Many in the fashion industry have been making huge pivots in their business models. Many have turned away from the fast fashion trend. Many have been focusing on fashion that also makes a social impact. Many have turned to sustainable and ethical sourcing. Many have turned to hi tech manufacturing. Many have turned to subscription models. What are the other trends that we will see in the fashion industry? What does it take to lead a successful fashion brand today?
In our series called, “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today” we are talking to successful leaders of fashion brands who can talk about the Future of Fashion and the 5 things it takes to lead a successful fashion brand in our “new normal.”
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brad Dubrowsky.
Brad Dubrowsky is the founder and chief creative officer of Thumb United, a mission-based lifestyle apparel brand featuring premium fashion sweatshirts with multiple interior pockets. Brad grew up in the garment industry, learning the business directly from his father, with over three decades of professional experience, he is a creative visionary with expertise in product life cycle management, business development, entrepreneurship and strategic partnerships. He excels at turning his visions into a tangible reality.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Iwas practically born into the fashion business; not only did I grow up in the Garment District of New York City, but I spent the vast majority of my childhood learning the business directly from my father, Irving Dubrowsky, who was a pioneer in the faux fur fashion industry throughout 1955–1980 approximately.
While my father’s fashion career had a significant influence on me, my mother is the one who truly instilled a love of fashion in my heart. Some of my favorite childhood memories included shopping with her, waiting outside dressing rooms, giving my stylistic input and more. While many kids were out playing sports or doing activities alike, I spent many hours sitting waiting outside the dressing room while my mother was trying on the latest fashions. These experiences took my love of fashion to the next level, which will always have a special place in my heart, thanks to my mother.
Having these childhood experiences instilled a love for fashion in me from a very early age and provided me with irreplaceable and invaluable experiences. As I like to say, I didn’t choose fashion; it chose me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
My connection to the fashion industry started the day I was born. Growing up, I had the privilege of watching my father’s pioneering work, which gave me a deep understanding of what it meant to be in the fashion industry from a very young age. In addition to my father being directly involved in fashion, some of my fondest childhood memories are of when my parents would take me shopping. I would shop with my mother, in particular for hours, walking up and down aisles, looking at all the clothes and helping her pick out her favorites, of course!
When you’re a kid, your parents are your world, and their world was fashion, so naturally, my world became fashion, too. If there was a store to shop in, we would be shopping. And when you are a kid, all you know is your parents, so growing up, I inevitably developed a deep love for fashion from watching my parents for so many years. As I got older, I graduated from just shopping with my parents to actually working with them. At the age of 8, I started working in my father’s factory on 7th Avenue, which I did for a number of summers, and that really springboarded me toward my career in fashion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting and impactful thing that has happened to me is that my career in fashion truly began before I even knew what a job was! Being born into the industry and observing my father working in the faux fur industry from such a young age sparked an interest in apparel from very early on. This, coupled with my positive affiliation towards fashion from shopping with my mother for many years, made me who I am today and ultimately made my career what it is today as well.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Authenticity: One of the things that I’ve always valued in myself, and others, is authenticity. In today’s day and age, in particular, it can be so easy to hide behind a certain facade — the hard part is conquering the fear of accepting and being one’s true self. My true self is quirky, and I know that; I accept that, embrace it, and don’t run from it. That has undoubtedly helped me get to where I am today because no matter the answer I’m getting, whether it is a yes or no, I know that I am staying true to myself no matter what. To elaborate further, I think with authenticity comes self-expression, which is something that has undeniably had an impact on both my life and career. I believe when one can tap into their self-expression and leverage its uniqueness, that is where the magic happens. We all have something to bring to the table, so why waste time trying to be something you’re not? True strength is leveraging the core of who you are, not trying to change or hide it.
- Perserverance: Something that I really value in myself and those around me is the ability to persevere through the trials and tribulations of life. It’s something I wanted to integrate into the Thumb United brand as well. In any industry, and the fashion industry in particular, you’re going to hear a lot of “no’s” and that can be discouraging at times, but the important thing is to always get back up and move forward.
- Networking Ability: I love talking to people. I love learning about who someone is, why they are the way they are, etc. That trait has allowed me to network beyond the typical meaning of the term. When I meet people, I don’t have the urge to dive right into business; instead, I really value the art of getting to know someone, whether that be professionally or personally. That has played a significant role in helping me become who I am today. Furthermore, it has allowed me to cultivate relationships with people in and outside the apparel industry.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The quality of our products is the differentiator from our competitors in the apparel industry. Watching my father in the fashion industry allowed me to pick up on many of the habits he implemented in his work. My father was always very meticulous about any product he was releasing; the details and the quality had to be up to standard. After all, it was his name on the brand. So, his expectation for high-quality and detail-oriented products definitely translated into my work. When I was younger, he took me to Gucci with him, and there was a sign in every store that said, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.” This has resonated with me and ultimately is a sentiment that I apply to my products today.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always loved the Abraham Lincoln quote, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I think it is a beautiful thing how some people wake up happy, and I think it is an equally beautiful thing when those who might not wake up happy can have the power to change their minds. The human mind is such a powerful thing, so to know we can change our minds for the better, what could be more inspiring? I have always loved that quote and try to carry it with me throughout my life’s endeavors.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I’m really excited about the intersection of innovation and purpose and how it has made its way to the forefront of the fashion industry. That intersection is something that is a genuine driving factor at Thumb United. We wanted to take a product category everyone knows and loves and take it to the next level. With hoodies, we knew we weren’t bringing an unheard-of product to the table, but we did know we were bringing it with a whole new meaning behind it. I think the concept of connecting innovation and purpose is a growing art in the apparel industry, especially as brands increasingly prioritize mission-driven products. Our world is changing, and our enterprises must adapt along with it. So, I’m excited to see how brands continue advancing with their missions being more ingrained into the products.
