Q&A: SOLO Golf Co. Co-Founder Dan Sullivan
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
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Now on the tee: SOLO Golf Company, the latest golf fashion brand you haven't heard of yet. Based in New England, SOLO is comprised of husband and wife team, Dan and Tessa, and designs garments for the individual golfer—not for golf itself. With a focus on each customer's unique style, SOLO is another brand that pushes the discussion forward as to who a golfer is and looks like. We were lucky enough to catch up with Dan and find out what it’s like operating a business with your life partner, opening a brick & mortar space during a pandemic and what they would like to see change in golf.
We’ve profiled SOLO’s vest before on the blog, but they also make some solid looking pants, long sleeve shirts, and hats. Check out their shop at sologolfco.com and use the code BagBandit20 for 20% off your next order.
The Bag Bandit: Who is Solo Golf? What does Solo golf stand for? How did Solo get its name? What does Solo bring to the table that doesn’t yet exist in the golf world?
Dan Sullivan: SOLO Golf is a menswear brand in the golf space. We design for the golfer, not the game. We are lovers of fashion and what fashion means to an individual. We are inspired by just about everything around us and we bring a unique perspective to golf apparel. In our mind just about anything is “golf clothing” as long as it has a collar and isn’t made of denim, although that’s even becoming debatable. We look at the new, the old, the timeless, and seek to enhance perspectives in the sport through clothing.
The name took us a while to come up with. The idea behind it was constant but the singular name was challenging. In the midst of brainstorming I vocalized how the brand is about the individual, about being yourself no matter the circumstances, showing your stripes—it’s about being solo. SOLO instantly became the name.
"If you want to test your marriage and sanity, then operating a business with your life partner is highly recommended."
BB: As a husband and wife team, was owning a business something you always had in mind? What are your professional backgrounds, and have you worked in fashion or golf before?
DS: SOLO has been in the works since early 2017. It's easy to remember, since it was when our first son Wyatt was born. SOLO started from a combination of personally starving for something creative in our lives and seeing an opportunity in golf fashion.
Since Tess and I both come from corporate sales backgrounds the first two years of the business were becoming immersed in the fashion and apparel worlds. We needed to deeply understand how to go from concept to sample then from production to sales, and finally to a successful, revenue driving business. We initially didn’t plan on working together on the business, but the world has a funny way of working out, and Tessa was able to leave her job last year after the birth of our second son Jack, to run SOLO full time. Tess really runs the business side of things and I run with the creative side.
We met ten years ago in college at a small school in New Hampshire where we both played sports. Our paths took us to Hoboken, NJ, where the idea for SOLO was born.
We have no doubt that this is what we are meant to do. We both love SOLO in our own way and find passion and enthusiasm each day in what we do. If you want to test your marriage and sanity, then operating a business with your life partner is highly recommended. It is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot we learn every day on how to be a better spouse and parent, while the drive and fire is always there, and that is what is most important.
BB: You recently opened up a brick & mortar that looks like the “modern pro shop”. What were the biggest challenges to opening during COVID? How do you envision the store growing?
DS: Opening the SOLO Golf shop was something we had in our minds for a while. It is something we saw necessary to do, given the type of business we plan to be, and we wanted to find ways to uniquely be a part of the community and engage with our customers. The opportunity has been in the works for a little while now, and things were put on hold until our state started its reopening phases. The challenges of opening a shop in a normal economy are difficult but as you would expect we are now dealing with even more challenges. The good thing is our attitude remains and must remain positive. We are grateful to be where we are today. We love getting to know our customers, introducing them to the brand, and showcasing a unique experiential golf boutique that is unheard of in this part of the country.
We are in this retail location for six months as a ‘pop-up’. At the end of our term here we have plans to open in other locations in the area throughout 2021. As we do this, we plan to continue to organically grow SOLO both in retail and online. We find accessory companies in the golf space that align with our values of high quality goods made in the US. Our shop allows customers to discover brands that they cannot find at any other local golf shop.
BB: Are you both golfers? Why do you play golf—for fun/competition/exercise/inspiration/therapy? What is the best golf shot you’ve hit in your life?
DS: I was lucky enough to basically grow up on a golf course. My parents belonged to a club that was essentially in our backyard. My brother and I would walk down or get dropped off every morning at 7 a.m. when my dad would go to work, and we would walk home at night for dinner. Deep in me there is a connection with the sport that is unbreakable. I play golf in any capacity. Naturally, I love competition so getting a match going with friends is always good by me, but at the same time I love putting my boys to bed and going to get 9 holes in at dusk, listen to some music or a podcast, and just enjoy this moment as it is. I don’t have any amazing golf shot stories in my bank, but I love getting out of trouble on the course. I am a bit of a recluse with the driver so I end up in the trees a fair amount. Successfully snap hooking an iron and running it up to the green is one of the more satisfying shots I can think of and I am presented with the opportunity often.
