Photo: Tommy John
Five years ago, Tom Patterson was faced with a common irritation while driving to his sales job.”My undershirt was riding up, just like it always did,” Patterson, 33, told us. “The result was a ‘fabric gut,’ where the undershirt would create a bulge just above my belt.”
I thought, “I wonder if there’s a better undershirt out there?”
Patterson went to department stores and found that every shirt he tried on left him with the same fabric bulge. Once he wore the shirts a few times, they began to yellow and wear down.
Patterson began going to the garment district in Los Angeles and researching fabrics. He ended up buying micro modal, a soft fabric that’s sleeker than cotton but still absorbs moisture.
Then, Patterson went to dry-cleaner with a sketch of his new design, $100 and an armful of fabric.
“The tailor’s reaction was: ‘why would you waste such beautiful fabric on an undershirt?'” Patterson said. “But he took the money and got to work.”
The result was a sleek shirt that is longer than most undershirts and tapers at the bottom. The shirt fits snugly below the waist and doesn’t ride up.
Patterson loved the product so he made about 15 more shirts and passed them on to friends. Once they gave him the green light, he moved to San Diego with his girlfriend and found a manufacturer.
Three years after he started selling undershirts, Patterson’s Tommy John label is carried in 500 stores nationwide, including Nordstrom. He’s expanded product offerings to include underwear.
“I would have never imagined I’d be in this business,” Patterson, who runs his business from New York with his wife, said. “But it just started with wanting to know if there was a better way.”
Here’s a photo of one of his $38 undershirts contrasted with a Jockey brand one:
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