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The wood-paneled walls in Comet Clothing Company's headquarters in the Warehouse District are replete with autographed pictures: Guns N' Roses, Bill Clinton, Dan Marino — pretty much anybody who was anybody in the 1990s. The floor is a dizzying kaleidoscope of neon, zebra-striped clothing.
Two heavily muscled middle-aged men, Dan Stock and Bob Truax, sit at sprawling desks in back of the showroom. Stock is tall, at least six-foot-five, with a broad chest and shoulders. Truax is shorter and more compact, with a deep tan and dark brown hair.
They are the founders of Zubaz, those loud-hued, animal-printed pants that were all the rage for jocks in the late 1980s and early '90s. Though it's commonly assumed Zubaz's sudden disappearance from the market in the mid-'90s was a consequence of passing fads, the real story is far stranger.
"The bottom line is that we made a lot of mistakes," Truax says. "And we did a lot of things right."
Stock nods thoughtfully. "We were just hoping to supplement our gym business," he says. "I don't think either of us would have ever thought we would go into the clothing business."
Stock crosses the room and takes down a professional photo of former Guess spokesmodel Claudia Schiffer, who is tastefully topless and wearing only Zubaz.
"We really focused on getting product on famous people," Stock explains.
Truax glances at the photo of Schiffer. "I remember that shoot. She was very nice, very shy, very young."
Stock furrows his forehead. "I think she actually got in trouble for being in our ad back then, didn't she?"
"Yeah, I think she did," Truax says with a mischievous laugh. "Guess was the sort of high-end fashion brand back then. And Zubaz, well, we were pretty much the opposite of that."
It all started with a pressing issue. Truax and most of his bodybuilding, power-lifting pals had a wardrobe problem. They couldn't find pants to fit their massive, tree-trunk thighs.
It was a pernicious enough gripe in 1988 that it was a frequent topic of discussion at the Twin Cities Gym, which Truax had recently opened with Stock, his friend and former colleague.
Then the Road Warriors came back from a trip to L.A. with a solution.
The Road Warriors, a.k.a Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis and Mike "Hawk" Hegstrand, were a pro-wrestling tag team known for their outlandish shoulder pads and over-the-top personalities. At the time, Minnesota was home to Verne Gagne's renowned America Wrestling Association and a hotbed of pro wrestlers and bodybuilders. The Twin Cities Gym, known for its hardcore weightlifting scene, drew some of the most famous.
Animal and Hawk had been working out at a Gold's Gym and had come across a pair of unusual sweatpants by a brand called Everywhere. The pants fit snug around the waist, roomy in the thighs, and tapered through the calves and ankles. They were glorious.
The Road Warriors showed the pants to Truax and Stock, and the gym owners immediately saw an opportunity for a side business: They would make and sell similar pants for their gym clientele. Hawk and Animal — along with a handful of Stock and Truax's closest friends — agreed to invest in the new clothing company as partners. The only problem was finding a way to make the pants.
Then someone mentioned that Diane Grace Goodman, a bodybuilder and one of the gym's regulars, was a pretty good seamstress. When the guys approached her, she was doing leg lifts.
"Hey Diane," Animal greeted her. "We got these pants and we really want to make some like it."
Goodman kept pumping her quads as she looked the pants over. The construction was almost laughably simple to her eyes.
"I could do that," she said, exhaling on a rep.
"Really?" Truax asked, surprised.
"Yeah," she said. "Really."
A small storage room in the back of the gym became Goodman's designated sewing space. She quickly got to work cutting a pattern and sewing crude samples. The other gym patrons quickly got wind of what Goodman was up to and started begging her for custom pairs. Goodman was happy to oblige.
Within a few months, the demand was so great that Goodman and Stock were making weekly trips to SR Harris to buy fabric in bulk. Oddly, the fabric most highly sought after by their customers was not the heather gray typically associated with athletic pants. Rather, the gym denizens preferred bold, busy prints.
It was the wild look of the pants that inspired their name. Outside the Twin Cities Gym was a heavily trafficked basketball hoop. During heated pickup games, players would often shout, "In your face!" at their opponents. A popular street term, "Zubaz," had come to mean the same thing, so someone might simply grunt "Zubaz" to save himself some syllables. No one had seen anything more in-your-face than these funny-shaped pants in screaming patterns, so "Zubaz" became their brand name.
The Road Warriors wore Zubaz on their pro-wrestling circuit tours, attracting new customers wherever they went. Meanwhile, Stock and Truax placed a few modest ads in muscle magazines. Before long, Goodman could no longer keep up with all the orders. She'd probably cut and sewn close to 1,000 pairs of pants. There had to be some other way to keep the business running.
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