Bradley O’Brien turned the design process upside down to get solid results – WWD

When Bradley O’Brien joined Tommy Bahama eight years ago to oversee the design and development of the brand’s products, she had her work cut out. She was responsible for creating a cohesive message for a brand with a wide variety of product categories and building the fledgling women’s division.

As the company conducted its search for the new position – executive vice president of product design and development – it was looking for someone who could oversee its apparel, swimwear, accessories, footwear, home and underware products. license for men and women. The search was complete and it took a year before O’Brien was hired.

Despite his vast experience – 10 years at Ralph Lauren, four at Old Navy, six at Lands’ End and four at Sperry Top-Sider – O’Brien said Tommy Bahama was “unlike any other company I’ve worked for “.

She said the business was profitable and successful, but was “design driven. The creators did everything but there was no market organization. This means the design team was working in a bubble, creating a wide range of products without any input from merchandisers who knew what would sell.

The assortment was huge, she says, and “way too big to be properly adopted. And it was not a collaborative process. I used to work with a merchant, but no one was even allowed to work in the design studio” at the Seattle headquarters. “I want to share what we’re doing with everyone so when we present the line it’s no surprise.”

Additionally, the design team was scattered across the country with women in Pasadena, California, men in Seattle, and shoes and a home in New York.

“We didn’t have a logical process,” she said. “I felt we had to change that.”

And she changed it.

As many of the team at the time did not want to move, this allowed O’Brien to bring in people she had worked with in her previous jobs, including Dawn Brandl in men’s and Julie Snow and Suzanne. Bryant in women. “We’ve created an integrated community,” she said.

With this community in place, O’Brien set about executing its core principles – “people, process and product”, all of which needed to be changed in order to help Tommy Bahama evolve. “It was a very successful business, but to take it to the next level we had to make some changes,” she said.

The design team is based in Seattle.

Meron Menghistab/WWD

One of the key recruits was Craig Reynolds, who joined the team as general merchandise manager to give his design team the business eye it lacked. “I pleaded with Doug [Wood, chief executive officer] that we needed a General Merchandise Manager to help us focus and support what they believe is driving the business. »

Reynolds was hired four years ago and that’s when Tommy Bahama was finally able to focus on growing her women’s business.

“Men have always been strong for us,” she said. “It just needed to be updated and made more relevant. Dawn did a great job with this. But the real opportunity was in the women.

While there were a handful of women’s items that did well for the brand, they were few and far between. The team therefore focused on surrounding them with basic pieces, stockings and dresses to expand the assortment and attract female customers.

Even though women shopped at Tommy Bahama, it was almost always for the men in their lives. “She’s in the store,” O’Brien said, “but the biggest incentive is how to get her to shop for herself.”

This new, expanded assortment, which included colorful swimwear, cover-ups that double as dresses, and soft, comfortable casual wear, helped the women’s division reach approximately one-third of the company’s overall sales today.

Following the success, “we now have the opportunity to add more fashion,” O’Brien said.

Inside the Tommy Bahama in Seattle, WA

Looks from the women’s spring collection.

Meron Menghistab/WWD

One of the company’s biggest franchises is IslandZone, a performance-biased collection that started with men and has now found a niche in women as well. O’Brien described it as a brand that introduces technical fabrics into sportswear silhouettes. “When Dawn started, she was very into performance products. Back then, we had casual wear and swimwear, but no sports or athletic products. The first piece was a performance polo shirt and she branched out from there.

“Once we saw it worked, we co-opted it for her as well,” O’Brien said. It’s now offered in everything from dresses and skorts to women’s polo shirts and men’s shorts, camp shirts, half-zippers, polo shirts and shirts.

Another hit for the company has been Island Soft, a collection of comfortable loungewear-inspired apparel such as sweatpants and sophisticated cardigans that are not only ‘super comfy’, but allow the brand to build a business four seasons for women.

“When I started, we had men’s sweaters and jackets, but all the women’s dresses were sleeveless,” she said. “We realized we needed to address this issue, so we launched Island Soft and saw our business turn around in the fall.”

A colorful men's look from the spring collection.

A colorful men’s look from the spring collection.

Courtesy of Tommy Bahama

Women’s swimwear has become a successful business, as have the camouflages that complement it. “She doesn’t know if it’s a blanket or a dress, she just knows it’s elegant,” O’Brien said.

Another growth opportunity is the station separates that offer familiar silhouettes in updated fabrics that a woman can wear all day.

In the flagship men’s division, the brand was built on the strength of its silk camp shirts, but that franchise has now expanded into a variety of fabrics and patterns including linen, silk/cotton blends, rayon and even a perforated model.

At the bottom, it is the Boracay pants that remain the best seller for men, and they too are beginning to be produced for women. The trousers, available in 15 colours, are also available as shorts.

Other key men’s items include technical golf shorts, the Chip Shot, in a variety of colors and designs that can be worn on or off the course. Ditto for On Par, a line of shorts under the IslandZone category. A long pants version will be introduced for the fall.

In total, around 30% of the business is now in performance sportswear, up from less than 5% in 2019. And sustainability is also a big step forward for the brand, with around 60% of men’s products using now sustainable fibers.

In all products for both sexes, Tommy Bahama always makes sure to include a “sand sauce”, or surprise little details inside each garment meant to evoke a smile and create a “shed appeal”. “, she said. These include grosgrain ribbon, special linings, or even a different button thread color.

Looking ahead, O’Brien said the plan is to continue innovating in men’s and women’s fabrics and silhouettes and to improve the digital business to attract a new customer.

“We are 30 years old, she says, but we are still in our infancy. We have a lot of ground ahead of us for the next 30 years.

Abdul J. Gaspar