Cooking Up Green Clothing With Burgers

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Jeff Yokoyama has always been designing, making and selling clothes, but differently.

His first venture, at 24 years old in the ’80s, became the industry standard by selling his youth oriented surf brand directly to local surfers on beaches and in schools.  Quickly progressing from garage to warehouse, trunk load to truckload, Jeff succeeded again in the early ’90s with Pirate Surf, riding the grunge wave to an exit strategy of a sale to Quicksilver.

Jeff finished the ’90s with Modern Amusement, fusing high-end fashion with coastal, relaxed apparel.  Here he found that people could get “stoked” on the way clothes are made.  He enjoyed international success and more industry recognition as a thought leader.

The Generic Youth storefront.

Please notice the duality of company names, intentionally juxtaposed to illicit an intellectual response of thought and talk.  Truth be told, what comes next makes me optimistically jealous.  Generic Youth, where generic is general and youth is individual, made me stop and think.  But the best part is that Jeff Yokoyama started this venture with his daughter, Coco.  I am excited to partner with my kids on a ReUse project of succulents planted in cool items diverted from the landfill.  Imagine doing something you love with your daughter in a sustainable commercial effort?  Optimistically jealous.

Generic Youth utilizes overstock and overrun items from LA, and turns them into one-of-a-kind garments inspired by vintage surf and high-end fashion.  Their hoodie became a local favorite.  They could travel to LA and source a bunch of zippers.  But they also devised a best-of-breed marketing solution.  To encourage a sense of community and to source the fabric to make hoodies, Burger Wednesdays was started.  Every Wednesday, Generic Youth cooks burgers.  They are free, so long as you bring an old beach towel to trade value for value.  Towels are then repurposed into wearable art, comfortable in form and the knowledge of how it was made.

Hanging in their Pamona Avenue and 15th Street storefront are examples of how Jeff Yokoyama and his companies influence our community.  A visual merchandising class visited three years ago.  Still hanging are the design, make and sell examples where students took old water bottles, added some soil and succulents to form an elegant sense of arrival, and a great DIY model my kids and I use all the time.  Succulents in a Goodwill teacup or the like make wonderful gifts.

The logos for Jeff’s companies have often come from his youthful nickname, The Crow (slick black hair produced a crow-like silhouette).  Generic Youth’s brand image is a silhouette of his daughter’s likeness.  And Yoki’s Garden, the latest effort, is a Pelican, representing the older and wiser version of Jeff, and elicits one of my favorite poems.  “Behold the pelican, whose beak can hold more than his belly can.”

Alas, young Coco flew the nest and went off to school at Oregon.  Coco was an athlete.  One day, upon returning home, Coco had sports stuff.  Home and away stuff.  Practice and game stuff.  Bags to hold and carry all the stuff.  Nike sponsored suff.  Stuff in abundance.

When they realized that there was no end-of-life, end-of-use solution for all this stuff, an “ah-ha” moment occurred.  Yoki’s Garden was formed to capture all this abundance, like capturing the abundance of a garden, and make a crop of cool one-of-a-kind innovative stuff that people would buy.  So, to design, make and sell differently, Yoki’s Garden struck up a deal with USC.  (Although other schools like UCLA and Arizona have expressed interest, you will know they made the big time when they start offering items from Notre Dame!)

USC provides jerseys, uniforms and sweatshirts, some with actual game day use.  Yoki’s Garden transforms these fabrics and re-imagines them as tailgate aprons, computer bags, coffee sleeves, skirts, ties, hoodies, trunks and the now famous Fight on Fingers T-Shirt.  Close your eyes and picture a piece sign, where a game worn uniform of USC Cardinal and USC Gold fabric are sewn over the fingers.  Can you see 60,000 of these at a USC vs UCLA game?

The brand logo is as unique as the product line.  A small swath of uniform has a small piece of plastic water bottle sewn over it.  The “sell different” organizational goal and philosophy is perpetuated by the fact that every year there are 3,000 to 4,000 new potential customers.  Brilliant.

Yoki’s garden is more like a local bakery than a garment factory.

Stop by for Burger Wednesdays or check them out on line at yokisgarden.com or genericyouth.com.

Send green thoughts to [email protected]

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