Updated: Mar 8
There isn't a person alive who doesn't know Who Ralph Lauren is or What he does but, I'm sure that most of them don't know how it all started!
While watching that Documentary I realized there were obstacles that Ralph faced throughout his career, that we small brands starting could benefit from.
In this article I'm going to give the 3 Lessons We Can Learn From Ralph, but first a quick overview of his elusive early life.
Ralph Lauren formally known as Ralph Lifshitz was born to Jewish immigrant parents in The Bronx, New York.
It was there where he got his early inspiration from his favorite form of escapism...Movies. He was in love with the fairy tale that movies presented and later that would influence how he designed his clothes.
Towards the end of High School, Ralph and his brother set out for a name change due to the obvious struggles of the name.
There is little information on why he chose the last name Lauren, but it has been assumed that it was in reference to the style icon of the time Lauren Bacall who happened to be born in the Bronx as well.
After a short run in the Army, Ralph Lauren found and married his wife Ricky Loew-Beer who was a receptionist for a doctor's office at the time.
He then went on to get sales jobs at the likes of Brooks Brothers as well as other tie manufacturers of the time.
It was around this time that Ralph and his good friend Warren Helstein had attended their first polo game. It didn't take them much time to appreciate the lavish nature of the event.
This sparked him to set out on his own venture in which he asked his friend what should he name the brand, Players or Polo? His friend opted for players because he felt like no know would relate to polo due to its elitist nature, but ultimately we know what name he chose.
With that we will go into Ralph's 1st challenge and what we can learn from it.
Lesson 1: Don't go in starving
Ralph has now officially started his own Brand: Polo Ralph Lauren and has set out to the biggest stores at the time to sell his new take on ties. Big. Wide. Colorful Ties.
They were an instant hit due to the contrast of slim boring ties of the time, it was then at Bloomingdales he was offered to have all his ties bought but with one caveat. He would have to remove his label and add Bloomingdale's label.
Lauren is a new brand starting out and here he was being offered to have all his ties bought by one of the biggest names in New York at the time and all he had to do is take his name off. Ralph having a bigger vision for his brand ended up turning down the offer letting him know if you want to buy the ties they would have to have HIS name on it.
This is the most important lesson for anyone starting out! Never EVER go into a deal starving!
To clarify what I mean by starving; I'm trying to express that you should not be looking for the first thing that comes your way or a large sum of money that will take you away from your vision or goals.
You should be looking for opportunities that will help you achieve or get closer to the goals you have for the brand. Ralph Lauren knew that HE wanted to create a brand that put his vision of Americana out into the world NOT give it to the next guy for a check.
If you don't have goals outside of money. I would recommend you to sit down with yourself and your team and find out how you want to add value to those investing in your brand. It will create more longevity for your brand, help you navigate through the opportunities that come your way, and more importantly prevent you from going into a deal starving and taking whatever they give you.
After Ralph turned down the deal, he later got a call back from Bloomingdales, and other giants of the time like Neiman Marcus to buy his ties. Imagine if he sold his ties to Bloomingdales, he would have cut himself short and ruined the other opportunities coming his way.
Lesson 2: Believe in your Vision
This lesson isn't one that Ralph actually struggled with, rather he is the best to ever do it.
Ralph didn't go around telling people what he believed, he lived it! For every collection he created he was hands-on perfecting it down to the little details. Not only did he work on the collection he also helped model the collections himself further living out the vision he was trying to create.
The importance of this is when it comes to building your brand; it helps your future audience understand what you are about and whether they relate or are inspired to be a part of that vision.
A current example of a brand showcasing this (and also has a vision in their name) would be Wrldinvisn. They are a young brand that talks about trusting in your vision, and backs that up by investing in their community to give people a chance to do so. So when people invest in their clothing they understand what they are in a sense buying into their own vision! Make sure you check them out!
The question we smaller brands need to ask ourselves is: When someone buys our product what concept or idea are they agreeing to?
Lesson 3: Maintain a healthy Infrastructure
Ralph Lauren had 2 reoccurring issues; Financing, getting extra capital to invest in new opportunities, and Infrastructure, the ugly parts of the business which include distribution, manufacturing, and inventory. We are going to focus on the latter as it is the one that we can effectively work on now no matter your place in the business.
It may not seem like a big deal now when it's just you and your friend or 2 but if you plan on growing, you will need to begin putting systems in place to future proof your business and prevent the growing pains that all businesses face.
A key thing that Ralph did when he faced these issues with infrastructure was to find the right Who to help him.
The first time he called upon Peter Strom who came in and cleaned up the distribution issues that were plaguing the company at the time. Another time after Polo had gone public they were facing growth issues again they brought in Roger Farrah to help clean up things like supply chains, licensing issues, and new distribution struggles.
The point of me bringing this up is to help illustrate that you don't have to do it alone no matter the size of your team there is a Who to help you.
When it comes to building this infrastructure we are lucky to live in an age where we also have an abundance of apps at our disposal that can act as that Who. Here are a few
Must-Have Apps to Scale Business
Fulfillment: Let apps like Shipstation and Shippo streamline the shipping experience with easy-to-use dashboards that also help you find the best deal possible for each order. Both apps allow bulk printing of labels and if you want to kill 2 birds with one stone Shipstation offers inventory solutions as well
Inventory: I'm sure most of us are using Wix or Shopify and if you are then utilize the different inventory tools they offer, if you aren't a fan of their solutions I would again recommend Shipstation as their inventory tools are pretty advanced even allowing you to use your phone as a scanner to properly track your stock.
Project Management: If you are a one-man army at the time, you can go ahead skip this sections but those even with the smallest team could benefit from project management apps. Slack & Mondays.com are the most well-known know but make sure to check out the different apps available to you and see what works best for the size of your team.
Starting a new brand comes with its many challenges but by following the roadmap left behind by the brands before us we can be ahead of the curve because as the age-old saying goes "Success leaves clues"
Appreciate everyone who has made it this far, make sure to check out the documentary How Ralph Lauren Changed the World for yourself. If you enjoyed the article or got some value out of it, do me a favor and drop a comment below suggesting what I should write about next.
Also, check out my last article 4 Must-Have Fall Essentials for some styling tips for this fall season. Thank you again & catch you guys on the next one.