The fashion industry isn’t quick to pivot. Sure, trends may change every year, but there’s still a core of old-fashioned opinions that dominate the landscape: “Consumers will spring for the latest trend.” “Expensive means higher quality.” “Big brands are always best.” And while the past 10 years have brought a series of changes to women’s fashion—outfit services and custom clothing solutions are rapidly on the rise—male apparel has been slow to adopt the trend of consumer consideration.
Enter the Underwear Challenger
Tommy John is looking to change that, starting with the most essential male basic: underwear. Founded in 2008, they’ve spent the past decade redefining menswear, one item at a time. For founder Tom Patterson, the idea to start a men’s clothing company came on the back of frustration with his undershirts. “I was a medical device salesman frustrated with…fabric, fit and functionality…I had no background or connections in clothing design.”
Lack of connections usually spells disaster in an industry comprised of less than 100 core companies per market; designers, creative directors, and merchandisers tend to run in cliques. But Patterson found this lack allowed him to challenge long-standing processes that slowed other brands’ progress.
He didn’t stop there. Patterson and his wife, co-founder Erin Fujimoto-Patterson, went beyond product innovation positioned themselves for success. Instead of fast fashion, Tommy John established themselves as a savvy, direct-to-consumer supplier of men’s underwear. It was a bold move, pitting themselves against giants like Polo and Hanes, two brands which have strong brick-and-mortar presences in department stores.
Direct to Disrupt
The gut decision to avoid a retail-heavy presence was well-founded. Tommy John entered the male fashion space at a time when services like Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker were starting to see their first snatches of success. Men’s razors, dominated by brands like Schick and Gillette, saw market share decreases of 15-20% lost to these upstarts.
It’s an ongoing trend that shows no signs of stopping, with more consumers shunning trips to the mall in favor of shopping online. Direct-to-consumer brands often focus on the pain points of in-person shopping, offering personalized service based on consumer preferences. For women, this comes in the shape of brands like Fashion Nova, Birchbox, and Adore Me, all of which are heavily informed by customer experience.
The relationship between happy customers and increased revenue has always been apparent—but never has it been so important. Consumers have more choices than ever, and the choice not to side with a brand that provides a better consumer experience can mean the difference between exceeded quarterly goals and a costly dip. Brands can no longer focus on profit at the expense of consumer satisfaction. Instead, they have to market their products as an answer to an industry problem.
For Patterson, Tommy John was the answer to uncomfortable menswear. Once he’d patented his brand’s signature items—no-wedgie underwear, a stay-tucked undershirt, and stay-cool socks—branding came naturally. Savvy tongue-in-cheek ads played off of consumer frustrations, from the hassle of venturing into the store, to design flaws with the clothing itself.
With the goal of being authentic and relatable, Tommy John launched its first ad spot in 2015: “The Big Adjustment.” It snagged over 2 million views and generated buzz around the upstart. Since then, they’ve expanded their offerings to Nordstrom department stores, garnering a cult following on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. The brand quickly found its feet, remaining playful even as they received further opportunities to expand.
For Patterson, keeping the brand’s grassroots approach was vital. He was presented with “partnerships, funding [and] expansion into other categories” but was adamant about being selective. So, when comedian Kevin Hart showed interest in Tommy John after buying a pair before a show, Patterson had his reservations. “I was very hesitant to bring Kevin Hart on as an investor… I was worried that his celebrity would dominate the branding we’ve spent years cultivating.” But Hart’s genuine love of the product and desire to help Tommy John grow won out, leading to a Tommy John x Kevin Hart Collection, more investments, and several ad spots that brought the brand even more recognition.
Now a household name in men’s underwear with celebrity endorsement and a loyal brand following, the only question for Tommy John is “what’s next?” Patterson’s answer is as simple: to continue “producing quality products while learning what our customers are looking for.”
That’s a vision with no adjustment needed.
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