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Passion and Persistence Define Tommy Hilfiger's Rags-to-Riches Story


Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger knows all about persistence.

With $100 and 20 pair of jeans he started selling jeans to his high school friends. Eventually, he saved money from a job at a gas station to start The People’s Place, where he sold clothing.

It went bankrupt in 1975.

Despite his family and friends saying that he would never be successful, Hilfiger turned things around and eventually built a multi-billion dollar global fashion empire that is about to spread across the multi-media sphere.

It is the main advice that Hilfiger wanted to instill in the 200 students at the Bank of America auditorium on April 21.

“You should follow your passions and never give up,” he said. “Set a strategy and a road-map for yourself. When one highway is blocked off, take another one.”

Hilfiger came to the College as part of the Morehouse College Presidential Chat and Executive Lecture Series presented by the Office of Institutional Advancement and underwritten by The Coca-Cola Company. He talked about his start and how he now heads one of the world’s most recognizable brands.

Hilfiger started his company out of a love for music and album covers: he wanted to look as cool as the musicians.

“But in the back of my mind, I had a dream,” he said. “Within a very short amount of time, I hoarded my money and bought $100 worth of fabrics and made 100 pairs of jeans. I sold them to Bloomingdale’s and they sold out.”

By focusing on American classics and then giving them a cool and hip feel, Hilfiger has become a fashion icon. He’s now tackling television with the introduction of Tommy TV, a project that will focus on showcasing musicians from various genres.

“It is just the beginning of a multi-media challenge of surrounding our brand with pop culture,” Hilfiger said.

He’s also deeply involved in a variety of charitable interests, including Camp Tommy which gives 120 underprivileged New York City boys an opportunity to spend a summer getting educational and computer literacy training while also letting them experience the great outdoors.

Hilfiger is also a major contributor to the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project.

“I wanted to be the cool, American classic brand, but I also wanted to make enough money so I could give back to society,” he said.

Lloyd Boston, a fashion expert and talk show host, is a former Morehouse student who left Atlanta to move to New York City and work for Hilfiger.

He said Hilfiger is someone who truly is passionate and loves what he does.

“But he’s a cool guy,” Boston said. “[Around him], you can loosen your tie a little bit.”

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