It took entrepreneur Sue Fuller only four months from the time she launched her brand, Oliver Thomas, to the time she brought her first product—the Oliver Thomas Wingwoman Tote—to market. Her company, now 10 people strong, focuses on the tiniest detail of every bag, from style to functionality. She talks about her secrets for running a successful business and what’s next for her company.
You’ve been a businesswoman arguably for most of your life—can you tell us about your childhood business ventures?
I have been an entrepreneur in the fashion industry since I was eight years old, when my siblings and I started our first “department store” in my parents’ basement on their pool table. We would sell clothing with patches on them (this is what customization looked like in the ’80s) and curated our version of a “Happy Meal” with chips, Tootsie Rolls and Dr. Pibb “borrowed” from my parents’ food pantry. My sister took care of the guerrilla marketing, drumming up business from the local neighborhood kids by riding around on her pink Huffy bike. Bill Gates said that he started in his garage—I started even lower than that, in my parents’ basement.
Tell us a bit about the idea behind starting Oliver Thomas.
In July of 2017, I found that my combination of frequent travels, being a mother of two boys and a fur baby (the real Oliver Thomas is my beloved Shitzu) and trying to stay fit while going to the gym had me carrying three to four bags at a time throughout the day. All the bags were heavy, didn’t function and were absolutely killing my back and shoulders. It was then that I realized that no one needed another bag…or did they? So I set out to create a line of bags and accessories that transition easily from day to night and week to weekend and eliminate the multi-bag situation. Hence Oliver Thomas was born. We are creating the most fashionable, lightweight, vegan, durable, water-resistant, machine washable, uber-functional bag line for today’s busy women (and men).
How did you know you were ready to leave the security of the corporate world and embark on this new project?
I worked in merchandising roles for brands including Ralph Lauren and LL Bean. While those experiences enabled me to grow and build my knowledge in the business, as I climbed the corporate ladder, I found myself moving away from the actual consumer and away from solving the needs of the consumer. My passion for product combined with my experience in global supply chain, planning, merchandising and design all led me to founding Oliver Thomas.
How important is passion in being successful at what you do?
I am fortunate because I have never viewed my positions in my career as jobs. I have truly had a passion for a quarter of a century. I still cannot believe I got and continue to get paid to do what I love. I wish that for everyone.
How did you decide to make your dog a co-founder of the company?
It was really a spur of the moment decision and just dawned on me when I sent my son out to walk the dog….“what about calling the company Oliver Thomas?” I knew it was kind of funny, unexpected, would make people smile and would definitely be a good conversation starter. I cannot think of anyone that makes people smile more than Oliver Thomas.
Can you describe how the company tagline “Let’s Be Real” came to be?
I saw fashion starting to take itself a little too seriously. Especially in an age of social media, it appeared everyone and everything was “perfect.” At Oliver Thomas, we started with a mindset, a culture that loves style, but also loves to get things done while burning the fashion rule book and having fun and being real. We prefer transparency to a facade.
You recently collaborated with Peloton. How did that come to be and why did it make so much sense for your brand?
The team was throwing around ideas of brands we would love to collaborate with— those for which we have a true, genuine respect and that align with our philosophy. Peloton was top-of-the-list because the brand is so forward thinking, they continue to drive newness and innovation, they find endless ways to connect with the customer, and they promote a fun,
don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously, healthy and happy lifestyle. A meeting was scheduled and the rest is history. We are designing our second collaboration as we speak, so look out for that soon!
Sue Fuller’s Leadership Lessons
- Be curious. Don’t assume to know everything! I ask myself what I can learn from everyone I interact with on a daily basis.
- Be humble.
- Take care of the people who supported you in your life and professionally.
- Listen, listen and listen. Speak once in a while.
- Don’t settle with myself, people, product and process, and always encourage moving forward. Good enough is not an option.
5 Questions for Oliver Thomas
How involved do you get in the design of your namesake brand? While I let my mom lead the design process, I give a final “paw of approval” on each new product introduction.
What is an average day like for you? I love hanging out with my friends, going for long walks and getting my beauty sleep. It may not look like I am doing a lot, but there is a ton going on inside of this head.
How would you describe your style? Relaxed, comfortable, personal, chill….unless there is a squirrel around.
You’ve recently come out with some fabulous dog jackets. What’s next for you? I am
constantly thinking of new ideas. I was surprised how well my customizable dog coats have been received by my fellow pet friends and we will be continuing to expand my line of pet products. This is something that I am intricately involved in on a daily basis. Watch for new introductions coming out this fall.
What advice would you give to a dog (or human) looking to change up their style? Be your own animal! That is why I LOVE the badges my brand offers. There are so many to choose from, and you can make your style your own and convey your own message.