Michael DeMoya: So tell me who you are?
Thomas Quinones: I’m the cookie monster. What kind of f***ing question is that?
Mike: D**n it. I mean who are you? Act like I’m nobody you know. This doesn’t work if I have to feed you answers.
Tommy: Aight aight. Let me get in my GQ state of mind.
If I told you this interview started any other way, you’d dismiss the difficulty of interviewing my own brother.
Separated by just a little over nine years, we grew up in two different decades, Thomas Xavier Quinones grew up in the golden era of Hip-Hop and matured through the birth of the streetwear culture. Everything he learned from traveling back and forth to Brooklyn from Union City, shaped the course of Tommy’s life.
At 32 years old, he is a full-time tractor trailer operator and a full-time owner of a fashion design/creative studio; all while being a full-time husband and father.
How’d he do it?
Did he go to an ivy league entrepreneur college? No. Actually he went to community college for about a month before dropping out.
Did his parents invest in him? No. Our parents couldn’t even invest in themselves if there was ever an option.
Tommy: I remember all the Polo, Karl Kani, Jordans, neon Nautica, bugaboos, Lugz, Iceberg knits, Ninja Turtles, Fubu, pagers on the original trappers, Coogi down to the socks, wallabees, Tommy Hilfiger the icon, and I can’t forget that the only way mom was buying anything, was to put it on layaway first. Without all of that, I don’t think I would have ever gotten into the fashion game.”
Mike: But how’d you even start. Like when did this become a life decision?
Tommy: Do you remember when I used to work at Young Star?
Tommy: In the beginning of high school, mom told me if I wanted to start dressing nicer, to get a job.
Mike: Yeah she told me the same thing when I got to high school.
Tommy. So in like 1999 I started working at Young Star in downtown Union City. I mean I had already really been in love with sneakers, but that’s when I met most of the friends I still have till this day. We would sell exclusive sneakers for twice the price and we would buy cheap air forces to customize them ourselves.
Gus aka Villainous; used to be a regular. I even remember the day that we talked about moving out to NYC to start our own brands.
Mike: What came next?
Tommy: Then there was Magic Sneaker and then there were a bunch of other bulls**t little jobs. Nothing was getting me to do what I wanted and I hated school. You know me. I can’t even stay awake for a movie. But honestly I think shit really pushed me after we got evicted when you were still young.
As much as we could remember, Tommy was still in high school, not much later than 2002 and our mother had hit a rough patch. She almost didn’t know what to do.
I wasn’t really around much at this time, so being homeless had affected us differently. Tommy and our mother slept for several nights in the car. Packed in with whatever we couldn’t have other people hold for us.
My brother and I recall it being much longer, but my mother says otherwise. She says it couldn’t have been any longer than a week. Which to my brother was enough time to say he wasn’t going to be poor any longer than he had to be.
Fast-forward to after high school; Tommy promised mom he would try college out for size, but that lasted about a month. And it wasn’t long after the failed attempt of college that he started to mix himself in things that brought in more money.
In 2006, Tommy had made the decision to move out.
Tommy: Everything after that was about making money… So I mean you remember why I left mom’s.
Mike: Yeah, but nobody else does.
Tommy: What every other person from the hood got into.
Union City is a small, predominantly hispanic city with some areas that were influenced by other ghettos. My brother would travel to East New York everyday after class and that was where my brother picked up on making money through illegal activities.
Walk into a room where two brothers slept and catch a wiff of something familiar. My mother knew her younger son who had barely completed D.A.R.E wasn’t the one adding a new fragrance to the room. A couple of months after her suspicions, she found proof in an eyeglass case.
At this point in time, Tommy was 23 and began looking for a place. Technically, he was asked to leave, when he had moved to West New York with his girlfriend and after a short year in his first place, he had finally made it out of Hudson County. He moved into Chelsea, New York.
He never wanted to turn back. The NYC nightlife was the gateway to nirvana. Every night there was a place to be he recalls: a clothing release party, a live artist display, a rapper’s cypher and so on. The night became his day and the day became nonexistent. He even had the pleasure of supporting his longtime friends who helped shape the same culture he fell in love with.
Sadly, Tommy was dissatisfied with where his life was at.
Tommy: Brother, I know you were there to witness it, but I got to a point where I knew my life wasn’t going to get passed a certain point. It was going to end in the middle of a project building in the city I loved. I was making a lot money, but wasn’t going anywhere with my life. I was 24 and I already seen the end to my life. I went back to Union City to refresh. This is the only time ever in my life that I felt like there was a reset button.
Mike: Is this when you met Webb?
Webb or John Scanlon was the piece to my brother’s puzzle that was missing. Together they invested in a t-shirt business, SemiNomadic1983. This t-shirt business helped Jon and Tommy invest in their screen printing equipment and a small bar/retail space, originally called Lenape, which became the popular bar, The Dopeness.
The two managed to mold and open up the streetwear scene in Jersey City.
But there will always be problems when two polar opposites work togethe. A hard working, business savy individual vs. a lazy artistic and creative socialite.
In 2013, SemiNomadic was shut down. Even sadder, the Dopeness, the well-known bar was taken over by investors last year, 2015. Tommy took ownership of the printing equipment and Webb took ownership of the bar before it fell to outside investors.
Tommy: I loved Webb like a brother, but he was holding me back. And all thanks to my experiences with him, is how I found my new brand, Madlimited. The brand was created because of the artistic limitations that were being placed on me, and it’s a vow to never be limited again
From 2014 to 2015, Tommy focused on screen printing for other companies and brands as much as he did his own. The company didn’t grow much until he decided to invest in a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer produced enough income in the first few months that he was able to move the printing equipment out of a one-car garage with no heat into a 1600-sq-ft industrial space.
In this space he collaborated with another company to build a recording studio, photography studio, printing/design studio and fashion showroom. CMG Studios.
The studio is less than a year old and has already seen a lot of action from models & photographers to brands & companies. With an open space to invent and create, Madlimited has become the voice of Tommy’s trials. The brand reflects on nostalgic moments from his past and future. In his new Spring/Summer line, there is even a shirt that pays homage to our mother’s time spent working for Metlife after being let go from 20 years of dedication.
Tommy: I wish things could have been easier on all of us. I wish mom didn’t have to work so hard. I wish we didn’t know what it felt like to be poor, but I can’t change the past. I can only make sure that my daughter can look at me as half the parent as mom was to us.