Gecko Hawaii X WERKSHOP
Yoooooo, I am SO stoked to announce this very special collab with my friend Derek over at Gecko Hawaii 🦎☀️
I met Derek back in ...whoa, 2011ish? (wow, time flies when you're having fun!) At the time, I was the Design Director for this Men's Denim Company. I was designing mostly private label gear for Macy's, JC Penney, Kohl's, and off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx. I did all the denim and oversaw the cut n' sew programs ... and Derek was brought on to be the Director of the Graphics.
Working alongside Derek back in those daze was always awesome. He knew how to get stuff done - and have fun while doing it! We both abide by the "good vibes only" philosophy 😎🤙🏼 Fun fact: Derek is my birthday twinsie: pi-day baybees for the win! It's safe to say that gettin' along was written in our stars, lol. ✨🌙
Fast forward a decade, Derek and I have found ourselves off on our own paths: he relaunched Gecko Hawaii and I have been truckin' along with WERKSHOP since my successful Kickstarter Campaign in 2014.
Late last year, I was heading down to San Diego to do a photoshoot and took a mini detour to hang with Derek. We were chillin' in a starbucks parking lot and got this stellar idea to do a WERKSHOP X Gecko Hawaii collab! The game plan was to take one of Gecko's most iconic/signature prints and make a capsule collection of athleisure leggings and a matching and reversible top! I am absolutely thrilled with how it turned out ...
Please join me as I (virtually) sit down with Derek for a little Q&A:
What 3 words best describe Gecko Hawaii?
We have a lot of athletes who like to wear our gear: Surfers, Skaters, Wakeboarders , BMX riders, Dancers, Entertainers and Models. And now we can add Yoga enthusiasts to the list because of this fun collaboration!
Our first live events were amazing! We did the Encinitas street fair and the Del Mar Fair. At both events so many people came up to us and told us how they loved the brand growing up. I remember one person walked into the Gecko tent and just looked around in amazement. When he finally spoke he said, "I wasn't prepared for this today.... I came to the fair to have some fun. Walking in here and seeing the product has brought back my entire childhood. I wore almost everything that I see here."
When he found out we were the OG team he shook my hand and thanked me for bringing back the brand and his childhood. We have gotten this same reaction from so many people! Seeing the looks on their faces and hearing their genuine stories has been amazing!
When we worked together before, I remember so many great lines you put together. As a salesman you made my job easy. I always knew if you were designing the product the fit would be amazing and the looks would be on trend. We had such great success with everything you touched.
When we were asked from some customers if we would produce yoga wear I said no. The fit and fabric our so important in technical gear and we just didn't have the expertise. Then I thought about you and Werkshop. I knew if we did some gear with you it would be amazing. I know that you are such a perfectionist and such a stickler for quality and that Werkshop would be the perfect partner for a yoga collaboration.
I knew you could take some of our patterns create something very technical but also fun! We also love that your factory is in California. It's great that you are able to make your awesome gear in the USA.
Since things were going so well in Hawaii, Vik thought he should try it on the mainland. Vik and his sister Jojo brought the line to the Action Sports Retailer show in Long Beach California in 1985 They had a tiny booth with a horrible location in the back of the show. I was attending the show with my older brother Matt Sciacqua who had been in the industry for quite some time.
I had just graduated from college and was about to take an advertising job with Chiat Day. They were one of the best agencies at the time. They did the creative for Apple (The George Orwell 1984 campaign), Porshe, Pizza Hut, California Wine Coolers and many others. My professors told me how lucky I was to be getting a job with such a great agency. Matt invited me to the show and said I should check out what he did before taking the job.
As we walked the show, I was really digging the vibe! All of the biggest Surf and Skate brands were there! The biggest athletes were also there just hanging out. Some were signing posters and gear! All of the swim suit companies were also there. I was 23 and from Northern California. I have to say the models were everywhere and they were the prettiest girls I had ever seen in person. The whole experience was like being in a real surf movie or walking in to the pages of a magazine. The show made a big impression on me and I was starting to think I may want to turn down the advertising job and try the apparel business ...
We walked the whole show and finally got to the back. There was a little 10x10 booth with Vik and Jojo and their product. The booth was dead because of the horrible location. Matt introduced me to the Watumulls and we started talking about the success of the Run Wild line in Hawaii. They were both very interested in getting the product on the mainland to see how it would perform. Vik offered me the sales job and at the end of the show, he gave me the line to see if I could sell it. I also picked up another line called BA Surf Stuff. The Run Wild line was bright and fun and nothing like anything in the Nor Cal Surf and Skate shops. The BA line was also fun as it featured cartoon depictions of surf spots and beach lifestyle.
