SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — SDSU’s Ness School of Business is hosting a free Innovation event Wednesday with an internationally known South Dakota entrepreneur.

The founders of Tommy John share a preview of their secret to success in tonight’s Your Money Matters.

“Tommy Johns is a men’s and women’s clothing brand most known for our innovation in men’s and women’s underwear and loungewear,” Tommy John co-founder Tom Patterson said.

“We’re headquartered in New York City, have over 120 employees and we’ve sold over 20 million pairs of underwear,” Tommy John co-founder Erin Fujimoto said. 

But the husband-and-wife team behind this international company says that success didn’t happen overnight.

“It’s really about starting small to get big. We started off with an idea to reinvent the men’s undershirt, then we started making underwear and loungewear and women’s bras,” Patterson said.

“It’s all about taking risks and just learning how to take steps of faith in building a business,” Fujimoto said.

It’s something Erin Fujimoto experienced firsthand when her first venture into entrepreneurship failed.

“I was really thinking a lot about entrepreneurship and how much I would love the idea of starting something on my own. A lot of people go through this process where you think, what am I most passionate about personally? If I make my passion my business, I’ll be successful and thrive. I did that and it did not work,” Fujimoto said.

Her husband, Milbank native Tom Patterson, says their collective inexperience in their field is part of the secret to their company’s success.

“My wife Erin and I didn’t come from fashion, we didn’t have any experience in this industry; a lot of times I think experience can be your biggest enemy,” Patterson said. “Not having bias into the men’s and women’s underwear business was one of our biggest assets because we created a new approach to the category when we started.”

The two moved to Sioux Falls during the pandemic and decided to stay in South Dakota. They’re now sharing their experience with other potential entrepreneurs with an SDSU event at the Orpheum Theater this Wednesday.

“Anyone that’s thinking about starting a business or maybe their business has plateaued and they’re wondering how do I keep growing again?” Patterson said.

“You can start a business from anywhere, Tommy Johns started in California, it did move to New York and now we’ve run it from here in South Dakota for three years, so I feel like its possible to start a business anywhere,” Fujimoto said.

SDSU’s Innovation Conversations event is free for anyone to attend. It begins at 2 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Sioux Falls with a social to follow at 4 p.m. at Startup Sioux Falls.