Can you share how your brand is helping to bring goodness to the world?
We’re living in the era of technology; no one can argue with that, so when I started Thumb United, I wanted to modernize the typical hoodie in a way that still felt positive. My initial goal was to determine an innovative way to encourage consumers to put their phones away and be more present. Furthermore, when I started to see the devasting statistics behind texting and driving accidents, I became even more determined to develop a product that dissuades consumers from using their phones unsafely. I’m a proud father to my two sons, and I knew my kids would be driving one day. I wanted to protect them however I could, and I still do. While texting and driving was a significant driver in Thumb United’s mission, I also saw an opportunity to encourage consumers to be more present with our products. As I mentioned before, in today’s technology-fueled age, it seems as if we can’t go anywhere without seeing a phone, using a phone, etc. While access to technology has many undeniable benefits, I also think it has had a real impact on how humans connect with one another, which is why I wanted Thumb United to encourage consumers to put their phones down and be present with one another, or as we at Thumb United say, hold a hand, not a phone!
Can you share with our readers about the ethical standards you use when you choose where to source materials?
Since founding Thumb United in 2015, I’ve always made it a priority to adhere to ethical production and work standards. A big part of our business model involves partnering with reputable factories and top-tier manufacturing facilities, which are approved suppliers to renowned retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. These factories adhere to the highest industry standards, including ethical labor practices, and are often referred to as triple-A facilities.
Fast fashion has an advantage, that it is affordable for most people, but it also has the drawback that it does not last very long and is therefore not very sustainable. What are your thoughts about this? How does your company address this question?
The idea of fast fashion is a relatively new concept and touching back on my experience growing up in the fashion industry, I’m not super familiar with the idea from a product perspective. What I mean by that is I never saw the apparel industry as a place for quick turnover. While I understand that fashion trends are constantly changing, which is inevitable, I grew up with the perspective that if you’re buying something, you’re buying it because you want it to last. I think fast fashion has really changed the industry. While I understand the interest and urgency behind keeping up with the trends, I also believe that whatever consumers put their money into is an investment, which is why I wanted to give my customers an opportunity to invest in something modern, high-quality and ethically sourced, so they can feel good about when they are buying a Thumb United product.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand”. Please share a story or example for each.
- A creative vision — I’ve always been a dreamer, and growing up in the fashion industry and watching my father design, I developed a real knack for visualization. Once I get an idea, I see all aspects of it — the look, the feel and the mission, which has undoubtedly played a role in my career and the Thumb United brand, in particular.
- Innovation — I think innovation is essential in any industry, particularly in the fashion industry. We’re living in a time almost exclusively dictated by consumers. In order to create a product that people will buy, you have to figure out what they want. I had a vision with Thumb United: to take something as familiar as hoodies and fleeces and reimagine them. I wanted to modernize the typical idea of a sweatshirt and make it my own. So, I had to sit and envision what that looked like and for me; I wanted to create a product that met my quality standards and expectations while communicating a message that meant something to me.
- Purpose — A strong sense of purpose is necessary on both a consumer and producer level because it connects with people. When I started Thumb United, I started with purpose before anything else. I founded Thumb United to bring something new to the market, but most importantly, I wanted to deliver something purpose driven. Thumb United was created from the idea of utilizing apparel to promote presence and safety; there would be no Thumb United without our initial purpose.
- Industry Proficiency — I think knowing the industry you’re in is so important when building a brand. I have had the benefit of experiencing the fashion industry firsthand from a very young age, which allowed me the time throughout my life to really understand the ins and outs of it. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean someone needs a lifetime of experience to succeed. Still, it does mean that if someone wants to succeed in the fashion industry, it is essential to do research and get real-world experience so that you can take an informed approach to what you want to do in the apparel industry.
- Passion — I put passion at the forefront of everything in my life. I think that nothing can drive something more than passion can, especially when combining it with the power of perseverance. One of the many things that makes passion so powerful is that it is undeniable.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Seeing how mental health has become a more prominent topic in society has been inspiring, and the fashion industry has a real opportunity to advocate for mental health through apparel. That was one of my priorities when founding Thumb United; I wanted to produce products that were bigger than just apparel. I wanted them to spark conversation. This is where I had the idea to put certain tag lines on Thumb United products, including: “Hold a hand, not a phone,” “Be happy,” “Unplugged and loved,” and more. These kinds of positive phrases are more impactful than people realize, especially in today’s day and age, with technology being at the forefront of all of our lives. Whether putting a tagline on a product or even integrating it into a brand’s mission, I think the fashion industry has a real opportunity to encourage and continue the conversation around mental health.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement, it would involve inspiring people to put down their phones and be more present in their lives. I’m realistic, so I understand and can appreciate the advantages of smartphones. The accessibility and functionality of mobile phones is undeniable, but there is also a lot of value in knowing when to put down your phone and be present with the world around you.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Anyone can learn more about Thumb United by visiting our website https://thumbunited.com/ or any of our social media platforms, including:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thumbunited/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThumbUnited/
- TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@thumbunited
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/thumbunited/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.