New York City investor and entrepreneur Chris Burch is the founder and CEO of Burch Creative Capital, a firm who claims a “decidedly different approach to creating value,” developing disruptive ideas and scaling ventures that have proven to have lasting and positive impacts. The company’s investment philosophy is a direct expression of Chris Burch’s own entrepreneurial values and unique vision in his storied career, combining his innate understanding of consumer behaviors with his acumen in creating, incubating, supporting and scaling businesses – building an impressive record over 30+ years and 50+ businesses, connecting innovation to impact. Burch’s strong grasp on the fashion industry has overseen the creation and maintenance of dozens of successful brands while continuing to explore changing trends in the industry’s landscape. Burch Creative Capital was founded in New York City as a platform for investment, looking for existing opportunities with which to mesh and grow, while the current mission has expanded to focus on innovative new ideas from entrepreneurs. Burch Creative Capital has positioned itself outside of the normal investment firm simply applying funding for a return, and under the direction of Chris Burch, the team is dedicated to investing in creativity, passion and new insights to create value in an ever-changing marketplace.
At the center of Burch’s approach to creating, funding and scaling businesses lies a commitment to customer experience. Whether it’s the living on the edge of wildness at the world’s best hotel, Nihi Sumba, the irresistible allure of Poppin, the immortalization of beloved personality seen in ED by Ellen, or the luxurious comfort of a Cocoon9’s tiny layout – the brands nurtured by Chris Burch inspire emotion that creates value and loyalty. Burch Creative Capital currently supports the development of several lifestyle and consumer products brands from retail, apparel and home furnishings throughout industries spanning fashion, hospitality, organic foods and technology. Although headquartered in New York City, Burch participates in global venture investments while consistently growing and expanding companies within its portfolio. Chris Burch joined the Forbes billionaire list in 2013 and manages a property portfolio that includes homes in the Hamptons, Nantucket and the Indonesian island resort of Sumba.
Burch began his career as an entrepreneur when he started Eagle’s Eye apparel while in college. The company first bought and sold sweaters, after which it partnered with a factory to produce its own brand. The company was eventually sold for appropriately $60 million. Burch helped his then wife, Tori Burch, to launch her own fashion label in 2004. He invested a significant amount of equity capital into the business and served as its co-chairman. The company’s value has since been estimated at $3.5 billion or more. Other companies that he has launched since that time include C. Wonder, a retailer of home decor, accessories and apparel. C. Wonder has since been purchased by Xcel Brands.
Chris Burch’s Fashion Brands
While Burch was an undergraduate at Ithaca College in New York in the mid-1970’s, he and his brother Robert started a modest clothing brand named Eagle’s Eye Apparel, buying sweaters for 10 bucks a pop and selling for $15 door-to-door around the campus. What started as a $2,000 investment quickly gained momentum, his operation expanding to other campuses in the area, and, eventually, to brick-and-mortar retail stores. Throughout the course of the next decade in retail, Eagle’s Eye Apparel expanded to a meteoric $140 million in sales with national distribution and a chain of 50+ retail stores. Burch partially sold Eagle’s Eye to Swire Group in 1989 and finished the deal to sell in its entirety in 1998 to a tune that valued the business at $60 million. When asked about his proclivity to build then sell, Burch told Entrepreneur, “Build something really great and then pass it on. I would never suggest anyone to stay at a company more than six or seven years. We grow as individuals and the world is moving so fast. Typically, I’ll always sell a piece of each of my companies along the way, and I couldn’t be happier than if I’m selling too cheap. That’s because I always believe there’s more opportunity down the road.”
In 2004, Burch helped launch the Tory Burch fashion label, serving as the company’s co-Chairman. In 2012, as the company was estimated to be worth $3.5 billion, Buch sold half his share and established the first iteration of Burch Creative Capital to incubate his new brands and manage investments. Apparel, accessories and home decor retailer C. Wonder launched under Burch in 2011 and was sold to Xcel Brands in 2015.
