How Tommy John Came to Create Quick-Dry Drawers

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How Tommy John Came to Create Quick-Dry Drawers

During his five years working as a medical device salesman, Tom Patterson wore a suit and tie, and for five years, he was aggravated by the undershirts, underwear and socks that untucked easily and yellowed quickly, bunched uncomfortably and sagged. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit and Patterson was laid off from his job, it seemed the perfect opportunity to invent some undergarments that would address all of those problems.

Patterson not only made it his mission to solve those problems, but to use humor to get men talking about them. After all, you can't really address a problem if you don't acknowledge that it exists. A few minutes at will get you laughing at the company's video of "The Big Adjustment" (you know, the creative ways men try to subtly, er, unbunch their underwear), tag line: "You can't un-see it. But we can make sure you never have to see it again."

The conversation around men's underwear has not evolved much since a gyrating Marky Mark infamously remarked, "Now that could definitely come between me and my Calvins" 25 years ago, says Patterson, but Tommy John is changing all that. "The Big Adjustment video really addresses a problem that guys have," says Patterson. "It's an uncomfortable experience that all guys can relate to."

Since its launch in 2008, Tommy John has continued to work with mills and factories around the globe to innovate and create problem-solving products from loungewear to socks by focusing on fabric (such as its micro modal that never pills and looks newer longer), fit (its patented undershirt design is guaranteed never to come untucked) and function (it's Quick Draw® Fly — well, you get the picture).

In November, Tommy John introduced its newest product, Air, to address the need for lighter, more comfortable, more quickdrying, anti-odor undergarments, and it has been the company's most successful launch to date.

"I fly 100,000-150,000 miles each year," says Patterson. Understanding the benefits of traveling light and getting "more out of less," Patterson wanted to develop a product that could be washed easily in a hotel sink, for example, and that would dry quickly. Tommy John worked on the program for about two years, "literally putting underwear in a bowl, taking it out, and figuring it out how long it takes to dry with a stopwatch, testing, getting guys' feedback."

Air is the result. It dries in two to four hours, and Patterson claims it is the lightest men's underwear ever created. The underwear weighs an average 1.5 ounces, and the undershirt 2.0 ounces.

"It's half the weight of any product we've created previously." "Our customer, the Tommy John guy, likes evolution, innovation. We're never going to be the cheapest, but we're going to be the best quality, and that allows us to build really high customer loyalty," says Patterson. "Guys always want to feel that they have an edge. We pay attention to the small details we think may make a difference. … We work with manufacturers and mills across the world to solve problems we feel are in the market that other brands haven't told a story about."

That said, "we don't launch a new product unless we have a reason to," says Patterson, who says the company doesn't subscribe to the "Cheesecake Factory menu" philosophy, i.e. there are so many choices that it takes forever to figure out what you want. Tommy John sticks with a strategy more resembling the menu of In-N-Out Burger — a limited number of offerings, but each the very best. "We have the best micro modal, the best cotton," he says.

Indeed, Tommy John is definitely not your five-to-a-pack underwear. Its undergarments are sold in units of one at retailers such as Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Mitchell's, Stanley Korshak and about 500 other stores across the country and Canada. It also sells online, and ships to more than 50 countries.

Tommy John has clearly struck a chord, with the company growing two and a half times in the past two years, and forecasting 100 percent growth this year. "Men have had to take a MacGyver approach to jerry-rigging their underwear. … I've heard of guys attaching garter clips from the bottom of their shirts to the top of their socks to keep them in place.

"Men don't talk about [the challenges of undergarments] … and they can't even remember the underwear they're wearing, but they remember the first time they wear Tommy John. When they try it, it's an ‘a-ha' moment: ‘Hey, this is not constricting or smashing my important assets.' Guys don't like to feel restricted. We're getting guys to talk about underwear at holiday parties, at dinners. They've found something that has finally solved all of their problems," Patterson concludes.