In our current age of media overkill and lopsided politics, some of us are harkening back to simpler times. Like the mid-1980s. Back when the world was divided into clearly delineated spheres of right VS. wrong, free VS. oppressed, past VS. future, bros VS. kooks, real VS. fake.
Back when surf and skateboard brands still catered solely to hardcore practitioners actively building their culture from the ground up – not the “action sports” store at the mall.
One of the most iconic apparel brands in the entire boardsports universe was born in that era: L.A.-based clothing company Jimmy’Z, the brainchild of fine artist and surf enthusiast Jimmy Ganzer. At a time when surf apparel was not even a million-dollar industry, but an afterthought in a mostly hardware-focused segment, Ganzer paved his own way by following the do-it-yourself spirit at the heart of board sports culture.
Way out West in California, where they were dreaming up the future…
In 1984, Jimmy Ganzer began selling home-made surf shorts out of the back of his Buick “Woody” station wagon to surfers on the beaches of Malibu. The rest is history: The brand would take board sports apparel to new heights as the darling of trailblazing skateboarders and Hollywood stars, and even make forays into the world of high fashion.
Here’s the inside story with commentary from Mr. Jimmy’Z himself, as featured in the first official book on skateboarding apparel “Skateboarding is not a Fashion”.
Loose Clothes for Loose People
A passionate surfer of many years, Jimmy Ganzer knew exactly what his fellow watermen needed from a pair of shorts. As a signature performance feature, Ganzer’s shorts offered a freely adjustable velcro waistband, maintaining a tight fit even in choppy waters.
This invention instantly hit home with hardcore surfers, especially since big-name apparel companies had nothing to offer by ways of competition.
“The people really dug them, especially the really cool people were buying my shorts. Soon the word got out and it was great to have an instant demand for my product,” says Jimmy Ganzer.
Keeping in mind that surfers need to move about freely while carrying equipment such as board wax, the self-taught designer put an emphasis on pocket space: “I made sure you could fit two tennis balls in there.” Ganzer’s magic number for leg length was 16 inches.
From a lifestyle point of view, the easy-to-open, buttonless belt line also continued the liberated spirit of the previous decade: “The sound of velcro straps opening was the mating call of the 1970s,” says Jimmy Ganzer.
Big On Functionality, High On Style
On top of all the functional aspects, from the very start Jimmy’Z cultivated a free-spirited, extravagant aesthetic in its patterns and color choices. Behind the scenes, some of it directly resulted from Ganzer’s DIY supply chain. In search of materials, Ganzer would browse the Garment District in Downtown Los Angeles, where exotic and colorful fabrics were widely available at attractive price points.
The quintessential mix of Downtown LA’s international vendors strongly impacted the characteristic Jimmy’Z look. “I just used what I liked, a lot of the time I bought fabrics that weren’t even meant for clothing.” At the time, it cost Ganzer about $15 to make a pair of shorts, which he sold for around $30 by the beach.
Checking all boxes for style, authenticity and functionality, the shorts made a big splash in the surf and skateboarding scene. To make things official, Ganzer visited a lawyer to register a trademark. “He told me I couldn’t protect ‘Jimmy’s’ with an ‘s’ at the end because it was too generic. But with a ‘Z’ we could get protection,” said Jimmy Ganzer. This marked the birth of the Jimmy’Z brand name, and the logo immortalized its humble beginnings, depicting Ganzer behind the wheel of his “Woody” surf wagon.
It was all going together at the time – surf, skate, relate!
Riding the 1980s Board Sports Wave
As fate would have it, the timing was right for Jimmy’Z to catch skateboarding’s major wave of popularity. Skateboarding and California cool emerged as popular cultural exports, and Ganzer had created the blueprint for core-approved apparel.
By 1986, Jimmy’Z had grown into a hot-ticket brand offering far more than just shorts, riding high on the new wave of skateboarding’s massive popularity. “We were witnessing the explosion of a culture and everyone wanted to be part of skateboarding and surfing. It was all going together at the time – surf, skate, relate!” says Jimmy Ganzer.
Suddenly, Ganzer also found himself with money to experiment. Having built an international reputation for comfortable clothes with loud prints and a laid-back California vibe, Jimmy’Z branched out into offering clothing for women and kids and began selling to high-end department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue.
But as Ganzer points out, he never compromised style over marketability. “One of our ads said, ‘Loose clothes for loose people’ and folks in the New York art scene looked at me and said, ‘Wow, you’re really living that lifestyle!’ And I was… totally,” says Jimmy Ganzer.