Throughout his time investing through Burch Creative, Chris Burch has developed, funded and nurtured the creativity of various fashion and lifestyle brands with the unique vision of changing the game: “We don’t believe in retail like retail was done in the past.” Burch went on to tell Entrepreneur. “We believe in disrupting the whole environment, offering [our customers] amazing value in an amazing package of fun, excitement and whimsy.” Spanning tech, apparel and home goods, Burch has a keen eye for this “new” vision of retail, while the investment portfolio of Burch Creative Capital thrives on wearable devices company Jawbone, office supplies innovator Poppin and wireless phone recharger Powermat, plus fashion brands BaubleBar jewelry, Chubbies swim shorts and Solid & Striped swimwear. In 2014-15 Burch teamed up with beloved celeb personality Ellen DeGeneres to launch ED, a lifestyle brand that runs the gamut from fashion to home goods to specialized pieces just for the pets in the family. Ventures like these go against the grain and continue to prove Burch’s shrewd awareness in consumer behaviors with market trends. In “disrupting the whole environment [of retail],” and offering a great experience as part of the package embedded in these brands, Burch is redefining retail models for new generations.
Companies like Chubbies and Solid & Striped – for example – are changing the game using online marketing tools like influencer marketing, rich email campaigns and social media to grab the attention of this new generation of buyers. For Chubbies, slangy bro marketing and a singular vision of shorty shorts (*and only shorty shorts) has redefined college trunks around the nation. Investors like Burch took notice and in 2013 funded a $4 million round of investment that Chubbies’ founders said will be spent on sales and marketing efforts to their college fanbase – in activations like tailgates and pool parties – along with their ever-growing advertising on social media. As for Solid & Striped, aka “Instagram’s Favorite Swimwear Line,” this other (*nearly) singularly-focused brand (*it started in swim only but has since ventured into more apparel and lifestyle products) is another example of a direct-to-consumer brand – a retail “disruptor.” Chris Burch took stake in Solid & Striped in 2013.
In 2014, Burch Creative Capital led a $10 million Series B funding round for online-native jewelry retailer BaubleBar, fueling rapid expansion, growing its online catalog of trendy, inexpensive jewelry; courting customers and press; setting up pop-up shops while developing lines for Nordstrom and Anthropologie. BaubleBar co-founder Daniella Yacobovsky told Fashionista that Chris Burch’s extensive network was part of the appeal of Burch Creative’s investment in the brand. “He definitely brings something new to the table in terms of experience and expertise … the folks he’s capable of connecting us to … we’re just starting to chat with his network.” After funding, BaubleBar focused money into growing an offline presence while “disruptor” status remained with heavy online marketing initiatives focused on millennial and Gen Z buyers. “Our favorite thing is to have an hour with no agenda and just hear him think, and it’s super fun and entertaining,” says Yacobovsky. “He’s such a creative genius that some of the ideas that come out, it’s at such a different level.” Burch’s expertise in retail and manufacturing make the perfect pairings with disruptive, energetic and exciting new fashion brands for which Burch Creative Capital seeks to lead.
Burch’s daughters Pookie and Louisa Burch followed in the family footsteps in 2014 launching their line Trademark during New York fashion week. The women’s ready-to-wear collection with a classic preppy feel charmed the fashion set with its quirky, streamlined aesthetic. Industry hype gave way to adoration for the line’s accessories, and when Trademark’s earrings, mules and totes began to outsell the clothing line, the sisters ran with the feedback, reinventing Trademark as an accessories brand and closing their New York storefront to focus on e-commerce.
Another fashion industry disruptor unique to a new generation of online buyers: ED by Ellen DeGeneres, launched in 2015. On the launch, famously funny and adored Ellen announced, “I set out to fill a void in the marketplace of high quality, comfortable yet chic and easy-to-wear pieces with impeccable detailing. I am so excited I partnered with Chris Burch who shares my passion for good design and amazing product. Today my ED line has finally launched and everyone can now have a piece of me… You know what I mean.” The lifestyle brand launched with a capsule collection online, complete with apparel and home goods. The pairing with Ellen presented itself a big name with a big idea, as she told WWD, “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want it to be the biggest brand name that you can imagine.” Life after television for Ellen will be this brand, and its pairing with Burch just may solidify its stance as that “biggest brand name” imaginable. Burch said he was immediately drawn to Ellen’s authenticity and ability to resonate with so many types of people. “Ellen will drive the design and merchandise process,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be creative and have a little bit of business sense, but in this case, it’s Ellen’s vision.”
