Like many businesses, Tommy John was launched out of a personal need to solve a problem. Tom Patterson, CEO of Tommy John, was inspired to start his now wildly successful clothing company Tommy John because he couldn’t understand why nobody was doing anything to fix the undershirt and underwear problem he was having.
Tom Patterson, CEO & Founder of Tommy John, recently talked with IAB at the Direct Brand Summit (DBS) about why he started the company with his wife Erin Fujimoto, who is Co-Founder & Head of Merchandising at Tommy John:
Launched Out of a Problem That Needed Solving
My background is I’m a former medical device salesman. I was like Will Smith and The Pursuit of Happiness selling medical devices. As my suiting and dress shirting was becoming more fitted and tailored I couldn’t figure out why all the undershirts in the market were designed to be form-fitting for a UPS box. I’d have to tuck them into my underwear, I’d buy a size bigger so they’re longer and they’d bunch up and shrink and stretch out and turn yellow.
I ended up drawing a sketch with my limited art skills which took about an hour. Erin (Erin Fujimoto, co-founder) and I went to the garment district in downtown Los Angeles, bought some fabric, took it to a dry cleaner who had a tailor inside and said could you sew some prototypes together. Ten shirts later I sent them to friends and they loved them. We ended up making 200 shirts and then built a two-page PayPal checkout website in April of 2008 Tommy John was launched, really out of a problem that I had that I wanted to solve and then learned that many men suffer from the same issue.
I Didn’t Want to Be This Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Guy
Launching Tommy John came from a personal need. I had lawn mowing businesses and snow blowing businesses that I had started before. Then I was watching The Big Idea, a TV show with Donny Deutsch, it was really Shark Tank before Shark Tank and a lot of entrepreneurs had ideas and I thought what’s my idea? This undershirt was the idea.
Fast forward to Fall of 2008, I was laid off my medical sales job and I read an article that there’s no better time to start a company than during a recession. I didn’t want to be this coulda, woulda, shoulda guy, ten years later having these regrets. What if I would have started this company, I had this idea, I wasn’t married yet, we didn’t have kids, didn’t own a home, and I thought there’s nothing really to lose. I can always go back and get another medical sales job but I didn’t want to have any regrets.
I called a buyer at Neiman Marcus. My background was strategic selling and I was trained on how to get to decision makers, but instead of selling a medical device I was now selling underwear. Obviously, not as scientific and not as life-saving, some argue it maybe is, and we were launched into Neiman Marcus in 2009.
Tommy John’s DNA is All About Comfort
I thought at some point a business idea would come to me and it happened to be when I was at a hospital doing a presentation and everything was tucked in, but my undershirt was up to here like a midriff. Why doesn’t anyone fix the undershirt problem? Then it led to my underwear riding up. Why doesn’t anyone make underwear that stays in place through movement? It really is all rooted in comfort and I think Tommy John’s DNA is all about comfort. I think what you see in the market today with women wearing leggings everywhere and flats taking over high heels people just want to be comfortable.