Advancing from online sales to a fully operational Tribecca showroom in three years, sisters Neely and Chloe Burch operate their accessories line, Neely and Chloe, with the vitality and style of quintessential up-and-coming New York women. When the Burch sisters set out to create a luxury leather goods and accessories brand in 2015, they were striving fill a market gap that they were frustrated with.
And yes, they are Tory Burch's nieces.
Photo by Bridget Badore | @bridgetbadore
“I think Tory is very inspiring for the way that she reached the customer and spoke with them. So I think if we can get a little bit of that, it would be great," says Chloe Burch.
Getting into the Family Business
Growing up in the Burch household was what any outsider may already expect from the famed name. The girls flourished from design and aesthetic inspiration. Outside of their aunt's success, their father began his career within the fashion industry.
“I think that fashion has always been in our family. Our dad was in the fashion industry for a very long time, he started a women and children's knitwear business. My mom worked at the company as well and that's where they met," Chloe explains. “Our cousins have a company called Trademark, which is an amazing accessories brand as well. And then obviously we have our aunt, who is so helpful and so supportive of everything that we do."
Neely remembers sitting around the dinner table talking about design and aesthetic with her parents, and whether it was art or clothes, “it was something that my father in particular knows a lot more about more than your average dad," she jokes.
Without a doubt, the sisters' childhood influenced their determination to create their own brand. Neely and Chloe are born and bred fashion industry darlings, with fingers on the pulse of their millennial target audience.
“I think that it's something that we've felt, as consumers. You want to know more and you want to know why the brand came to be, and there's not always a great answer for that other than its an austere aesthetic or this concept," says Neely. “We've really worked to create a brand that allows our audience to connect with us in a way that feels really approachable, that's something we've tried to integrate into our brand as a whole."
A Millennial's Proclivity for Minimalism
When Neely and Chloe imagined an accessories brand, they imagined one for themselves. Their brand emulates what they believed was missing in the marketplace, something that sits between luxury and fast fashion.
“I think a lot of it just comes from being millennial women, being young women shoppers and feeling frustrated by the fact that the options at hand were skipping the Ubers or bringing your lunch to work so you could buy something that really you couldn't afford that felt elevated and sophisticated and made you feel special," says Neely. “Or the options were buying fast fashion that didn't last or something that felt mass produced or over consumed."
Scrolling through the Neely and Chloe website allows for an experience that is a comparatively bare alternative to brands like Coach and Michael Michael Kors, who's purses lie within a similar price range. The massive difference is that Neely and Chloe accessories exist sans massive logos, labels or signature patterns.
One of Neely and Chloe's best-selling bags, No. 19 The Mini Lady Bag. Photo Courtesy of Neely and Chloe
According to Chloe, the brand emphasizes customization on all of their products, and with customization comes the ability for consumers to view the products as an extension of themselves.
“What our hope was, and what this has really allowed for, was for women to leave our store or our website with their bag feeling more about them than it does about us," says Neely.
Neely and Chloe were able to raise 1.25M in friends and family convertible debt. Neely recalls focusing on finding investors throughout 2015 and 2016, learning as she went. She spent months running to meetings with potential investors, all with different inquires about every aspect their business - which they had to quickly adapt to. “Neither one of us have any history in finance or background in that," says Neely. “There was a very steep learning curve, but it's one that forced us to get really intimate knowledge of every component of the business and put us in positions where, at times, there were questions we didn't have the answers to."
Along the investment trail came the alarming realization that many female founders and business owners have faced. The sisters were given a list of contacts that had a history with investments. “You look down and you realize, it's a bunch of men. There's just no reason why a lot of these names shouldn't be women's names," notes Neely. “It's hard to sit across a table and talk about a product that doesn't resonate with you because you're never going to be the person to use it -if you're a man and we're talking about handbags."
The Burch sisters realized that they had to approach their audience and embrace women investors. They had to create a way to reach their target audience, so they hosted a get together with women from their hometown, women who knew them and saw them as capable business owners.
“It was our first stop on the fundraising trail," says Neely. “We wanted to present a product that was for women, by women, to women. We have a few investors that came out of that night who have become really great ambassadors for the brand."
Today, the Burch sisters operate Neely and Chloe from a sunlit showroom. Right now, their focus is on expanding their customer base while remaining true to their brand story. “We've really only scratched the surface of the consumers that are out there for this brand," says Neely. “I think there's a ton of potential for growth. We've just started dipping our toes into the wholesale side, working with very select specialty store brands to tap into great networks of women and really spread the word about who we are."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.