Thomas Sullivan of the Thomas Allen Collection is a man of fashion…and much more.
The vision of an entrepreneur is often impeccably clear and simultaneously hazy, depending on whom you ask. The entrepreneur has an alternate gene, many times unseen or misunderstood by others. The long hours, erratic schedule and unpredictable income regularly lead to rattled-off questions and puzzled looks from plenty of folks. However, the entrepreneur does not blink. The entrepreneur knows that, whether the vision is received crystal-clear or clear-as-mud, that vision always remains in tact.
Thomas Sullivan is the epitome of this mindset. Sullivan, founder/CEO of fashion brand Thomas Allen Collection, is a visionary, steadfast in the belief of his vision. A stylish man with a philanthropic soul, Thomas Sullivan maintains a vision that uplifts himself, as well as those close to him and those he’s never met. With the Thomas Allen brand already in retail locations in major cities including Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Louisville, San Antonio, and Jacksonville, the Mobile, Alabama native, now residing in Atlanta, has a vision that both encapsulates and belies his southern roots.
During my conversation with Sullivan, I learned one thing, if nothing else…Thomas Sullivan is a man with a purpose.
What is Thomas Allen Collection?
The Thomas Allen Collection started off as a necktie label just based on things and designs I liked, as well as what the people I knew liked. It’s now expanded into a full scale line and it’s still growing.
I know your company is big on giving back. Tell us about that.
Yes, we definitely believe in giving back the blessings we’ve been given. Our motto is “Where Tying a Knot Really Counts.” This is evident through the philanthropic portion of the organization called Thomas Allen Affection. Through Thomas Allen Affection, portions of each tie purchase are donated to various charitable organizations. We have an event called ‘Connecting The Knot’, which is a networking event that allows businesses and non-profits to push their missions to the forefront. We’ve raised proceeds for the Youth Impact Development Initiative, helping keep kids off the streets and involved in activities. We also have our annual Marshmallows and Mistletoes event in December. Everyone comes out to party with us and brings a wrapped toy to be donated. It’s been really successful over the past few years and everyone always looks forward to it. In 2013, in the aftermath of the severe tornados and flooding in Alabama, we donated clothing and supplies and volunteered in the areas that were really hit hard. I was very pleased with the turnout and support we received.
We’ve seen the Thomas Allen brand on TV and a few celebrities have taken notice. Tell us about that.
Yes, we’ve been blessed in that regard. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson have worn the ties several times on Inside The NBA. That was a proud moment, man. I was literally jerking tears the night the ties were initially featured. I actually saw Charles a few weeks after the ties premiered on Inside The NBA and I thanked him. He was really gracious and complimented me on the ties. He said he’d pass along my thanks to the rest of the guys. And many others have taken notice also. Ted Turner, Jamie Foxx, Guy Torry, Nephew Tommy, Neo, Mel Showers and Takeo Spikes have all worn the ties as well.
What are you working on currently?
We’re working on a few things to expand the brand. Getting more of our signature and custom designs coming. And also, we’re going to have additional pieces pretty soon. From men, women to children, we are adding to the collection so we can cater to everyone. I can’t go into too much detail, as we are still rounding out a few things. But, I’m really excited about where we’re going.
How would you describe your style?
I definitely want to be a trendsetter. I don’t like to follow many trends. Fashion is like an external expression of your inner-self. I may wear a few things most people wouldn’t wear. I get a lot of compliments. I also get a few “Well, I couldn’t get away with that, but you can!” comments as well. My wife is very candid with me if I go too far. But, I definitely don’t want to limit myself, or limit others when it comes to style. I like bringing something out of someone that they didn’t even know was in them.
Why do you do what you do?
You know, a lot of people work jobs because they are good at it, not because they necessarily like it. I do this for a few reasons. I want to be able to leave a legacy for my family. Secondly, and most importantly, this is God’s purpose for me. This is a tool I can use to fill the philanthropy part of my purpose. I remember, when I first started the business, telling my dad how I wanted to help and give back to the community. He told me “you have to try to make a dollar first.” But this is not a job to me. I love doing this and is what I was put here to do.