I threw both lines in my Honda Accord and started driving up and down the coast of California pitching these bright fun lines. The shops I went into were hard core surf and skate shops like Arrow Surf and Sport, Portola Surf Shop, Fiberglass Santa Cruz, Go Skate, Wise Surfboards in San Francisco and Marin Surf And Sport. At that time these Nor Cal shops were selling black wetsuits, white surfboards and black and white tee shirts. We were the first brand to bring the neon colors from Hawaii to California. All of the shops above and many others gave us a shot. Within weeks everyone reordered. The reorders were mostly for the Gecko Gear out of the Run Wild line. The whales and cockroaches were ok but the Geckos out sold everything. BA was also doing well! We expanded to many shops up and down the coast of California. The shop buyers were so happy with our product they began asking for new designs. When I asked Vik for new stuff he explained to me that his line in Hawaii was more of a tourist line. They had new people visiting Hawaii every week. When the people got off the plane and went into the stores ,everything looks new because most people had never been to Hawaii before. The tourist stores that Happy Shirts was selling just kept buying back on to the best selling tee designs and shorts as they continued to sell. Our customer base on the mainland was different. We had the same people going back into the core shops week after week. We needed to create new things for them or they would lose interest. We started creating designs just for the mainland. They were hand drawn by our artists in Hawaii so they had the same feel as our original stuff there was just a lot more of it and we changed the designs and styles out more frequently.
As the mainland line grew, we decided it was time to scale a bit. I sold the Gecko and BA brands to Nordstrom and Macys. Both brands were doing great in the department stores and we really started scaling. In 1988 we were trying to figure out how to do even more business. Mervyn's had a buying office in Hayward California. I found out who the tee shirt buyer was and made an appointment to show our Gecko Gear. BA informed me that they had no interest in Mervyn's as that channel was viewed as selling out. I was 25 years old and rolled into the Mervyns buying office on my skateboard. I was wearing a mint Oxford button down with pink cotton shorts and Nike hi-tops. Every other person was in a suit or a dress. I met with Sandy Lee. She was very nice but told me at the end of our meeting that she didn't think her customers would respond to Gecko and that it would never sell at Mervyn's. I wasn't ready for a no from them and I figured there had to be other buyers that bought tees. I went up to the receptionist, Mary Anne, and asked her if she could help me. She told me that the buyer I met with bought licensed and generic tees. There was another buyer Kurt Fisher who bought branded product like Op and Hobie. I figured I had to get Kurt to come out and meet with me. I got his extension and cold called him from the lobby. I talked him into coming out and seeing me. I shared all of the success we had at Core shops, Macys and Nordstrom. He said he liked the product and the story and wanted to give it a try. The only problem was since he was a branded buyer, we had to sell him our product with a label in it. We were selling to Surf Shops with the Run Wild Label and the tees were shipping with Hanes Beefy Tee Labels. I told Kurt we could do the Run Wild Label. He didn't like the way that sounded and asked me to come up with something else. I thought for a minute.... it's a Gecko it's from Hawaii... how about Gecko Hawaii! (That one came back to bite us later.)
We built the brand into a real power house at Mervyn's! Some of the highlights were strike points where we would move through 72,000 units of tee shirts within weeks. Our first boys tee order was for 120,000 units. There was a time in 1992 where we were doing 60,000 pairs of Beach Pants a week. We added new departments, like juniors, beach towels, and accessories. The Gecko brand was doing so well there that Mervyn's worked with us to create new product categories. But back to the name decision that came back to bite us ...
In 1992 we were sued by Gecko Trading Company for Trademark infringement. At that time, there were many Gecko products being sold on apparel. We were Gecko Hawaii but there was also Island Gecko Maui and Decko Gecko and many others. Gecko Trading Company shut down anyone using Gecko in their brand name. We ended up with a two year court battle. We argued that a Gecko was a generic like a dog and that anyone could use it. They argued that they owned the word as they had first use in commerce in 1979. It was a federal case and when it was over the judge ruled that they owned the name Gecko for all apparel and many other categories and Happy Shirts owned it's copywrited Gecko Character with sun glasses. The judge said that we could move forward with our Gecko character but would need to call it something else. They could use the word Gecko but would need to come up with a new character. I can remember getting the phone call from Vik like it was yesterday. I was on vacation in Cabo looking forward to a huge back to school business with Mervyn's. He explained what the judge had said. Right away I was thinking Green Lizard Hawaii, Hawaii Reptile. Nothing sounded good. There was a lot of momentum behind the brand and tons of back to school ads already in the works at Mervyn's. Reshooting ads cost a fortune and was not an option for us. We had to make a deal. We made a royalty deal with Tina and Julie from Gecko Trading Company and paid them substantial checks for the next 20 plus years. We expanded the brand to Sears, Kohls, and JCP and built Gecko Hawaii into a nationally distributed brand with little to no advertising buy us. Our retail partners took care of that component.