Relate to Skate
While many surf brands struggled to gain acceptance in the increasingly urban-oriented skateboarding community, Jimmy’Z managed to cross over. A great portion of the necessary street credibility came from top-notch riders featured in Jimmy’Z ads, including skateboard luminaries such as Natas Kaupas, Tommy Guerrero, Jesse Martinez, Scott Oster, Dave Duncan, Chris Cook, Eric Dressen and, most prominently, skateboard superstar Christian Hosoi – the son of Ganzer’s friend from art school.
Hosoi also picked up a pair women’s spandex pants from Jimmy’Z one day, and made them his signature style. How’s that for swag?
Speaking of swag, the Jimmy’Z art department was stacked with skateboard legends Dave Hackett and Steve Olson, keeping the company closely aligned with what was cool – and what was going to be next – in the skate and surf scene.
Print advertisements alternated between crisp skateboard action shots of pro riders sessioning pools under blue California skies and elaborate, black-and-white fashion imagery by Venice-based photographer Philip Dixon.
Not to forget high-concept creative exploits like Christian Hosoi street-planting on top of the globe, or the Jimmy’Z “Woody” surf mobile parked by a pleasant beach while a mushroom cloud from an atomic explosion rises ominously in the background, which also made a killer T-shirt still relevant today, at a time when nuclear devastation is just an ill-appointed Twitter rant away.
By the late 1980s, Jimmy’Z had blown up like a nuclear bomb and celebrities wanted a slice of board sports cool and fashion-forward stylistics. “We were offering the Los Angeles perspective, the Hollywood style which is entirely different from the Orange County way in terms of morality and lifestyle,” says Jimmy Ganzer.
Hollywood style also meant exploring the realms of high fashion and music. “It was art, music, surf, skate – the entire lifestyle coming together,” Ganzer explains.
Standout pieces of Jimmy’Z “high fashion” period include a yellow banana pattern dress shirt a leopard print blazer, fragmented black-and-white photo prints as well as Matrix-style black trench coats.
Movie stars and pop culture icons including Hunter S. Thompson, the godfather of Gonzo-style journalism, made public appearances wearing Jimmy’Z threads. In 1988, Grammy-winning American guitarist Ry Cooder appeared in a Jimmy’Z advertisement cross-promoting his guitar sponsor with the slogan “Slide Guitars and Woody Cars.” Actor Jack Nicholson later wore the “banana print” button-up shirt at a televised Laker’s championship game and, 20 years later, in the Hollywood blockbuster The Bucket List.
We were offering the Los Angeles perspective, the Hollywood style.
Speaking of the banana shirt, the German distributor for Jimmy’Z, Jürgen Wolf (creator of streetwear label Homeboy Loud Couture), vividly remembers the origin story: „It was right when the Berlin Wall came down and all the East Germans received their allotment of Deutschmarks as welcome money and went shopping in cities across West Germany. And since they were never able to get their hands on bananas before, anywhere they went, the stores ran out of bananas.”
Apparently, Ganzer got a major kick out of the story. “Every time I saw him, he started yelling, ‘WE’RE OUT OF BANANAS! WE’RE OUT OF BANANAS!’ And that’s where the shirt came from.”
Death and Resurrection
In the early 1990s, darkness washed across the Jimmy’Z brand, and the label went dormant during a number of ownership changes. Still, it had left its mark. Jimmy’Z made history by pushing the envelope in boardsports apparel and left behind a storied legacy – and the story continues today.
In 2011, Jimmy Ganzer relaunched the brand he had started on the beaches of Malibu in partnership with Blake Harrington of Maui and Sons fame. Velcro strap board shorts and loud T-shirt graphics are back at skate and surf shops worldwide, as well as on social media.
But despite the global exposure, the brand still retains its mystique.
Even today, many of the brand’s followers wonder about the proper pronunciation of Jimmy’Z: Is it pronounced like the genitive case, Jimmy’s, or with a hyphenated break, Jimmy–Z?
Pressed on the issue, Ganzer offered: “Actually, it’s any way you want – we like a good mystery!”
Visit the official Jimmy’Z website.
Skateboarding is Not a Fashion
For the full story on Jimmy’Z, read the first official book on skateboarding apparel, Skateboarding is not a Fashion, published by Gingko Press and available here on Amazon.