For designer and University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus Thomas Puls ’74, of New York, N.Y., the degree he earned in psychology has helped him design a new high-fashion menswear line in the Big Apple that will be making its first appearance to consumers in August.
As a designer with a nontraditional background, Puls is thankful for his education in psychology.
“Fashion is a lot about psychology,” Puls said. “It transforms people.”
After graduation, Puls was first hired by Terra House, a local halfway house organization that is now part of Nova Counseling Services. Terra House provided a transitional step from treatment facilities for people with drug and alcohol problems.
After working as a resident manager for a year and a half, he moved to Milwaukee and became an outpatient counselor for people with drug and alcohol problems. However, Puls began to feel a pull to do something different.
“I started to think that maybe I should do something a little more tangible,” Puls said.
He took a job in Milwaukee as a trainee for a beverage company that distributed German vintage wines. However, making cold calls and setting appointments with people to sell wine was not for Puls, so he moved to Chicago to pursue graduate school.
Puls earned his master’s degree in social services from the University of Chicago. After completing his degree, he moved back to Milwaukee as an outpatient drug and alcohol counselor. During this time, he met his future wife, Donna Ricco, who was a fashion designer and graduate of Mount Mary University in Milwaukee.
Puls had always had an interest in fashion, and Ricco’s influence got him hooked on the industry.
“I was still interested in tangible products rather than intangible services or issues that were more abstract,” Puls said. “I was always interested in fashion. I traveled to Europe as a student for a summer and saw all sorts of things that were very advanced compared to the U.S. market. It was very motivating to see these fashion products.”
With their mutual love for design and trends, Puls and Ricco decided to move to the fashion capital of the world: New York.
The couple started small, with Ricco designing a line of dresses. Puls had samples made and took them to stores around New York. “Miraculously, we got some orders,” he said.
Next, Puls began investigating how to get Ricco’s dresses produced in higher quantities and, eventually, had them made in the New York City Garment Center. During the next 25 years, the Donna Ricco brand grew.
Five years ago, Ricco and Puls sold the company. Puls stayed on as president and Ricco as the designer. In 2012, Puls’s contract was up, and he decided to start a new brand.
As he designed the line, Puls had to ask himself questions like, who is the product for? Is there a need for the product? How and where will it be sold? What are the brand principles? What does it stand for? What will distinguish it from competitors? These questions helped Puls cater his line to a certain clientele and maintain a consistent look.
Today, the Crow Philosophy menswear line has been developed and the collection is in production in Italy. The first delivery to consumers will be in August.
The line is a menswear lifestyle collection that has an entire range of products. From pants to jackets to knits, Puls developed a vision of how his customers would dress and designed a variety of merchandise to fit the style.
“The idea is that the creator of these collections has a vision of how they see their customer dressing, and they roll out a variety of products, not just one item,” Puls said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the consumer product. You can market, market, market, but the consumer has to like the product. That’s the most important thing.”
“I like a collection where you can walk into a brand’s store and, within a few minutes, know if it’s for you or not,” Puls said. “I think consumers like to know that if they go to one designer’s store, they’re going to get that designer’s vision. That’s what is fun about fashion. That’s what motivates me.”
As an entrepreneur, Puls believes that having training in psychology from UW Oshkosh has been vital to his success.
“I consider it a real launching pad for my further academic advancement and also for my career,” Puls said. “Psychology was a great major to have in business because, at the end of the day, it’s the people in the company and the people who you’re interacting with who are important.”