Sarah Staudinger launched her label, STAUD, three years ago with the intent to recreate vintage-inspired classics with accessible price points. The brand has already made a mark in a big way – celebs like Alexa Chung and the Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine are a few of STAUD’s fast fans and immediate influencers. The line has frenetically gained a cult-like following in its young tenure, not only with apparel but also with her handbags, each year releasing a new style that immediately becomes the season’s favorite it-bag by the season’s favorite it-girls. According to Staudinger, the brand makes “innovative pieces for contemporary women.” Thanks to early successes in sales and investments led by Burch Creative Capital, the company has seen major growth, headquartered in LA while manufacturing in local facilities. STAUD started as a direct-to-consumer operation and has grown to open a showroom in New York City to accommodate its growing number of buyers and retailers.
Poppin products are designed specifically to “bring happiness and inspiration to the workspace.” Founded in 2009 with the goal to infuse the boring office products industry with colorful, affordable alternatives to everything from desktop accessories (think: neon blue staplers or fluorescent orange tape dispensers), to furniture and décor for the office, kitchen, break room and more. Sold online, direct-to-consumer via the Poppin website, the company’s growing corporate catalogue includes over 4,000 clients, including heavy hitters like LinkedIn, Rent the Runway, Squarespace, Warby Parker, and the NFL Network. Although unique from the fashion industry, Poppin shares similar qualities Chris Burch is eager to tie into each of his investments – an “industry disruptor” nonetheless: “The unique thing about our business is that it behaves very much like a subscription business,” Poppin owner Randy Nicolau told Fast Company. “Once you start using our notebooks and our pens—the average B2B customer buys from us six times a year.” Adjust the notebook and pen numbers for furniture – at lower-order frequencies but higher-price points – and the subscription model could see a flow that competitors like Ikea would be hard-pressed to match.
In 2015, Chris Burch and lifelong friend Edwin Mahoney took on the venture for Cocoon9, elevating the way we think about prefab, tiny houses. “The goal was to create a thoughtfully designed product that is simple and elegant and can be used for many different functionalities,” Burch told the New York Times. The modular units that Burch markets as “plug and play” pool houses, guest houses, or other additional structures to sit alongside existing luxury homes start at 160-square-foot spaces around $75,000. Chris Burch told the Times that where Cocoon9 is leaps and bounds above any competition is in the delivery window – a quick 16 weeks or less from the order date, compared to 12 to 16 months to deliver for anything resembling the spaces. The tiny houses come complete with cabinetry, concealed shelving, kitchenette, bathroom and a Murphy bed, along with a multitude of luxury options available as add-ons. These beautiful structures have been hailed as eco-friendly alternatives that could be akin to the “tiny-house” movement for the one percent.
Burch Creative Capital was founded for the purposes of incubating new brands and discovering new investments. As an investor, Mr. Burch has participated in the success of more than fifty companies. He has a unique set of creative skills that he combines with sound financial practices to disrupt brands and to incubate and support disruptive businesses. Burch Creative Capital’s investment philosophy depends on the vision of Mr. Burch and his ability to lead the company into novel market opportunities. The organization currently is supporting a wide range of consumer products that span from apparel and home furnishings to organic foods.
Mr. Burch is well known for his philanthropic activities and his charitable projects. He has contributed funding to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and to NYU Langone Medical Center. His contributions to Mt. Sinai help to support a number of ongoing research activities, including wellness and allergies. At NYU Langone, he champions efforts to optimize the communications between physicians and patients to promote compassion, caring, and empathy through the use of educational curriculum.
Chris Burch also provides support to the Sumba Foundation whose aim is to provide humanitarian aid to the Sumbanese people. This includes various projects that impact health, nutrition and income generation. Through his efforts, many facilities have been constructed, including schools, water wells, and medical clinics.
Burch also has been an ardent supporter of higher education. He has donated generously to his alma maters, which include Tilton School in New Hampshire and Ithaca College in New York. His contributions provided for an outdoor turf field at Burch Athletic Field, a scholarship fund for entrepreneurs, and competitions held at the business schools.
