by Nele Tüch, April 2020
Talking about design fails, personal brand-extensions and slowing down with Tom Adam Vitolins
Even though we’re not placed in Scandinavia, the tom àdam world transfers us into a Lindgren-like universe: A natural rawness that can only come from cold but cosy Nordic beach days, mixes with the amiability of relatable family characters and manifests in an ethical swim- and underwear-collection. What feels like a small knitwear-brand made by Grandma and sold from her very own porch, is the Latvian label created by Tom Adam Vitolins and his father. Out of his own frustration, the Berlin-based graphic designer founded his eponymous brand by producing minimalist swim-shorts and boxer briefs for responsible and honest men. Up until tom àdam showed up on the European undergarment map, most swimwear products flaunted with big names and logos. The founder wanted to break this pattern by not using any: The result is monochrome swim- and underwear inspired by the tailored pants an Italian would have worn in the 20s. Casual but chic and timeless – aesthetics mixed with ethics. The family business is based on their love towards each other, towards nature and their commitment to creating a conscious and sustainable brand. The brand is transparent as the water you swim in with your ocean-cleaning-swim-shorts made from recycled plastic. It is fair, natural, organic, recycled, recyclable, traceable, certified, water-saving, local and personal. The small factory, taking care of the tom àdam production, is based in Latvia and comes with a close personal relationship towards the owner – this is what makes the label so appealing in the first place. It is relatability and identification. tom àdam is not just another swimwear brand showing unattainable tanned supermodel-bodies under palm trees on Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach, it is about the friendship of a man to his father – about a genuineness that can only be found in real relationships and real spaces. This is why the models of the campaign are Tom Adam Vitolins himself, as well as his father and, as of late, his sister and grandmother who are presenting the new hand-knitted Alpaka-sweaters and unisex pyjamas. We find the family in the garden re-planting some flowers, on the beach playing a round of chess, in the woods reading a book or in a park playing a round of table-tennis. tom àdam goes back to the basics and shows us how the little things in life can turn into the big ones – a good book, a walk in nature, a run on the beach, family and friendship. The Bullerby’s interpretation of a swimwear brand does not need 36 degrees, blue sky, fancy logos or extravagant details.
“I think you have to make a decision between having a brand as an extension of yourself and designing for yourself or separating those things and designing with a certain distance.”
Freiraum: What is different about tom àdam?
Tom Adam Vitolins: My goal has always been to create things that resonate with myself. All the garments crafted are something that I would want in my own wardrobe. I think you have to make a decision between having a brand as an extension of yourself and designing for yourself or separating those things and designing with a certain distance. In music, David Bowie is a great example for that: He would create different alter-egos and this would allow him to change his personalities very rapidly. Another example is the discreetness revolving around Martin Margiela. The beauty in that is that there are no restrictions in what the brand has to be like.
As it was very natural to have tom àdam as an extension of myself, the usual behind the scenes, becomes the forefront of the brand – from myself and dad hanging out together to going for a walk with Benjamin (the cool doggo in the photos). What makes it different is maintaining this personal and honest string throughout all aspects of tom àdam.
F: Did you create the brand out of a personal need?
TAV: It all started out of an aesthetic and environmentally thoughtful preference. The whole underwear market was overshadowed with big brands whose production was in Vietnam or Cambodia and the elastics had a massive brand name on them. This didn’t really align with my own taste. I was in Tokyo at that time when I had this realization. As I have a background in graphic design, I decided to have a go at it, start a brand and learn everything from scratch. Which has been a very enjoyable and fun process.
“While we keep moving forward towards sustainability we have to be agile and flexible, and willing to adapt.”
F: People get more and more aware and conscious of issues like social and environmental sustainability. Do you think it is just a trend or something that will change the clothing-industry long-term?
TAV: It is a very positive change to see and I genuinely believe that this is more of a movement with a mission and less of a quickly passing trend. Of course, it takes time to identify and tackle certain problems. But I think both sides have to be willing to contribute and be considerate. The brands and the customers, as one can’t exist without the other. While we keep moving forward towards sustainability we have to be agile and flexible, and willing to adapt. I am genuinely happy that there is more and more people who are willing to devote their precious time, looking into all these aspects of social and environmental sustainability. It’s a necessity for all us to take part, as it’s the only way how to change things.
F: What do you usually not talk about when being asked about tom àdam? Maybe a funny story…
TAV: There is definitely more than a handful of them. This is what makes the brand what it is now. I have always believed that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. It was at very beginning, while I was still prototyping and creating samples for the briefs. So forth, the manufacturing company thought that they could “spice up” the design, but they didn’t tell it to me initially, so while I was waiting for the sample and got a call from them saying the design is finally produced and that they “updated” the design as it was a bit too plain. I already had a feeling in my gut that there will be something surprising coming at me – to say the least. So, they put these glittery golden velvet seams on the underwear. There was this happiness in their eyes when they showed it to me and a dreadful look on my face. Probably, I should have asked them if they find the design too mundane. I think I still have the prototype somewhere, maybe it’s the right time to take it as an inspiration for the new products.
F: What’s your biggest concern at the moment – for you and your brand?
TAV: In times when our daily lives are altered in ways that we haven’t experienced in our life times, there is a certain duality in the concern. It is definitely a big challenge for everyone. At the same time we can see a lot of positive things: How people are getting more connected both internally and externally and willing to help each other out. Brands and people are becoming more altruistic and solving problems together. I really hope to see these things still happening after the situation goes back to normal –having this slower pace of life and being more present in our actions.