For Todd Snyder, running a successful business is like good fashion.
It all comes down to honoring a few key principles.
“Work hard. Be creative. Be nice. You’d be surprised how many people mess that last one up,” Snyder says.
Nice? In the uber-competitive world of fashion, nice isn’t a word you often hear. But here, in the New York City headquarters of Todd Snyder, brimming with bolts of rich tweeds and samples of wooly sweaters, collaboration, respect, and yes, even kindness, are part of day-to-day operations.
Todd Snyder (’92 apparel design) was always known for being well dressed. “To get attention from girls, I learned at an early age to dress better,” he quips. “Then it became like a hunt to find unique things.”
But, a pick-up basketball game in Iowa State’s State Gym with Steve King (’93 apparel design), a rival basketball player from his high school days, helped Snyder realize he could make fashion his livelihood.
“I told Steve about my frustration in finding my major. I knew he was into clothes, too. He gave me the information about switching from architecture, and I never looked back.”
While in college, Snyder worked as a tailor assistant for Badowers in Des Moines, taught himself how to sew, and says once he got into the textiles and clothing department, the coursework helped all the pieces come together.
“I fell in love with fashion and couldn’t graduate fast enough,” he says.
“I got an internship with Ralph Lauren here in New York City and that led to a full-time job.”
Creative Proving Ground
Once in the Big Apple, the Huxley, Iowa, native registered for a few courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). When picking up the required textbooks, he realized they were all written by his instructors from Iowa State. With a renewed sense of confidence in his education, he didn’t enroll in FIT again.
The program at Iowa State, Snyder says, was not only full of experts, but also mentors—Ruth Glock in particular.
“Ruth was a champion for getting people to go out of their comfort zones,” he says. “She was great at encouraging us to get out in the workforce, do the work, and let that become our proving ground.”
That’s the type of vibe they nurture at Todd Snyder.
“I’m always looking for new avenues of creativity. It’s important to build an atmosphere of push and pulls,” he says. “Bringing young talent into the company helps cultivate that. It makes things fresh and new. And you’re getting great workers who are tough and spirited.”
He’s returned to Iowa State several times since moving out east, including a stint as the guest designer for The Fashion Show. And he set up a scholarship in Glock’s memory – the winner of a design competition secures an internship at Todd Snyder and living expenses for the summer. It’s become a much-sought-after prize, and has been awarded to seven students since its creation in 2016. Of 77 full-time employees at Todd Snyder, nine are Iowa Staters.
“When I was an intern, I was doing tech design, and I got to do production. We all were in tears by the end of my internship – we had the best time,” says Lea Dochterman (’20 apparel, merchandising, and design), associate designer.
“There’s a lot of fluid discussion and asking questions here. No one is afraid to approach anyone on any of the teams.”
This culture of mentorship and collaboration leads to better collections, better business, and better growth. Sny-der’s team is known for pushing creative boundaries with innovative capsule collections. He’s also been asked to collaborate with iconic American heritage brands, including L.L. Bean, Champion Sportswear, New Balance, Timex, and FootJoy, among others.
Telicia Bunch (’98 apparel, merchandising, and design), director of technical design, says she couldn’t bring garments to life without input from across the organization.
“We work cross-functionally with design, production, and merchandising to bring the garments to the stores,” she says. “It’s collaborative, positive, respectful. I feel like everyone’s voice is heard here.”
Lightning In A Bottle
Living in New York and starting your own business is expensive and the barriers to entry are high. Snyder worked in the industry 20 years before going out on his own.
Following graduation, Snyder and King each settled into day jobs at Ralph Lauren. In their afterhours they launched Tailgate Clothing Co. together in 1997, the manufacturer and seller of American collegiate apparel and vintage inspired sportswear.
“Todd and I would meet uptown at a sports bar called Polo Grounds to watch the Iowa State game. It was during this time we realized the gap in the marketplace when it came to fan gear,” says King. “Tailgate Clothing Co. was founded on the premise of creating high-quality collegiate clothing you’d feel proud to wear.”
Snyder went on to hold leading roles at Ralph Lauren, The Gap, and J.Crew, where he designed the brand’s popular Secret Wash Shirting, Broken-In-Chinos, and Ludlow Suit. He created the cult-favorite J.Crew Liquor Store in New York City featuring an innovative curated selection of apparel and lifestyle products. It was then he knew the time was right to break out on his own.
“It was like catching lightning in a bottle. I knew I had to do this.”
Scaling Up And Out
Since launching his signature label in 2011, Snyder has been hailed by GQ as one of The Best Menswear Designers in America who “taught me to love clothes.” He’s caught the attention of his peers, earning nominations for
the Council of Fashion Designers of America Menswear Designer of the Year not once, but twice, and becoming a finalist for the association’s Vogue Fashion Fund.
Jake Woolf, a writer for GQ, recently compared the designer to performer Adele.
“If you could measure a designer’s popularity by Spotify streams, Todd Snyder might be menswear’s Adele: Everyone likes him, and he doesn’t really miss. Over the last decade or so, the Iowa-born J.Crew alum has amassed a devoted following by anticipating exactly what his customers will want to buy next…,” writes Woolf.
The Todd Snyder and Tailgate Clothing Co. brands were acquired by American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. in 2015, providing the financial foundation for Snyder to scale up and out. King remains director of licensing for Todd Snyder, Inc.
“I love building things in a nontraditional way. That’s what I love about being an entrepreneur. I like that we’re small and scrappy. There’s not a job too small or too big for anyone,” Snyder says. “When there were just three or four of us, we had to do multiple jobs – selling t-shirts to Target, trying to do side jobs to keep things going and money coming in. That’s part of the story of entrepreneurship you don’t ften hear about.”
Snyder continues to expand his brand via ecommerce and 15 store loca-tions from New York to Los Angeles, including a new location in Chicago. Todd Snyder openings are set for 2023 in Dallas, Washington D.C., Miami, and Atlanta.
“Work hard. Be creative. Be nice.” Solid advice for any industry.
Tips From Todd
Read more on building a business and a classic wardrobe from Todd Snyder.