Manny Chirico is taking on Tommy John.
The former PVH chairman and chief executive officer has joined the board of directors at men’s and women’s innerwear brand Tommy John and has been named chair of the board’s retail committee, helping the digital native start-up grow in other channels. Chirico — who oversaw operations at PVH Corp., the fashion house that includes the Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Warner’s brands, among others, for 15 years — has also invested an undisclosed amount in the business.
“Tommy John is a strong brand with a strong market position. But as a company, it’s still relatively in the early stages of development,” Chirico told WWD. “I think I can help [the founders] Tom [Patterson] and Erin [Fujimoto] navigate moving that business forward, potentially positioning it to be a much bigger company and deal with the complexity of the different channels of distribution that they have to work in.
“Over the years, I’ve looked at a number of these digitally native brands, and the challenge with most of them is that they are fast-growing, but not profitable,” he added. “And what was amazing to me when we looked at Tommy John is that historically it’s always been a profitable business. And I think that business model is really something to be envied and something that was very attractive from an investor point of view. I strongly believe that Tommy John could be a billion-dollar brand across multiple channels of distribution. We’re clearly looking at [the partnership] as a long-term investment.
“They don’t need me to tell them how to grow the brand online, or how to communicate with their consumer. They’ve done an amazing job on that,” continued Chirico, who stressed that he’s retired and does not oversee the day-to-day operations at Tommy John. “But I think I could be a good sounding board; someone who can maybe point out where some of the stumbling blocks are as they move forward as they become an even more widely distributed brand through multiple channels of distribution, their own retail stores, their whole distribution, which has already begun. There’s clearly significant growth opportunities there.”
Patterson, who serves as Tommy John’s CEO, added that the seasoned retailer’s long tenure in the retail world will be invaluable.
“He’s a pioneer in the industry and specifically in our sector, with extensive retail experience,” Patterson said. “It’s almost like he’s been through the potholes in his career that can kind of help us from a high level to avoid and navigate and continue to grow the business.”
In addition, LNK Partners, a private equity firm where Chirico is a partner, has purchased a minority stake in the business. (Tommy John declined to comment on the exact amount.) As a result, David Landau, cofounder and partner of LNK Partners, has also joined the board.
“LNK Partners is fortunate to have a long and successful track record of backing founder-led businesses,” Landau said. “Over the last 13 years, Tom and Erin have built an incredible business with industry-leading products for men and women. We’re thrilled to join the team and look forward to helping them build on this great foundation of success.”
The addition of Chirico and LNK Partners as an investment firm follows a string of senior-level leadership hires over the last year as Tommy John continues to scale. Last summer, the firm tapped former Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren executive Michael Moore as the brand’s new chief financial officer. Moore’s arrival came just months after Tommy John added two Nike executives — Beth Brown and Melissa Ohm — to its growing team.
The expanding team is just part of the growth story of Tommy John, which was born online in 2008 by husband-and-wife team Patterson and Fujimoto. At the time, it was a men’s basic brand but expanded into women’s innerwear, bras, ready-to-wear apparel and outerwear 10 years later, even attracting the attention of actor Kevin Hart as an investor along the way. There are also five brick-and-mortar stores and more than 1,300 points of wholesale distribution, with such vendors as Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bloomingdale’s, QVC, Men’s Wearhouse and a variety of specialty stores.
More IRL stores are in Tommy John’s future. (Although the exact number and locations are still TBD, Patterson said.) So are additional wholesale partnerships, which the company plans to double in 2022. “We want to be where the consumer is at the end of the day,” the CEO said.
Meanwhile, underwear remains Tommy John’s top-selling category, with the overall women’s division expected to represent close to 50 percent of the company’s total revenues by 2024. There’s also talk of further category expansion. But Patterson said newness won’t be uncomfortable.
“It’s not going to be sheets and footwear and other things; it’s probably going to be products curated around what we believe is the future of comfort,” Patterson explained. “We like the idea of being able to dress the consumer from the inside out, starting with their basic layer.
“Our DNA has always been about comfort,” he added. “We really haven’t had to change anything about our messaging, our strategy at all since COVID-19. If anything, it’s helped accelerate the business. The consumer is really asking for more today. They want better quality. They’re OK paying a higher price point.”
Chirico agreed, saying that maintaining Tommy John’s premium-brand positioning in the market will be key to its long-term success and growth prospects.
“They don’t confuse the consumer as they move forward,” he said. “And everything — whatever we do as we try to grow — to make sure it’s done in a brand-appropriate way. There are shortcuts you could take that you could make some quick money. But that’s not what Tom and Erin are interested in.”
The privately held company said it’s been profitable since its inception with total-company revenues “obviously north of $100 million,” Patterson said.
The exact numbers have not been revealed, but between 2019 and 2020 revenues grew 20 percent, with loungewear up 130 percent as consumers hunkered down at home. The brand’s e-commerce business also grew by 34 percent in 2020, year-over-year.
Today the company said total company revenues — which includes the e-commerce, wholesale and brick-and-mortar store businesses — have more than tripled over the last five years, or ninefold between 2014 and 2020. The wholesale business is expected to grow in the high double-digit range in 2022.
Patterson said there’s no plans at present to sell the business or go public, but he said he’s not averse to either idea.
“Anything is on the table,” he said. “We’re not naive to what’s happening in the market, especially the public market. We’re keeping a close eye on everything. But I think there’s a lot of paths we could consider in the future. Like with anything, success creates opportunities and [going public] would be something that LNK [and Tommy John] that we would decide together.
“We’re building something for the long run,” Patterson continued. “We want this brand to be around for a really long time. And not only domestically, but globally. We’re still primarily only in North America. Our goal is that we want to be a relevant household name 15, 20 years from now. We’ve never had an interest in hyper-growth just to hit some number and risk falling out of favor of the consumer or having a major quality issue. Our growth has always been a healthy balance of top-line growth and profitability.”