When Failure Precedes Success: Tommy Hilfiger’s Life Forever Changed after Bankruptcy at 25


By Fausto Mendez

    Tommy Hilfiger shares details behind his bankruptcy at 25, when he owned several jeans stores under the brand name The People’s Place. He was never the same after this first and major business fail.

    Hilfiger’s initial reaction to his first business fail is humble and eye opening, and it set the stage for his next next business victory.

“We went bankrupt. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I had started with nothing and worked so hard, and we were so close to making it really big, but I had taken my eye off the ball. I believed that the business would just continue to do well. But it didn’t, because I wasn’t paying attention to the ‘business’ part of the business." 

    As a creative, Hilfiger excelled, but he neglected expense control and the management of big projects with small budgets that bring in big results. Needless to say, he didn’t give up after receiving the bad news. At 28, he started a new clothing design team that eventually landed Jordache as a client. By 1988, he sold over $25 million in product. Today, he expects to pull in over $5 billion in this year alone, but it wouldn’t have been possible without that big first failure.

"My creative side still very much exists. It’s still very important. I use it to create unique designs and clothes. But really, since I was 25, I have viewed myself more as a businessman. That’s made the difference.”

    Successful comedians, actors and other performers often have similar experiences at the start of their careers. They call it the first “bomb”. Everyone of them has to experience that big first failure, or bomb, in front a hateful crowd before they will ever develop the skills to succeed. I imagine it’s the same in most industries, and Hilfiger’s story perfectly illustrates that growing process in the real world. 

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