Mr. Burch and several partners have participated in many real estate investments over the years, including hotels, condos, and luxury homes. He purchased a luxury home in Southampton, New York in 2005 for $14 million. After renovating the property, he sold it four months later for $25 million. In 2006, Burch founded J.B. Christopher, a company that supplies construction materials to real estate developers.
Nihi Sumba Resort
Nihi Sumba began as a surfer’s paradise and hostel on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba when “discovered” and inhabited by Claude and Petra Graves in 1988 – two surfers searching the globe for the perfect wave. The Graves spent the next few decades on the coast of Sumba, riding its wave and falling in love with its generous people and rich culture. What the Graves found has been perfectly preserved and elevated into the world-renown Nihi Sumba by Chris Burch.
By 2012, stories of Sumba’s beauty and perfect waves reached Chris Burch, and the opportunity to help Claude expand his humble hostel paved the way to fulfill a distinct and rare vision. Burch called on his hotelier friend from New York City’s The Carlyle Hotel, James McBride, to aide in making Nihi Sumba at once the combination of a global luxury hotel that could meet the preservation of the Graves’ vision and Nihi’s culture while enriching the community around them. Burch purchased Nihiwatu and spent the next three years and $30 million renovating the modest surf destination into the luxurious 5-star resort Nihi Sumba – an extravagant string of picturesque cabanas, treehouses, jungle suites and beachfront villas that has since been named one of the world’s five best eco-hotels and twice awarded the “World’s Best Hotel” from Travel + Leisure.
Still hailed as one of the world’s best surfing destinations, the “perfect wave” that Claude and Petra discovered in the ‘80s – now hailed as Occy’s Left after famed Australian surfer Mark Occhilupo – is coveted and remains private. Guests who would like their shot at the ride down the pipe must sign up in advance and space is limited to only ten guests per day – perfectly preserving the uncharted sense that has always made Sumba so magical.
Burch has investment interests around the world, including a real estate resort known as Nihi Sumba, which has been named one of the best hotels in the world. While travelers might expect to find such a hotel in New York City or Tokyo, this one is located on a remote island in Indonesia. Nihi Sumba began its new life as a luxury resort in 2012 when Burch joined hotelier James McBride in buying the property from its previous owner. After $30 million worth of renovations over a three-year period, the hotel was reopened as a five-star resort. The resort is the largest local employer and donates a percentage of the resort’s profits to the Sumba Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds various projects on the island.
In lieu of high-rise hotels that dwarf the beaches, Nihi Sumba is made up of private villas, each with its own plunge pool. Some of the pools offer a view of Nihiwatu Beach and the Indian Ocean. The resort also contains a large indoor-outdoor entertaining area. If a visitor has a mind to, they can stay in the Tree House villa. The three-room villa features a balcony, bedroom and bathroom. The main tree house has an infinity pool and a living room. The villas are decorated in a local theme chosen by Burch and McBride.
The resort also features a spa located on the beach. In-room spa services also are available. A wellness center offers private instruction classes, including yoga. A guest has the opportunity to go surfing, take a guided hike to a waterfall or go horseback riding.
Started by Claude and Petra Graves in 2001, the nonprofit Sumba Foundation was built to find healthcare solutions and fund projects for clean drinking water and education for the Sumbanese people. Chris Burch has followed the Graves’ original model of sustainable tourism, covering administrative costs of the foundation and allowing 100% of donations to directly fund the foundation’s projects.
Guests at Nihi Sumba have amazing opportunities to enact outreach projects and help fund the foundation while experiencing the amazing culture that the island has to offer. According to the Sumba Foundation, it was the guest’s involvement that made miracles start to happen around the island of about 600,000. Guest donations to The Sumba Foundation went directly to building the projects they funded, and often the guests become personally involved in the foundation’s projects, as knowing they were contributing added value to their stay. Nihi’s role in the joint mission to alleviate poverty in the region, was to be the economic engine of the Island. Nihi Sumba is the largest employer on the entire island, directly contributing to its ecological conservation as well as the social livelihoods of its people.
To date, The Sumba Foundation has directly overseen: treatment for over 400,000 Sumba people across four clinics; malaria infection rates reduced by 93% in core project areas; development of over 65 water wells and 260 water stations; over 20 primary schools supplied with water, toilets, tables and chairs, libraries and books, teaching aids and school supplies.