Ralph Lauren

Born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, New York, Ralph Lauren was fashion aware at a very early age. By spending his hard-earned pocket money on expensive suits, Lauren became the best dressed 12-year-old in his neighbourhood. It wasn’t long before the young entrepreneur left his middle class Jewish roots behind him to set out on a quest to establish his very own fashion empire.

Rather than study design, he completed most of a business degree and learned his trade through evening jobs. While working at one of these jobs, he began designing wide ties and with a $50,000 loan, Lauren founded the company Polo Fashions in 1968.

Polo went on to champion the 'power suit' of the early 1980s in the face of strong competition from Armani. With expansion firmly in his sights, Lauren branched out into women's clothing, sheets, towels and furniture.

Through sheer hard work and exacting standards, Ralph Lauren became the epitome of classic fashion, with brands such as Polo, Ralph Lauren for Men, Ralph Lauren for Women and even Ralph Lauren paint. His company is estimated to be worth a staggering $900 million.

In 1997, Polo Ralph Lauren became a public company and the brand went from strength to strength. In 2007, it was reported that there were more than 35 Ralph Lauren boutiques across the United States.

Lauren himself has said that "back when all this started, [he] felt sure that there were no boundaries for Polo." His self belief has not dwindled over the years as he now states that he is "even more sure" of the fashion house's potential. He also suggested that the brand was responsible for "redefining American style".

In addition to his business empire, Lauren has been involved in various philanthropic initiatives over the years. The designer helped to establish the Ralph Lauren Centre for Cancer Care and Prevention in 2003. A charitable organisation, the centre provides screening for a number of cancers.

Lauren was also responsible for launching the Pink Pony Fund. Some ten per cent of the proceeds from Pink Pony products go towards the fund which helps support programmes dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Another initiative launched by the designer is the American Heroes Fund, which provides scholarships to children whose parents were victims of the 11 September, 2001 events.