The food is good, the beaches are hot and the mood is relaxed—all courtesy of Tommy Bahama, a fictional character who has over the past 14 years evolved into a popular lifestyle brand associated with a celebration of island living. The brainchild of apparel industry veterans Tony Margolis, Bob Emfield and Lucio Dalla Gasperina, Tommy Bahama debuted in 1992, with a collection of upscale men’s sportswear. It has since grown into a complete line that includes men’s and women’s sportswear, swimwear, footwear, accessories, fragrances, home furnishings, eyewear and even its own beer. To further communicate the vacation state-of-mind, Tommy Bahama opened a retail/restaurant compound in Naples, Fla., in 1995 featuring the collections and Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Cafe. Today more than 50 retail locations, seven of which are restaurant/retail compounds, exist. The philosophy behind Tommy Bahama is a relaxed, casual attitude that elevates the act of relaxation to a fine art. “The idea evolved because Bob [Emfield] and I worked in the same apparel industry company and we both had homes on the gulf coast of Florida. We kidded constantly about staying in Florida and not dealing with work. We fantasized about a guy who didn’t have to go back to work, whose life was one long weekend. He became Tommy Bahama,” says Tony Margolis, president, CEO and co-founder of Tommy Bahama. “Bob and I brought the sales and marketing background to the concept and Lucio [Gasperina] had the great personal taste and knew what products our Tommy Bahama guy would want. The brand revolves around the core concept that we live in a society of escapism, where we long to remove ourselves from the harsh realities of work and the aggravation of the news brought to us by the media. With Tommy Bahama, we sought to create the product that would be appropriate to this fantasy world.” Margolis believes there are several reasons for the success of the company. “We have always stayed focused on our original vision of casual, relaxed island living. We did not drift off into doing skiwear or work clothes,” he explains. “We also chose to market our name through specialty stores instead of taking the easier department store route. By doing this we created more demand for our product. Another thing I think really helped us is when we started to be knocked off, we made a conscious decision not to compete. Instead we upgraded, elevating our brand by using better silk and more intricate prints thereby making the point we were not about price.”
Expanding into eyewear and sunwear was also a conscious decision. “Once our name took on stature as being a source for valid fashion, sunglasses were a logical extension,” Margolis says. “With any license, it’s essential to select the right partners because you yield power to them and depend on them to bring the same attention to detail and integrity to product quality and presentation that you do. We were very fortunate in our selection of Altair as our eyewear partner. Altair understands what we want. They get our vision.”
The company’s motto “life is one long weekend” defines every aspect of Tommy Bahama, including its marketing strategy. In addition to pursuing traditional outlets such as print ads and commercials, Tommy Bahama focuses on where its customers spend their down time. They have participated in many sport arenas and have sponsored golf and yacht- and horse-racing events.
“From our product to our print advertising to the activities we participate in, we continue to plant and reinforce seeds as to what we are as a brand,” Margolis says. “The Tommy Bahama project exceeds our original expectations, going far beyond our dreams. And we will continue to pursue whatever areas we feel are applicable to the concept. After 14 years in business, we three partners still look at each other and say, ‘this is fun.’”