Jim Ganzer, the founder of reborn cult 80s skate and surf brand Jimmy'Z
, has been likened to The Dude. He lives in Malibu, speaks in a slow California baritone, and when I asked him if he wears Jimmy'Z shorts every day, he said, "Pretty much. I just lounge around in them. They're like pajamas." But that's not the whole story. Jim built up his own business, grassroots-style and with an unfailing sense of humor, into something truly iconic.
Last week, Jim told me the Jimmy'Z story from the beginning: how it started out as just him selling T-shirts from his car, how it grew with help from skaters like Steve Olson and Dave Hackett, and how it became the voice of an emerging subculture. This year, the brand relaunches almost exclusively at OC, and we couldn't be more excited. Check out our favorite images from Jimmy'Z iconic 80s ad campaigns and keep scrolling for photos from Jim's 1970 trip to Panama in a VW bus.
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Alice Newell-Hanson: Apparently Hunter S. Thompson was a Jimmy'Z fan! What was his favorite T-shirt?
Jim Ganzer: There was this one shirt called "A Can of Worms." It was a picture from a National Geographic
of a guy holding foot-long night crawlers in his hands, an I'd added a can to the image. A friend of mine gave Hunter a couple of these shirts and he really liked them! So that was his favorite shirt.
ANH: So you were doing all the Jimmy'Z T-shirt artwork yourself?
JG: Well, I had a team and we did all sorts of stuff. I had a couple guys in the studio—Dave Hackett and Steve Olson—that were absolutely hilarious characters. And we just had fun. The more outrageous we were, the more people would like it. It was really unusual. We used to do these big trade shows in the 80s and we would throw a party with dancing girls and guys and it was really amazing. It was all about the humor, you know?
ANH: When did you move to Pacific Palisades? Did you get into surfing right away?
JG: Well, I was born in Chicago but I moved to California with my parents in 1957. When I came out here, I knew nothing about surfing. But sometime in that first year I started hanging out with a friend whose older brothers were pretty famous surfers—Kemp, Danny, and Steve Alberg. I went over to their house in the Palisades one day and one of them had these amazing pictures of surfing on the wall. I just thought, "Wow, how cool is that?" and by the following year I had gone down to the beach and tried it.
ANH: Do you surf every day?
JG: Well you know, I surfed a great deal until I went to art school but then I sort of stopped. And that was in 1966. I didn't really pick it up again until about 1970. So I stopped for about four years and got really involved in art . But then I went on my first trip... An old friend of mine said, "Hey! I wanna go down to Panama, I hear you can drive all the way." So we did this incredible pilgrimage all the way to Panama, through Mexico. It's one of the most fantastic trips I've ever taken. It took a month on the way down, in a Volkswagen bus that would only go 55 mph.
ANH: What happened when you got back to California?
JG: I was an artist—a painter and sculptor—with a studio in Venice. So when I came back, I proceeded to make art again. I was surfing occasionally at Malibu but I wasn't dedicated to doing it every day. But one day I came up with this idea for making surf clothing. I had a baseball uniform that had a velcro belt inside the pants. There was no buckle or a snap in front, so it was much more comfortable for bending over and working, and for surfing.
I made a mock-up and my art dealer's husband said to me, "Okay, that's a good idea, now we have to make one!" He showed me every step of the manufacturing process, then I went through and did it myself—from cutting the materials to delivering pieces to the seller—I mean, I did each and every step of the thing. Then I sold them around Malibu out of the back of my car, and people really liked them.
ANH: What sort of car was it?
JG: It was a Vista Cruiser station wagon. A Buick. And the same year, in 1984, the Olympics were happening in LA. One day, six guys who turned out to be the German swim team came around to the Cruiser. So I said "Hey, do you guys wanna learn how to surf?" And so on the last day of the Olympics I took Michael Groß and those guys to Topanga Beach, and it was the front page of the LA Times
that week. That was the start of it all.
ANH: And how does what you're doing now, in 2012, link back to that?
JG: What I'm doing now is about retracing what we did before. And the comments I've had from people have been so fantastic, about how these are clothes that they grew up in. It's been very interesting for me to see the response because, from the beginning, Jimmy'Z was very big with the skateboarders in LA. We gave them one of the first voices that they had. Suddenly their images were being projected in Interview
magazine, for example.
ANH: Was that one of your ambitions, when you realized this was going to be a big thing? To give a voice to that subculture?
JG: I had a whole team of skaters in the art department. They weren't necessarily artists but they started making art. Working with guys like Steve Olson and Dave Hackett, we made a lot of interesting ads over a long period of time. And I don't think they would have gotten to where they are now if it hadn't have been for our involvement at the time. You realize now that surfing and skating went from being something that was an outsiders sport to become an imagery for a whole brand of lifestyle. And it's interesting how the surfers and skaters are still involved in art. It's part of the requiem.
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