories. “I will always remember the puppies. That was my favorite. It was the most exciting. The most exhilarating.”
  • Not only did the Burch family have a part-time dog-breeding business, Robinson was a florist. Burch and her three brothers often helped create flower arrangements. Robinson’s first job was for an event in Atlantic City with 100 tables and 1,000 people. “I learned on the job how to make magnificent centerpieces,” Robinson said. “It was a lot of hard work. It was terrifying.”
  • Burch was painfully shy growing up. “I must say when Tory was little, she was like a koala bear,” Robinson said. She was so shy. She would hang onto my leg and I would walk with her and I’d say … ‘Buddy, I don’t know about her. We may have to buy her a husband.’ ”
  • Burch is still very shy. How does she overcome it? “It’s all about being out of your comfort zone,” she said. “It’s something I’ve had to grow used to. It’s taken a long time to even feel comfortable speaking in public. [But it’s important] to speak to women about the issues we face.”
  • Robinson’s advice for all women: “First of all, you have to like yourself. And you have to have a goal. And it may change as you move on. But you have to know that you are a perfect person inside and no one can take you down.”