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The Self-Made Man: Ralph Lauren

The name Ralph Lauren has become so ubiquitous over the past few decades that it’s hard to imagine him as a real person, let alone an entrepreneur. But he was one, and still is one to some degree or another. He might be at the helm of a vast fashion empire now, but there was a time when he was just a scrappy little necktie salesman trying to hustle his way into bigger and better things. Coincidentally, he’s this week’s Self Made Man.

Actually, that’s not a coincidence at all.

Ralph Lauren was born in the Bronx to a Jewish family of modest means; his father was a housepainter, and the family name was Lifshitz. Ralph changed his last name when he was 16 to avoid ridicule from other kids in the neighborhood, and he picked Lauren because, as he told Oprah Winfrey, ?it wasn’t particularly connected to anything or anyone.?

Ralph had big plans for himself?he even stated his goal of being a millionaire in his high school yearbook?and started selling ties to other kids as a teenager. After dropping out of college and serving in the Army, he returned to selling ties, first for Brooks Brothers and then for a smaller tie company.

He struck out on his own when his idea to design wide, European-style neckties was rejected by his employer, and he started his own company, working out of a drawer and making ties from rags. His designs caught on bit by bit, and small shops starting buying from him, and then eventually Neiman Marcus asked for 100 dozen ties.

With a loan from Manhattan clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, Lauren opened his own store and started designing other things besides ties. Women’s suits, for example. Lauren’s success from this point was largely due to momentum ? he’d worked hard enough and long enough that his ideas were catching on, so of course he had more of them.

It helps that Ralph Lauren’s style leans towards simple, even effortless-looking, clothes that were still preppy and crisp. Time Magazine described the Ralph Lauren look as one of ?sporty, upper-class East Coast youth,? which is nail-on-the-head perfect, if you ask me (and you implicitly did by reading this far).

I’ll end here with this cool Youtube video of Ralph Lauren talking about good values for entrepreneurs: creativity, not accepting things as they are, putting in the necessary time and effort to find greatness, all that good stuff.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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