Tommy John has big ambitions and to help it reach its goals, it has made a big hire.
The underwear brand has brought Cheryl Abel-Hodges on board as chief executive officer — the first outsider to helm the company that was founded 15 years ago by Tom Patterson and his wife Erin Fujimoto.
Abel-Hodges, who started the job right after Labor Day, was most recently group president of Calvin Klein North America and the PVH Underwear Group. All told, she spent 15 years at PVH working primarily under former CEO Emanuel Chirico.
Last year, Chirico took a seat on the Tommy John board to help the business expand following a personal investment as well as one by LNK Partners, a private equity firm in which he is a partner.
Abel-Hodges said Chirico is active in the business as an adviser and she’s happy to be able to partner with him again. But she also said that she’s known Patterson and Fukimoto for around eight years and had interacted with them socially as well as professionally as they were both in the underwear space.
Abel-Hodges, who has nearly 30 years of experience in the fashion industry, has also been president of wholesale for Izod, vice president of sales and planning at Ralph Lauren and vice president and general manager of apparel at Liz Claiborne.
She joins Tommy John at a pivotal time for the $100 million brand, which has doubled its wholesale footprint since 2022 and is expected to increase its retail presence by 40 percent before the end of the year.
“Tom and Erin have built an amazing company over the last 15 years with products that push the industry forward,” she said. “I’ve closely followed Tommy John over the years and am deeply impressed with the unique brand voice, product, and consumer brand loyalists. Alongside Tom, Erin and the incredible Tommy John team, I’m so excited to lead the next chapter of growth, evolution and innovation.”
She said her initial game plan centers around growing the business on a variety of fronts. “This is a great brand with a great consumer connection and great product.” She sees a lot of growth in product development, expanded distribution, adding more retail stores and further developing e-commerce as well as an “untapped opportunity in wholesale.”
“This is a crowded space but it’s all about gaining market share,” she said.
Tommy John started out as strictly a men’s underwear brand, but has expanded into loungewear and womenswear with a healthy direct-to-consumer and wholesale business. Patterson, a onetime medical salesman, and Fujimoto, whose background is in finance, started out creating an undershirt that stayed tucked in. They patented a Stay-Tucked undershirt design and found a manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles to produce it.
A year later, the company added underwear, followed by men’s loungewear. The underwear has a no-roll waistband, a horizontal fly that’s more functional, multidirectional stretch fabric and the leg stays in place. Womenswear was added five years ago and now represents 45 percent of sales.
The Tommy John brand is currently available in more than 3,000 points of distribution, ranging from Nordstrom and Dillard’s to Dick’s Sporting Goods. It also operates five of its own retail stores in Scottsdale, Arizona; Houston; Southpark, North Carolina, and Green Hills, Tennessee. Three more are on tap for later this year.
Abel-Hodges acknowledged that it often doesn’t end well when entrepreneurs bring in outsiders to run their companies, but she’s hopeful that won’t be the case here.
“Tom and Erin will continue to be strategic advisers and will stay involved,” she said, adding that they will be active in working on product while she will run the company on a day-to-day basis. “The brand piece is critical to our success but it’s important to operationalize to grow a business. There’s definitely enough for all of us to do,” Abel-Hodges said.
“When we founded Tommy John 15 years ago, we had a simple goal of creating more comfortable solutions and building a business that will be around for the ages,” said Patterson. “Cheryl shares that very same vision, and with her extensive experience building and growing iconic heritage brands, she will be invaluable to Tommy John’s continued expansion.”
“Cheryl is a true visionary leader,” added Fujimoto. “We are truly humbled by Cheryl’s passion for the brand and are so excited for this next chapter of Tommy John.”
Abel-Hodges will be based in New York while Patterson and Fukimoto will remain headquartered in South Dakota.
“This is about a new chapter,” Abel-Hodges said. “Direct-to-consumer is a great place to be and we’re going to prioritize what will move the needle the most. Underwear is a very intimate space and this is a brand with a great voice.”