Five decades ago, a local teen named Tommy Hilfiger opened a shop called People’s Place in downtown Elmira, N.Y. From the modest storefront—bankrolled with $150 he’d earned pumping gas—the ambitious young man did a bang-up business selling bell-bottom jeans he’d brought in from New York City, a four-hour drive down Highway 17. He hired students from Elmira College, a short walk away, and soon was successful enough to expand into nearby college towns. He grew fast. He had a blast. And by the time he was 25, People’s Place had gone bankrupt.
“If I had known more about the business of the fashion business, I would’ve been much more successful back then, and I probably would have avoided the bankruptcy,” says Hilfiger, 71. “But as a result of the bankruptcy, it opened my eyes to the fact that, in order to be a successful brand, you really have to understand all the workings of the business.”