The National Post were lucky enough to interview Shannon Ashford, the CEO of Tom Foolery, the LA based fashion brand that are eco-friendly, unique and designed just for you.
Shannon, how long have you been in the fashion business for?
About a year and a half now
What made you want to launch your own company?
Before launching Tom Foolery, I was working at an art gallery and I think being surrounded by so many talented artists who were chasing their dream was incredibly inspiring and at that time I was also applying for other jobs and hearing nothing back because of technology and stuff. I was getting tired of the whole application process and I knew exactly what I wanted to do so I decided screw it, and to take the leap myself.
Amazing to have known what you wanted to do and then actually go out and do it! Tom Foolery has various different types of products, describe the range of products that Tom Foolery has to offer?
So right now we just have drop seat jumpsuits and rompers, shorts or full length and then we also have hand painted t-shirts that we sell and those are in unisex sizes.
Where did the idea behind the design on your jumpsuits come from?
It is actually kind of a funny story, I was living on a sail boat in south east asia, I think we all find ourselves there at some point in our twenties, the wrap around pants were actually inspired by a Thai fisherman pants. It has a sewn inseam and an open side seam on the pants and you kind of wrap it around. Pretty similar design, I just decided to add a top to it.
It’s incredible where one can get their inspiration from. The market you are functioning in is already highly competitive. What would you say makes Tom Foolery different from other companies?
I think we have set ourselves apart by creating an ethically made material using recycled materials but also by designing problem solving, functional and versatile outfits for women. I haven’t ever really found another company that really addresses this very simple issue of jumpsuits and being able to use the restroom while keeping your top on.
As a woman myself, i know exactly where you are coming from, and I think every woman in the world would do as well!
I know honestly, after hearing that complaint in enough bar bathrooms I was like alright, I think I need to start selling these.
What is your favourite product?
Oh gosh, it’s like choosing your favourite child! I think probably the misfit would be my favourite, it’s one of those really timeless styles and it just looks so stunning on any figure and I actually have a great story behind that one. All of the photography for the brand I do myself, so I just round up my friends and we drive to a cool location and spend the day taking pictures. One of my best friends is muslim, and she wanted to be a part of it but needed something to provide full coverage. So I designed a misfit just for her so she would have something to wear and it actually turned out to be our best seller, we had someone get married in it last year!
Yes, I’ve read on your website that you clothes are made to fit aren’t they so they suit everyone, which is another thing that Tom Foolery focuses on?
Yes, so I have been making everything myself so far so I added in a custom page on the website so you can just send in your exact measurements and we can work from those, which I know people would really like.
Yes, it is so difficult, you have so many people of so many different shapes and sizes, to be able to customize something makes such a difference!
For sure, especially with jumpsuits. Some woman have the tiniest torso ever so the crotch is hanging down to their knees and other woman are crazy tall and they have cameltoes riding up, everyone is so different!
Tom Foolery prides itself on being an ethically focused fashion brand. Can you describe the process of sourcing your materials?
It took me the better part of a year to find our fabric supplier. The company we have been partnering with, trade international and they are absolutely incredible. Their mission is to end poverty in Haiti through job creation. Their whole process, they have created hundreds of jobs from what they are doing. So the process starts with collecting plastic bottles from landfills and they take it to a recycling centre where they sort and clean the bottles and turn them into these tiny little flakes. The flakes are then melted down and spun into fibres.
What would you say has been your proudest moment so far?
I think the proudest moment for me was probably last fall, Trade International actually invited me to go to Haiti with them to see their work in action and meet all of the people involved, it was incredible. I have been on mission trips before, and I have always felt like I got more out of it than the people I was suppose to be helping you know, so being in Haiti and getting to meet the families that live near the landfills, playing with their kids, the education program they offer to their employees, job placements for parents who have been struggling to take care of their kids, it was really overwhelming to see and it was kind of the first trip that I left feeling that my work wasn’t over and I can continue making a difference in their lives and giving them opportunities. It made me really proud of the company I started.
You have received great reviews online. What would you say is the secret to keeping customers happy?
I think it is pretty simple really, and it’s to be kind. I also think that adding a personal touch can go a long way. I like to write little notes on all of our delivery postcards, so whenever somebody places an order it just gives a little personal thank you and a shout out. I have also been really fortunate to have customers who are also really passionate and respectful of our mission.
Where would you like to see Tom Foolery in 5 years time?
I have some pretty ambitious goals for the next 5 years. I just started working with a manufacturing company in Los Angeles here in the US, which is our homebase but my goal is actually to set up sewing shops in developing countries across the globe and continue using recycled materials and creating jobs. This might be closer to 10 years, but I’m hoping 5 years for now, I would love to have established our first clothes production loop in Africa having everything from a recycling centre, to a textile mill to manufacturing and having all of that in one place, I would love to have all of that set up there.