Ambition used to have a negative connotation, but women are rewriting its definition to embrace the positives of working hard and dreaming big. At the 2019 Glamour Women of the Year Summit on Sunday, November 10, fashion designer and philanthropist Tory Burch and Halima Aden, model and UNICEF ambassador, sat down with Glamour‘s Editor-in-Chief Samantha Barry for a panel titled Repeat After Me: Embrace Your Ambition. Together, Burch, Aden, and Barry discussed how they’re redefining ambition in their careers.
Burch and Aden opened up during their panel about what “ambition” means to them and how they got around the obstacles that others tried to put in their way. They also shared some powerful and inspiring pointers on how women can embrace their ambitions.
To kick off the panel, Burch opened up about the early stages of her career. When Burch was starting her fashion label and foundation, she didn’t always have support—particularly from men who had the capital she needed to be invested in her business. “There were so many obstacles it’s hard to say,” Burch said. “When I went to raise money and many of the people that I met with were men and I said ‘I wanted to build a global lifestyle brand so that I could start a foundation,’ they looked at me and sort of patted me on the back as if it were charity work. And I simply looked at them and said, ‘this is a business plan.’ And back then, that was very unheard of. And they told me very concretely never to mix the two. And I think that just made me more determined to do so.”
Burch was motivated from the beginning, but turning her ambition into results—Tory Burch, the brand, and the Tory Burch Foundation—took time. “It took me 10 years. And literally five months ago, I sent our first e-mail to our team saying we now have real impact on scale and we can talk about it externally. Ambition came after that and it was something that I realized that I was buying into. That was a very harmful stereotype. When the New York Times did an article on us and the journalists said, are you ambitious? It was a very rude question at the time. That was 14 years ago. And a friend of mine called me after and said, ‘Why did you shy away from that word?’ And since then, I was determined to change that harmful stereotype, one that I bought into myself.”
For Aden, becoming a model seemed like a huge ambition—because there were few women like Aden in fashion. In many instances, she was the first woman with a hijab to earn certain modeling jobs. “For myself, professionally, I didn’t step out to be the first job wearing model, but I had little firsts along the way,” she said. “I was the first homecoming queen in my town and in Minnesota. And then I saw that something as small as homecoming court, little girls in my community were coming up to me, asking me about things that I haven’t competed at or done. And then I went out for Midland City USA. And that was a big first, because it was the first time in Miss Universe history that somebody were each other for me. And then that ultimately led me to be the first job working model.”
Since that moment, Aden’s continued to thrive by staying true to herself: “I’m still a small town girl, and I didn’t have to move to New York in order to find success in fashion. I was myself and I did it on my own terms. I’m doing it on my own pace. And that’s where I’m finding success, [by] just being myself.”
Burch added that ambition can have double standards: It’s praised in men and a dirty word for women. “We all need to own ambition, whether it’s being a stay at home mom or being an executive, or however you see it,” Burch said. “When women are criticized for ambition and men are celebrated, that’s a problem.”
Aden’s also invested in making sure that more women come after her—because, she said, a “first” doesn’t matter without a second, third, or fourth. Moving the conversation forward about ambition largely starts with young women, she added. “We are the generation of forward thinkers,” she said. “We’re going to have women who are giving it back to the next generation. There’s this hunger to do something and be active and we are def a generation that speak up and we have opinions to bring to the table.”
As for where she’s hoping to go next, Aden shared a big goal onstage: to attend the Met Gala, dressed by Tory Burch. “Ladies if you don’t ask, sometimes you don’t get it…put it out in the universe. Every room that you’re in, don’t be afraid to network.”
Burch and Aden aren’t strangers to ambition—nor success. Tory Burch is an American fashion designer and philanthropist whose entrepreneurship has paved the way for other women to find success in the fashion industry. Burch founded her namesake label in 2004, but has always been one step ahead in the game. In a recent interview with Glamour, she said, “My plan was always to start a global lifestyle brand so that I could start a foundation.”
As her business grew, she introduced the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship. Recently, she launched an initiative through the Foundation called #EmbraceAmbition.
At 22 years old, Halima Aden is at the forefront of a generation that embraces ambition. In 2016, she was the first contestant to wear a hijab and burkini while competing for Miss Minnesota USA. Two years later, she was the first hijabi woman to be featured on the cover of British Vogue, and earlier this April, she was the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in Sport Illustrated.
Find out more about Glamour‘s 2019 Women of the Year here.
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