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His underwear business fits to a T


Underwear Photo Credit: Brian Driscoll

Tom Patterson looked good in a suit, but just wasn’t feeling it. Why? Underneath his dress shirt, he was a mess: a bunched-up and bulky T-shirt that kept him hot and bothered.

In his search for the perfect body-hugging shirt, Patterson, then a California-based medical-device salesman, found only “man girdles.” So he decided to build a better T-shirt.

“I wanted to create an undershirt that solved my personal problems,” he said.

Patterson sourced a fabric, drew sketches and convinced his dry cleaner to make a prototype. He searched Los Angeles’ garment district for a manufacturer, and in 2008, as Tommy John, he soft-launched 200 shirts with family and friends and on the Internet.

Armed with kudos from his test group, Patterson approached big retail for his Tommy John Second Skin Collection. He courted Neiman Marcus buyers for a year, cashing out his savings and 401K in the meantime. He had $800 left in the bank when Neiman placed a 15-store test order in August 2009.

It was the highest sell-through of a new brand in the store’s history. Neiman reordered for all 42 stores, followed by Nordstrom three months later. And last year, Patterson, 31, moved to New York City, a necessary step, he said, for growing his business. Patterson and his fiancée, Erin Fujimoto, run Tommy John from their Chelsea apartment.

To date they have four shirt and three underwear styles with a patent-pending body-hugging technology.

His hunch paid off: Tommy John will launch in Saks Fifth Avenue on Nov. 6. Patterson predicts New Yorkers will appreciate not only its functionality, but also its style sense.

“It’s acceptable for guys to wear clothing that actually fits their body with the tailored clothing trend,” he said.

Second Skin incorporates design innovation—the shirts are slimmer and longer than conventional tees—and a silky body-cooling fabric technology that means no more sweat-stained pits.

Jason Seurer, 40, a financial adviser in Minneapolis ordered six shirts at the beginning and has been a loyal customer since.

“One of the biggest positives is the cooling effect [the shirt] has. I dress professionally, and I’d sweat throughout the day. At the end of the day, I’d get big sweat rings, but now, my dress shirt is dry.”

For Dana Fried of Delphic Consulting Group, which launches apparel brands, feeling was believing.

“I put the shirt on and could not believe how it felt, but more amazingly, how it fit. I said to him, ‘man, you have something here.’ I got very involved with him at that point,” Fried said.

By the numbers
Start-up costs: $40,000
Angel investment: $110,000
Price: $24 (briefs) to $38 (T-shirt)
2009 sales: $250,000
2010 projection: close to $2 million

More info here.



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