If you’re a guy who likes a fun shirt, Tombolo is where it’s at these days. Taking their inspiration from Hawaiian shirts, founders and lifelong friends Mike Sard and Chris Galasso have created the perfect vacation looks for their buzzy unisex line. They tell us how the brand came together, what’s ahead, and why the brand is called Tombolo.
We hear you have been friends since childhood. How did the brand come about and what are your roles within the company?
There was never any sweeping, lofty strategy or a moment when a light bulb went off. Growing up, we always shared a love for Hawaiian shirts in particular and a frustration as we saw tired prints and very little creativity. The Hawaiian shirt was born as a canvas for original artwork and pushing the envelope, and we wanted to bring that feeling back—a nod to the nostalgia and the history, but make them once again entirely new. At first it was a fun project, then a genuine side hustle, and finally an all-consuming mission. Chris is the tasteful half of Tombolo, the extraordinaire behind all things visual and aesthetic—he runs a lot of the product development and creativity behind Tombolo. Mike is…the tasteless half! He is more deft with words rather than images and he gravitates towards the sales and marketing.
The shirts have such a distinct and unique style. What’s the creative process and inspiration?
The creative process and inspiration can be summed up quite well with a few rules we like to follow. First, we like to say ‘Don’t get dusty exploring the attic.’ That is to say, everything we make should be rooted in nostalgia and historical references, but entirely reimagined and ‘Tombolo-ized,’ transporting the wearer to a happier mindset. Second, we are constantly towing a fine line: can we be irreverent and playful and not take ourselves too seriously while still remaining elevated and perfecting every little detail of our garments? We try to marry this carefree design philosophy with a serious commitment to high quality eco-friendly materials, targeted support for social causes, and treat-your-customers-like-your-friends service. And lastly: over time, we’ve learned that when we collaborate with artists on shirts, it’s best to empower them and then step back and let them do what they do best. At first, we tried to do far too much, and it took us a while to understand that less is more. Offering some general pointers of what our customers like and the technical parameters and then letting artists run wild in their own signature style yields the best shirts at the end of the creative process!
Why is it called Tombolo?
When we started the company, we always knew it would revolve around a sense of escapism alongside a lot of nautical themes and references. So we actually pored over a maritime dictionary and put together a gigantic list of real—but obscure—words pertaining to the ocean. We settled on ‘Tombolo,’ which by definition is the strip of sand that connects what would otherwise be an island to the mainland. A Tombolo is essentially the geological bridge to your happy place. We want our clothing to embody the very same thing!
You recently launched a collab with Le Sirenuse. How did that come about?
We originally met Francesco Sersale from the Le Sirenuse family years ago in New York City. We’ve always been enchanted by Le Sirenuse and Positano, so we reached out about doing something together in a very open-ended way. To our surprise, Francesco embraced the idea whole-heartedly and was tireless in bringing the concept to fruition alongside us. It’s an unlikely marriage between a young American brand and a storied European brand, but the marriage blossomed into a really charismatic capsule that we’re very proud of.
Will your Bleecker Street store be opening doors again?
We are solely online today, occasionally swooping into pop-ups or events or the gift shops attached to collaborations we undertake (Le Sirenuse’s store in Positano, for example). But we are definitely eager to reopen a flagship store in New York City. We miss having front row seats when people try Tombolo for the first time!
Who do you imagine your customer to be?
Our customer is pretty eclectic and it’s difficult to paint every Tombolo-wearer with the same brush! But a few common themes certainly emerge. One quite common customer archetype is a stylish woman who serves as a Sherpa of sorts, guiding their boyfriend or brother or son to the Tombolo mountaintop—and in the process, she takes a liking to Tombolo herself! They are great travel garments and a lot of our customers first discover us in conjunction with an upcoming adventure. But over time, we love when a customer comes to view our shirts as a little portable vacation unto themselves: just slip on a Tombolo, and you’ve slipped into a more relaxed mindset even if you’re not going anywhere beyond your living room.
Have you gained any celeb fans?
Yes! Since the very early days when we were an unknown newcomer brand, Matthew Daddario and Tony Cavalero have been evangelists and unbelievably kind to . More recently, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, January Jones, Lil Dicky, and Jimmy Buffett have been incredibly supportive and have worn a range of our clothes. And then there have been a lot of one-offs who we wouldn’t presume to call fans, but they certainly looked great in our clothing! This summer, we were thrilled to see Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Maluma, and The Rock sporting Tombolo.
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What are your plans to see the brand grow?
We think it’s a relatively simple golden rule: we can grow as far as our creativity and compelling new styles can take us. You can only sell so many of the same garment before it loses its sheen, so we need to push ourselves to keep dreaming up new ideas. We increasingly seek out artist collaborations for many of our shirts, really unlocking the potential for our clothing to be canvases for creativity. We want to take that to a whole new level and we have a lot of bold ideas in this department. Also, a few new product categories are on the horizon. Stay tuned!