Not that a “herculean effort” is something new to Ralph Lauren.
How fitting that the six hundred athletes who will be marching in the opening ceremonies in hopes of fulfilling their lifelong dreams will be wearing the clothes of a man who knows a thing or two about turning fantasy into reality.
The story of Ralph Lauren, who began his career working out of a drawer in the Empire State Building turning scraps of fabric into designer ties, is one of literal rags to riches.
Creating “something from nothing” is exactly what Ralph Lauren, who stated in his high school yearbook that he’d be a millionaire one day, has done.
Though he has stepped down as CEO, he’s left behind not only a fashion legacy, but a wealth of business savvy.
Here are just nine of the many lessons we can learn from Ralph Lauren.
1. Recognize What You Love
“It’s about living the best life you can and enjoying the fullness of the life around you—from what you wear, to the way you live, to the way you love.”
~ Ralph Lauren
Born as Ralph Lifshitz, Ralph Lauren, the son of Russian immigrants, grew up in the Bronx. But his imagination took him everywhere, including glamorous fantasy worlds.
By day, he attended a yeshiva. In his spare time, he fed his imagination at the movies. Though he didn’t have any fashion designers as role models, he admired the fashion of movie stars like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.
Lucky for him, the company allowed him to sell his own hand-made, wide, expensive ties in their showroom.
Sixteen-year-old boys aren’t known for loving ties. But Ralph Lauren knew what he loved. Instead of being ashamed or embarrassed, he exuded confidence that helped him reach an incredibly high level of success.
“Ralph Lauren started selling neck ties when he was 10 years old so I think I can be real famous like him so I will keep my business going all the way until I get older.”
Figure out what you love, and be proud!
Then create a product that only YOU can create.
2. Stay Loyal to Your Brand
“I went to my boss, and I said, ‘Look, I’d like to design these ties because I think they could be new.’ He said, ‘The world isn’t ready for Ralph Lauren.’ I never forgot that because… I thought that was a compliment.”
~ Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren knew that his European style, high-quality ties were something special and rare.
While he was working for Beau Brummell Neckwear, Ralph Lauren tried to sell his ties to other companies, including Bloomingdales.
“I didn’t have a vision as in, This is where I’m going. I had a vision as in, “This is what I love to do.” The ties, as simple as they were, looked very different from other ties. They were wide and unusual. I never said to myself, ‘I’m going to be the greatest.’ I just wanted to do my own thing.”
Not only did he refuse, he went on to sell his ties to Bloomingdale’s competitors.
Wouldn’t you know it, Bloomingdale’s offered him a better deal along with a confidence boost:
“I think confidence builds as you go on … closing the door on Bloomingdale’s, was at one point sort of crazy and at the same time was amazingly powerful.”
It’s pretty much a given that growing a business requires compromise. But If an opportunity that looks great on paper just doesn’t seem right, consider turning it down. Sometimes it’s okay to stick to your vision and wait for what feels right.
You never know what great opportunity is waiting for you right around the corner.
3. Tell a Story, Create a Fantasy
“The clothes that I design and everything I’ve done is about life and how people live and how they want to live and how they dream they’ll live. That’s what I do.”
~ Ralph Lauren
From the start, when Ralph Lauren was escaping into the world of Hollywood movies, his entire business was based on stories and fantasies.
Which is what makes storytelling such a powerful marketing tool.
Think about what your customers are likely to connect with, and build them a world they’ll relate to.
4. Experience the Worst but Expect the Best
“I went through the extremes of amazing notoriety and also the dreaded things that you never thought you’d have to live through. Not everything works the way you want it to, but if I sit back and think, ‘Am I happy about this?’ Yeah. I wouldn’t have done anything any better.”
“The Ralph Lauren Center, the only outpatient facility of its kind in Harlem, is an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Its mission is to provide the highest quality cancer care and prevention to NYC’s underserved populations in a culturally competent and patient-centered manner, with the goal of eliminating barriers to care and reducing disparities.”
Though he’s no longer CEO, Ralph Lauren is still involved with the company and making huge strides:
“I’m not retired, I love what I do but I realize that some of these things are not my forte and I think you always have to look at your company, at the people in your company, at where you have success and where you don’t have success and plan ahead.”
We should all be looking forward to what he comes up with next.
Don’t rest on your laurels. After a major success, come up with a new idea and make it a reality.
7. Apologize and Keep Going
“We all get report cards in many different ways, but the real excitement of what you’re doing is in the doing of it. It’s not what you’re gonna get in the end – it’s not the final curtain – it’s really in the doing it, and loving what you’re doing.”
~ Ralph Lauren
An unavoidable part of being in the spotlight is dealing with controversy, and Ralph Lauren has certainly dealt with his fair share.
There was the “retouched” ad that made an already skinny model look even skinnier:
“Ralph Lauren has a longstanding history in celebrating the rich history, importance and beauty of our country’s Native American heritage,” the company said in a statement. “We recognize that some of the images depicted in the RRL look book may have caused offense and we have removed them from our website.”
Though you should obviously try to avoid them, and common sense should rule above all else, there are few mistakes and blunders you can’t recover from.
8. Honor Your Roots
“I would like to know more about my history; at some point you ask: where did I come from? There is a connection to my heritage – but where I grew from is foreign to me.”
The purpose of the trip was to open a store in Moscow. But, according to his son, David Lauren, the trip meant more than that:
“But this time it is not just about a store opening – it is very much of an emotional trip,” he added. “In this 40th year, my father is going back full circle. But he’s not Russian – he is clearly American.”
Yes, Ralph Lauren is undeniably American (just look at this), but he doesn’t ignore his roots.
The best thing about Ralph Lauren is that he strives to inspire everyone.
“What I do is about living. It’s about living the best life you can and enjoying the fullness of the life around you- from what you wear, to the way you live, to the way you love.”
Think about your dreams and what you love.
What can you create in a way that nobody else can?
There’s no reason that you, like Ralph Lauren, can’t go create “something from nothing.”
Who has inspired you to turn your business ideas into a reality?
Written by Melissa Fragiadaki
Melissa is WiseStamp’s blog administrator and loves delving into topics of interest to small businesses. She’s an audiobook fiend, podcast connoisseur, and adventurous traveler who enjoys writing lines of code as much as she enjoys writing pages of fiction.