Recently I traveled to the PGA Show in Orlando - my goal is always to find unique products that golfers might not know about. On the apparel side, there are tons of lavish exhibits from the biggest names in golf. Under Armour, Adidas, Travis Matthew, and many others are showing off their latest designs trying to impress buyers.
The funny thing is that there was a 27-year old walking around the show floor with a duffle bag full of polos that in my opinion were better. Who would've thought?
His name is Jordan Sack, and he is the founder of the fledgling polo brand called Tillinger. For the past several years he's been on a mission to perfect the modern polo - one that could be worn on the golf course, to work, or out with friends. Tillinger, which draws its name from famed course architect A.W. Tillinghast, sports the motto "not your grandpa's polo shirt."
I initially heard about Tillinger through social media in early 2018. The shirts had received some positive buzz from major golf outlets. I wanted to buy one, but when I went to the website they weren't available for purchase. So I signed up for their newsletter to hear when they were back in stock.
For the next several months I received updates from Jordan that were refreshingly honest. He spoke about his issues with manufacturing, gave looks at different prototypes, and showed complete transparency. When he seemed to be at the finish line, things fell apart with his supplier, and he was forced to go with a new one. Jordan told everyone about the process (which I'm sure was devastating) and several months later he was finally able to sell his brand new designs.
I'll get into why I like the shirt so much later in the article, but I want to let you know a little bit more about the entrepreneurial journey he has been on. Most golfers don't get an inside look at what it takes to develop a product, get it to market, and deal with the failures and triumphs that occur along the way.
Golf Shirts Are Not Versatile
I've spoken with Jordan several times over the past few months and had a chance to meet him in person at the PGA Show. He's an eager, driven, humble guy who is hustling to make something happen for himself.
Jordan first got the idea for Tillinger several years ago when he was working at a summer internship in New York City. On Fridays, he was able to wear business casual attire but didn't feel that his golf polos were appropriate. During the summers, the city gets brutally hot and humid, and anyone commuting on the subway can attest to the need for sweat-wicking fabrics (I sure can). While golf shirts would have been more comfortable because of their fabrics - the logos, bright colors, and ill fit were not appropriate for the office
So a seed was planted. Why not try and make a polo that incorporates the performance fabrics used in golf clothing? On top of that, make it look like it could be worn in a work environment, on a golf course, or in a casual setting.
It's Actually Not That Easy
In 2014 Jordan was working a dead-end job that wasn't making him very happy. Playing golf on the weekend with his dad and friends was pretty much the only thing that gave him joy. The idea for the polo was in the back of his head, so he decided he would start a business on the side.
He reached out to someone in the fashion industry for advice. It turned out that the process of designing clothing was quite tedious. Through lucky networking, Jordan got connected with a pattern maker who knew a small factory in Manhattan's garment district.
Looking back, he believes none of this would have been possible if he didn't live in the city. During his lunch breaks and whatever free time he had, Jordan visited the factory to work on the shirt and create a prototype. This process lasted roughly 18 months. In April of 2017, he was able to sell a small batch of the first Tillinger shirts to friends and family. The shirt got into the hands of Geoff Shackelford, who wore it on a live TV broadcast, which allowed him to generate some buzz. The next batch of shirts sold out fairly quickly.
While Jordan had gotten a nice proof of concept at that point, the issue became manufacturing. The Tillinger shirts were being made from a fabric in Canada that was very expensive for small runs. Jordan decided he needed to make an even bigger go of it and find a manufacturer who could supply large quantities of shirts with a fabric that lived up to his quality standards.
The only issue was no one would give him the time of day. Most inquiries lead to a dead end because he was too small of a fish in that world. Jordan finally made contact with a supplier through some smart networking. In early 2018 it seemed like he was on his way to producing a much larger run of shirts until things fell apart. It became apparent by June that the manufacturer was not going to work out, which left him in a difficult position. His brand had gained some momentum, but things were stalling.
Out of the blue, he received a call from a consultant who had initially turned him down. He was starting his own shop and taking on new clients who were looking for smaller production runs. Jordan had to start from scratch all over again, but it was a much better fit, and he was finally able to produce the shirt he wanted and start shipping them in December 2018.
All in all, Jordan told me there were 25 iterations of the Tillinger polo. It's been a long, nerve-racking journey over the last several years filled with plenty of setbacks. But he takes it all in stride and chalks it up as a learning process.
The Tillinger Etiquette Polo
I finally got my blue Tillinger Etiquette Polo back in December. I've worn it about five or six times in various circumstances. I played a hot, humid round of golf in South Florida in it, wore it out to dinner with my wife, and in several other non-golf situations.
There are plenty of other companies who are trying to make the perfect polo, and I think Tillinger damn near did it.
Anyone who has ever tried to design something simple knows how difficult it is. I think that's the main feature of this shirt - it's got a look that is versatile enough to make it casual or dressy enough for multiple scenarios. It's toeing the line of classic and modern nicely, without being too loud. There's a little bit of flair around the buttons to give it some character, but it's absent of any logo, so you're not a walking advertisement for the brand.
The fabric can stand up to warmer conditions on the golf course. It's got some stretch to it, sweat-wicking fabric, and even UV protection. I wore it during a humid Florida day, and I felt it was lightweight enough and plenty comfortable for my range of motion while I was swinging.
In terms of fit, I would say it's more on the athletic side. Usually, I'm between a small and medium. The medium size seems to fit me great since it's a bit more fitted than traditional golf polos (which I feel I'm swimming in sometimes).
I've worn the shirt in both professional and casual settings, and I think the look works in both. You can wear it under a quarter-zip to show off the pattern beneath the buttons, tuck it in with khakis or jeans, or go untucked based on your style preferences. Additionally, the shirt has stood up to multiple trips to the washing machine which is a testament to the quality of material used.
There are only a couple of other companies that I have tried out that have been able to create shirts like these that translate to the golf world, most notably Criquet and Linksoul. I'm very impressed that a solo entrepreneur with no experience in the garment industry was able to make such a versatile shirt that lives up to its hype.
The Tillinger polo is currently available in three colors on their website for $68. Jordan told me that three more colors are on the way in April. His goal is to keep pushing Tillinger as a lifestyle polo brand with new designs and other cool accessories (look out for a pimento cheese chapstick around The Masters).
The shirts are starting to gain more attention in the industry. You can see plenty of positive testimonials on social media. Five Iron Golf partnered with Tillinger to make an official shirt for their employees and Jordan said that several other projects are in the works with other brands.
I love the polo, and I love this story. It's great to see people like Jordan pouring their heart and soul into making one product as good as it possibly can be. I'm pretty sure anyone who tries the shirt out will be impressed by its versatility, and want to get a few more.