What was your “Ah ha” moment…when you knew this is what you wanted to do?
My big “Ah-ha” moment came before my wedding. I was looking for a specific tie design and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I would go into places, high-end and low-end, and tell them I wanted a tie capable of having a two-tone concept. While no one had what I wanted, they would all say “I don’t have it, but I love that idea!” I came to the conclusion that I was never going to find it. So, since I couldn’t find it, I designed it myself. I decided to build it and see where it goes.
The Thomas Allen Collection offers style, versatility and uniqueness…
Professionally, what are your goals?
Eventually I want the label in mainstream retail locations, such as Macy’s and the like. And continue to expand to the point where everyone can wear the Thomas Allen brand. If we can continue to build upon what we’ve done, we can definitely get where we want to go.
Who are your inspirations in and outside of fashion?
That’s a great question. Because everyone makes a fashion statement whether they are trying to or not. Man, that’s so hard to say because so many people in my life inspire me. I get it a lot from my uncles, aunts, my dad, my mom, my sisters because they were dressing me long before I could dress myself. My business partners…a lot of times I’ll get inspiration from them and they don’t even know it. The high school I went to, John L. Leflore, was known as a fashion show before it became uniformed. All of my friends and fraternity brothers are all sharp dressers. So many friends from Auburn. I could give you list of people who I turn to for fashion inspiration. My wife dresses very well and she doesn’t hesitate to let me know what she does and doesn’t like. But, there are so many that I’m inspired by. Everyone of my Facebook friends inspire me, because they are all fashionable…they know!
I’d also like to give a special shout-out to a few of those people who have played a significant part in the business:
My wife Jessica Sullivan, my son Dylan Sullivan, my parents Thomas Sullivan & Mattie Sullivan, Brittney Young, Octavais Walton, Dominick Singleton, Tiffany Kellogg, Nwankpa, Tonisha Whitlow, Katrice Cunningham, Courtney Christmas, Dakarai Hill, Michael Slaughter, Melvin Jones, Marcus Williams, Steve Pennington, Thomas Figures, Clarence Brown, Danny James, Mark Lazarus, Montal Morton, Marcus Foxx, Ashley Smith, Brian Gosa, Jeremy Ellis, Christian Spencer, Gerald Cunningham and Richi Whitlow.
How has your eye for fashion changed over time?
I’ll tell you this. I wouldn’t cancel out anything to gain inspiration or an idea for design. Actually, the design that you saw Charles Barkley wear, initially came from a dinner plate. It comes from anywhere. I’ve just opened up so much to allow my mind to interpret anything as design.
What is your advice to those aspiring to get into the fashion / apparel business?
First off, pray about it and be sure that it is something you are meant to do. Not just something you want to do. There’s a difference. Surround yourself with a good team of people. Also, you can’t take everything personally. I’ve heard people say they hate the ties, they’re ugly, that they look too “preacher-ish”…everything. But I’ve received much more of the opposite. So, you have to have tough skin in this business. Fashion is very political. You also have to get used to hearing “no”. You’ll hear it so much, but you can’t let that discourage you from your vision. Those who have made it have failed many times. Just don’t let the failure discourage you from your purpose.
What’s the scariest part of being an entrepreneur?
The scariest part is when other people’s livelihoods are dependent upon your business. I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer a financial setback based on anything we do. Whether that’s vendors, distributors, customers or family, it’s a huge responsibility. But, as an entrepreneur, I look forward to the challenges that come with it.
How do you Defy Life?
I Defy Life just by being able to go against the odds. Letting it be known that he who created me gives me the strength to brat the odds. But the name itself, Defy Life, is so powerful, because it tells you that there’s nothing I can’t do. I may not even be able to tell you… sometimes you just have to witness it.