By Annette Hinkle
When clothing designer Tommy Wilkie first learned that “Hamptons Hoodies,” the name he hoped to trademark for his new clothing line, was already taken, he had just one thing to say.
As a result, “Dangit,” the only even-close-to-a-curse word allowed in the Wilkie household (with the exception of “crud”), has become the moniker for a budding empire.
Budding is the operative word — because not only is this new business small, so is Tommy, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Our Lady of the Hamptons Regional School.
But perhaps it’s no surprise to Tommy’s mom, Kerry Wilkie, who reports that from the age of two Tommy had always been a snappy dresser.
“At three and four he wore fedoras with jeans,” she says. “He went through a phase wearing suits everywhere. He always looked good.”
But “Dangit” was another story — born of a dream and a pair of scissors one day when Tommy went and cut the sleeves off a hooded sweatshirt. More were to follow.
“I was a little angry when he first did it,” confides Kerry. “It was an expensive sweatshirt. He went back up after he cut the first one and wanted to cut them all and sell them. I had a conversation with him that you can’t sell things that aren’t yours.”
Meaning you can’t take a store bought sweatshirt, cut the sleeves off and call it your own. So Kerry, thinking she had a way to put an end to the idea, said to her son, “‘If you want to start a business, you’ll have to take sewing lessons.’ And his response was, ‘Ok.’”
Tommy worked with Alissa Smith, a Southampton tailor, who taught him to make a pattern of his hoodie vest design, cut the material, use the sewing machine and put it all together.
When the first one was assembled, Smith said, ‘You have to sell these. They’re really cool.”
Tommy’s hoodie vests are a design born of the changeable weather on the East End where it can be 80 degrees in Sag Harbor and 55 at Sagg Main Beach.
“In the summer, you don’t want a regular sweatshirt,” explains Tommy. “But you don’t want to just cut the sleeves off because you might like a sweatshirt for fall. So if it’s cool out, you can wear something long sleeve under it.”
The “Dangit” sweatshirt is a sleeveless gray hoodie — sans zipper — with a top loading pocket for an mp3 player or cell phone. Tommy, an avid athlete (as well as a tap dancer in his school’s troupe) saw his design as something that would appeal to the skateboarding, surfing and sporting crowd.
To enhance that message, each hoodie is printed with one of three designs on the back featuring a cartoon figure hitting a snag in pursuit of their sport — which is causing them to say “Dangit.” While the choices include surfing, skateboarding and cheerleading (these are co-ed designs) Tommy hopes to add other sports to the lineup.
“I want to make a baseball one, a basketball one, a bunch of sports – also a dancing one, because I dance in competitions on the tap team,” says Tommy.
When the Wilkies decided to go into production with the hoodies, mother and son felt it was important they be completely sourced and made in America.
“All the clothes I have are mostly not made in the USA,” says Tommy. “I get mad when I see that. Don’t you think we could make it in this country?”
So with material from North Carolina and a manufacturer in Brooklyn, Tommy is now overseeing his first business all before finishing fourth grade. Currently “Dangit” hoodie vests can be had at Skidmore’s in Hampton Bays and Bean 2 Tween in Southampton, though Kerry is hoping to get them in surf and skate shops in Sag Harbor and points east.
So far, the hoodies only come in youth sizes — but Tommy might expand the options, if only for relative reasons.
“My Uncle Jimmy thinks he’s buff, so he’s going to be wearing it to the gym,” says Tommy. “It’s so tight — he bought a youth large … but it’s too small.”
Sizing options aside, Tommy is already looking ahead to his next design dream.
“I want to make another line, ‘Oops’ by ‘Dangit,’” says Tommy. “It’s a series of ‘one-Zs’ and bibs for babies.”
To buy Tommy’s hoodies online, visit www.DangitStore.com.