In 2008 the mid tier retail landscape began to shift. We were doing a nice business at all of the mid tier retailers. Stores began to do more direct to retail licenses. When you walked on the floor at Kohl's you saw Hang Ten, Tony Hawk, Vera Wang, and Candies. These were all brands that Kohls licensed and paid a royalty to the brand owners. Since Kohls was having the product produced internally their margins were better. The floor space for smaller brands like Gecko began to shrink. The mid tier stores were dedicating most of their floor space to their own licensed brands and private label. Our long time retail partner Mervyns went out of business in 2009. We now had very few options for distribution for Gecko. The big stores that remained had very little space for us. The core stores didn't want us any more because we had been in the mid tier for 20 years. The writing was on the wall that things were slowing down. I shifted gears and began producing a lot of private label and retail owned licenses for all of my mid tier customers as well as Target and Walmart. Happy Shirts stayed very busy with their tourist business and producing and selling product at many big events in Hawaii like The Ironman, The Hula Bowl, The Honolulu Marathon and many others. We still had a small Gecko presence but it was mostly in Hawaii.
Then from 2013-2018 I was working as a Director of Graphic Apparel for another clothing brand. That is where I had the pleasure of meeting and working with you, Tina. I always admired your work ethic, design and technical skills, attention to detail, and your amazing organizational skills. When you left I was thinking someday we would probably work together again. Here we are doing a Gecko x Werkshop Collaboration!
Back to my long winded brand story :). So I was working with this Clothing Company but I really missed Gecko. It had been such a big part of my life for so long and I really wanted to do it again. I talked to my long time friend Vik about getting the band together. I had always worn many hats at Gecko but was not an owner. This time around if I was going to pour my time, heart and soul into it I had to have some ownership. I approached Tina and Julie from GTC and told them I really wanted to do Gecko again but had to have ownership in order to do so. We negotiated back and forth and I ended up mortgaging my house and buying the Gecko trademark from them. I rejoined forces with the Watumull family and put the character with the name under one roof where it belongs. Our company is now Gecko Hawaii LLC. It is owned 50% by Happy Shirts and 50% by me. I know this is a lot of info but it really is what has made Gecko what it is today.
Since we are the original guys who ran things, we know what is the best of the best from our archives. We are only bringing back the winners! So many times when a brand relaunches it is not done by the original team. The new group looks through the archives and picks the things they want to bring to market. Often times they are the wrong picks and not the original winners. We know what works because we were there the first time. We are having so much fun bringing our brand back!
When we first relaunched, we got in to Urban outfitters and a bunch of great core and boutique retailers. Our stuff was doing great and then COVID hit. We did a hard pivot to our own online Gecko Hawaii Website. During our pivot we were getting emails daily from all of these marketing agencies that wanted to spend ad money for us. We went through a couple that promised the world and gave us nothing. One day I was sifting through my many agency emails when I saw one from a familiar name. The email was from Mark Schwartz. I knew I recognized the name and looked it up on our customer list on Shopify. Mark was our number one customer. Since he was a true Gecko fan, I figured I would hear him out and take a call with him. Right away we hit it off. We are both from Walnut Creek in NorCal. Mark used to get his Gecko gear at the Walnut Creek Nordstrom when he was growing up. I asked Mark to tell me a bit about himself. He told me about digital campaigns he had done for Star Wars and that he had been Emmy nominated for a campaign for Gle. I was listening and saying to myself, "Wow, this guy is the real deal." I was very impressed with him but started to think we could never afford his services. When I asked what he charged I was right. After some discussion Mark agreed to a much lower sum to prove what he could do for us. He told me that Gecko had an oil well and he had the tools to dig into it. Since we had sold millions of garments in the 80s and 90s we had millions of people who wore and remember the brand. We just have to let them know that we are back. Since Mark started with us, the Gecko brand has been sky rocketing. He is great at getting the word out and we continue to keep bringing the best of the best! Mark is a huge part of our success and I hope he will be with us forever! We will be adding some brick and mortar stores that will carry Gecko later this summer. I can't say who they are yet as we are planning a fun launch with them!
Our gear was also seen in Stranger Things last season. We are looking forward to showing up on the big screen and little screens again very soon. I can't disclose what that will be until it happens. It's going to be big and going to be fun!