Tessa is a natural athlete and takes to the game really well. She will say she is not good but for someone who only took the game up a few years ago she has some good game. Since joining our local 9 hole course, we’ve made it out together a few times so far this year. The rare occurrence of playing together without the kids is a perfect time just relax and enjoy the game we are in the business of.
"Golf seems to be a gauge of one’s own appointed prestige."
BB: Where do you most often play golf? What's your dream golf trip and who are you bringing?
DS: I most often play on the South Shore of Boston. We have some amazing golf courses near us. I recently joined our local club which is a really nicely taken care of 9 hole track right on the marshland leading to the ocean. It’s the perfect place in my eyes for where I am at with my golf life right now. We can get out there at any moment’s notice and play, it’s very relaxed, and the scenery is next level. I have yet to play golf on the West Coast, so I would have to say getting out to Bandon is on my bucket list of achievable golf trips right now. My dream foursome isn’t extravagant, it’s the camaraderie that is important. I would bring my brother who is an incredible golfer, my wife, and my father who died two and a half years ago.
BB: If you could change one rule of golf what would it be? What is one thing that about golf in general you would like to see change the most?
DS: I wish there was a way to change the stuck up attitude of the sport. It deters people from the game, it changes people’s attitudes and personas in ways that are just unappealing. I get it; there are clubs and clubs have rules, members, owners, etc. but why does golf, specifically private golf, need to have this attitude of being ‘better than’. This is one of the leading reasons why I created SOLO, to break the mold of the golf uniform. The sport has an ego problem. It’s not like other sports where the ego is a result of caliber of play. Rather, golf seems to be a gauge of one’s own appointed prestige. I think in 25 years we will see golf in a completely different state than it is today, thanks to the work of people understanding that golf has an ego problem.
"Every day is a success. We are blessed with so much to even be doing what we are doing."
BB: SOLO is all about embracing your own style. What are the Brands/People/Movements/Art etc. that have inspired SOLO Golf the most?
DS: I look up to so many designers, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, etc. It is hard to pinpoint specifics. If I were to name one person though it would have to be Ralph Lauren. The way he started his business, the background he came from before, the way he looks at clothing, the visions he sees for his pieces and the future is incredible. Another person I look up to is Phil Knight. Again, he is another person who had this dream and battled so hard to get Nike to where it is today. If you haven’t read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, I highly recommend it.
BB: On your website it says you handpick the materials you use. Where do you get your fabrics? What's the manufacturing process look like for Solo right now?
DS: Materials can make or break a garment. At SOLO we are focused on being a clothing brand first and foremost where we care most about the fit and quality of our products. We spend time researching and testing the best fabrics for each piece. Having a hyper focus on materials is our way of showing our customers that we care an incredible amount about the quality and use of our garments. We take quite a long time to test fabrics, see how they wear and how they can potentially break down. We want our clothing to be your go-to piece today and in ten years.
The process in apparel design and manufacturing can look a thousand different ways. We do our best as a small brand to streamline that as much as possible. We are fortunate to be able to utilize local resources in sampling and pattern making. We manufacture with a blend of factories throughout the US depending on their specialty, which is important to us.
BB: What are Solo’s short (1-3 months out) and long term (5 years from now) goals? Anything in the works you're most excited about? You have a simulator in the shop, how do you plan on using that? Does Solo ever see itself sponsoring tour pros or anything of that nature?
DS: Things with SOLO change every day, it is an absolute rollercoaster. Feeling like we are losing our minds is a frequent occurrence. In the short term I want to make our vest to be the new ‘must have’ vest in golf. It is a lofty goal however this piece speaks for itself.
In five years, I want SOLO to be known as a true menswear brand in the sport, pushing the boundaries of what golfers wear and what it means to be a golfer. I am absolutely energized by the thought of what SOLO has the potential to be, the potential to give back, and the potential to change. For now, it is one day at a time. We have to live by this sentiment, or we don’t exist. I learned a few years ago (the hard way) that living each day, one day at a time, is the only path to success in any regard.
BB: When you turn the lights off, how do you determine if you’ve had a successful day?
DS: Every day is a success. We are blessed with so much to even be doing what we are doing. Honestly a successful day to me means I completed another day of sobriety (I am 2 and a half years sober), my wife is happy and enthused with our business, my children are happy and safe in their beds, and we were able to mark something off on the checklist after putting in a hard day’s work. It is pretty simple.