Tommy Hilfiger shares the top 3 elements you need to succeed

Tommy Hilfiger
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Tommy Hilfiger didn't have a fashion empire handed to him. In fact, en route to becoming the founder and lead designer of his eponymous clothing company, which does about $6.5 billion in annual sales, Hilfiger had to weather financial crises and scores of critics.

As he writes in his new memoir, "American Dreamer: My Life in Fashion & Business," the entrepreneur started out with just $150.

Naturally, he had to get resourceful.

Hilfiger tells CNBC that these three elements helped him succeed.

1. A strong circle of friends and mentors

"I've always surrounded myself with the right people and people who are very bright, passionate and hard working," Hilfiger tells CNBC.

Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estee Lauder, has been an important mentor for Hilfiger. Lauder advised the entrepreneur to stay true to his dreams and always stay on brand.

Terrence Lundgren, CEO and chairman of Macy's, has also been a good friend. Lundren advised Hilfiger to keep an eye on the competition, Hilfiger says.

2. An obsession with the numbers

Hilfiger had initial success with a small clothing store called People's Place in his mid-twenties. But it was short lived: his accountant told him that the company had run out of money and that he needed to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The crisis taught him an important lesson about money: You have to know your company's numbers inside and out.

"Ever since a bankruptcy in my early early years, I've always paid attention to the bottom line," Hilfiger says, "to the business part of the business."

3. A good product, and passion

"I think you have to have a great idea with a great product," Hilfiger says.

But just like a great pair of jeans shouldn't stay in your closet, a good idea shouldn't stay on the back burner.

"Follow your heart," Hilfiger says. "If you have a business idea or passion, go for it."

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