Zubaz Unleashed!

The rise, fall, and imminent rebirth of the zebra-striped wonderpants

Two common professions of the gym regulars were bouncer and prison guard. Dale Henn was one of the latter and had heard through the penal-facility grapevine that a sewing program had recently started up at the women's correctional facility in Shakopee. So Stock and Truax got in touch with Joellen Buzinec, the head of the initiative. Buzinec said she could guarantee 300 pairs per week.

When Buzinec saw exactly what her charges would be making, however, she was shocked. At the start of each week, the inmates — an otherwise sullen bunch — delighted in seeing what crazy fabric they would be feeding into their sewing machines next. More and more often, the wild print of the week would be zebra stripes. It was the design favored by the Road Warriors, and it was definitely the most in-your-face. The latest problem, however, was where to find zebra-print material when the fabric stores ran out.

Another issue was that the output of 300 pairs of pants per week was fast becoming nowhere near enough. Zubaz would need to find a full-service manufacturing plant capable of producing its signature zebra-patterned fabric.

Stock and Truax in their office at Comet Clothing
Kris Drake for City Pages
Stock and Truax in their office at Comet Clothing
A few of the new Zubaz accessories
Kris Drake
A few of the new Zubaz accessories

They soon found one in North Carolina, and then, almost like magic, came their first retail order. Today, Truax's eyes gleam like baby-blue crystals when he thinks back to that order.

"From that point on, it just went, 'Kaboom!'"

On the morning of Zubaz's JC Penney debut, a couple hundred people crowded outside the store before it even opened. There were teenagers, middle-aged guys, little girls, and grandmothers. Some wore face paint and angry six-inch spikes, just like the Road Warriors.

In the two years since Zubaz had morphed from a trend within the gym community to an increasingly widespread fad, Stock and Truax had set their sights on the JC Penney in Rosedale, one of the largest department stores in the Midwest. Unbeknownst to them, Gregg Lurie, the merchandising manager for the Rosedale JC Penney, was also trying to figure out how to get Zubaz into his store.

Back then, it was still possible for a regional store in a national chain to sell exclusive wares and completely bypass corporate. This allowed Lurie to jump on the Zubaz trend in 1990, when it was still mostly a Twin Cities phenomenon.

A wrestling fanatic, Lurie had seen the Road Warriors wearing the zebra-striped pants in pictures and had started asking around the Twin Cities about where he could find them. When Lurie finally tracked down Stock and Truax and held a meeting with them, he presented them with a contract for $27,000 on the spot. He had a feeling these pants were going to be hot.

He was right. On that debut day, when Zubaz commanded its very own section of the JC Penney and the Road Warriors autographed posters and wrestling paraphernalia right there in the store, Lurie sold $1,500 worth of the zebra-print pants. In the coming year, JC Penney would sell $1 million in Zubaz.

While Lurie was enjoying the raging success of Zubaz in his store, the Road Warriors were about to inadvertently open an even more lucrative market. Dan Johnson, with whom Animal had played football at Golden Valley Lutheran College, was now a tight end for the Miami Dolphins. In the offseason, Johnson worked out at the Twin Cities Gym, where he fell in love with the wild pants Hawk, Animal, and the rest of the gym rats were wearing. He packed some in his suitcase and brought them back to Florida.

Johnson's distinctive sweatpants caught the attention of fellow players like quarterback Dan Marino, now a Hall of Famer. Marino asked Johnson if he could score a pair. When Johnson brought a few back from Minnesota, Marino immediately began wearing them on the sidelines. The pants were eye-catching even from far up in the bleachers.

Bobby Monica, the Dolphins' equipment manager, was intrigued by the garment's visibility. Monica asked Johnson to introduce him to Truax and Stock. Monica chatted with the business partners over the phone, and soon a box arrived in Miami bursting with enough Zubaz for the entire team, all in the Dolphins' signature aqua, orange, and white color scheme.

Visiting teams invariably began to notice all the zebra print on the Dolphins' side of the stadium. When they asked about it, Monica would pass out Truax and Stock's business cards.

"Call these guys — they're great," Monica would say. "They'll get you whatever colors you want."

With Zubaz sprouting up on the sidelines in countless football stadiums nationwide, the NFL couldn't help but take notice. Someone in the corporate office called Stock and Truax and invited them to New York to talk licensing.

Deals with the NHL, the NBA, and MLB soon followed. So did a whirlwind tour of the country. Stock and Truax were traveling nonstop to tradeshows, Super Bowls, every all-star championship for every sport. In the meantime, Zubaz's success at JC Penney inspired other department stores to write massive orders. Macy's, Nordstrom, Footlocker, Champs, and the Sports Authority all wanted a piece of Zubaz.

To accommodate the exploding demand, Stock and Truax sold the Twin Cities Gym in late 1990 and opened a massive Zubaz distribution facility in Brooklyn Center. But they made sure to include a gym in a corner of the warehouse — despite their grueling schedules, they weren't going to miss out on workouts.

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