|Willie Travis makes T-shirts at The Dolphin Shirt Company. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)|
That Can Do Spirit Still Exists
(Los Angeles Times) - As often happens in the annals of California innovation, the story of how one of the state’s last grizzly bears came to be a global fashion icon begins in an 8-by-8 foot garage.
In the early 1980s, three young surfers — Kevin Greenwood, Mark Travis and Andrew Batty — set up shop in the Central Coast beach town of Cayucos, seeking to join forces in the T-shirt trade. They named their enterprise Dolphin Shirt. Co., decorating their apparel with images of orcas, sea lions and, yes, dolphins.
It was tough going at first: To purchase supplies, the partners often pooled their pocket change. In time, though, Dolphin Shirt expanded, first into a barn, and then to a small shop here near the railroad station.
Enter the bear.
|Kevin Greenwood, Willie Travis and his parents Martie and |
Mark Travis, left to right, all manage The Dolphin
Shirt Company. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
“I noticed that animals were selling,” recalled Don Pimentel, a self-employed architect dabbling in T-shirt design. “I said, ‘Wow, I can do that.’”
In 1985 Pimentel painted a bear, working off an outline of the grizzly that marches across the California flag. He presented it to Dolphin and then headed to Hawaii.
While Pimentel was away, the partners expanded on his design. His rendition of the bear, with his signature found just below its rear, right paw, remained. But now a red star hovered over the bear’s snout and a bar ran across the bottom, underscoring the legend “California Republic.”
In short, the shirt makers had more or less replicated the California state flag, whose design is rooted in the banner of the so-called Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. They sold eight dozen shirts right off the bat.
“It just started going,” Greenwood said, “and going and going. And it’s still going.”
Thirty years later, the no longer quite-so-young surfers — Greenwood gives his age as 59 and a half and three quarters — find themselves riding a fresh wave of global enthusiasm for all things California. The trend goes far beyond bear-flag themed T-shirts and related knick-knacks and spin-offs.
“California as a brand is incredibly valuable overseas,” said economist Kevin Klowden, who directs the Milken Institute’s California Center in Santa Monica. “It probably does better outside the state than inside.”
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