Zubaz Unleashed!

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

A few months later the Twin Cities played host to a number of championship sporting events: the World Series, the Stanley Cup, the National Special Olympics, and Super Bowl XXVI, where the Washington Redskins smoked the Buffalo Bills. At their distribution center right next to the Metrodome, Stock and Truax threw a legendary Super Bowl party. Among the names on the guest list: Dick Butkus, Dan Marino, Jennifer Lopez, and Beverly Hills 90210's Jason Priestly, who got yelled at for smoking cigarettes in the bathroom.

Around that same time, Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi held concerts in the area, and their tour buses stopped at the warehouse so the bands could stock up on pants.

Soon after, there was an ad campaign with Claudia Schiffer, Marino, and Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green that ran in Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. There were 40 billboards in L.A., and several more in major cities on the East Coast.

Dan Stock drives the Zubus around downtown Minneapolis, much to Twins fans' delight
Jayme Halbritter
Dan Stock drives the Zubus around downtown Minneapolis, much to Twins fans' delight
Model Claudia Schiffer posed for Zubaz in the brand's heyday, and Vikings star Joey Browner
courtesy of Comet Clothing
Model Claudia Schiffer posed for Zubaz in the brand's heyday, and Vikings star Joey Browner

That year, Zubaz recorded over $30 million in sales.

"It was chaos," says Truax. "Our lives changed a lot."

On October 16, 1992, the Associated Press published a business article with the headline, "Hong Kong Industrialist Buys Majority Share of Zubaz." Arthur Tse, the titular industrialist, had agreed to pump $5 million into Zubaz in hopes of revitalizing the suddenly deflated brand.

Revenues had slipped from $30 million to $24 million over the past 18 months as Zubaz found itself overwhelmed by the volume of orders, according to the AP. The brand had simply grown too big too fast, exceeding its financial resources and putting a strain on production and distribution.

Even though they may not have admitted it at the time, Stock and Truax were just as overwhelmed as their brand.

"We always had cash issues because of the growth," Stock says. "We were always in a cash-poor position. And we were running around 24/7 trying to keep everything running."

In the meantime, retailers were saying that the Zubaz trend had peaked in the fall of 1990. By 1991, you couldn't give them away. Pants that had once been sold for a respectable $35 were discounted to a mere $19.

For months, Stock and Truax had been trying to address the waning of the pants fad by adding T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and other accessories to Zubaz's roster of offerings, but the lack of liquid funds made it difficult to diversify. That's when Stock and Truax's friend — and president of Riddell Athletic Footwear — Ernest Wood and his son approached Tse, who already owned one-third of Riddell and whose family built its Hong Kong fortune in real estate, construction, and textiles.

But in exchange for Tse's financial help, the Zubaz team had to pay a heavy price. Most of the original investors, including the Road Warriors, were bought out. Stock and Truax's shares were whittled down so significantly that Tse ended up owning the majority of the company, about 80 percent.

"I didn't want to get out of it," says Laurinaitis, now retired from wrestling, and speaking from his home in Edina. "I was sad to get out of it. I hated to get out of it."

The buyout did little to solve Zubaz's cash problems. By 1994, Tse's company Silver Eagle Holdings was experiencing financial woes of its own. Zubaz was still struggling, and needed additional financing that Tse couldn't provide. So Tse sold Zubaz to New York-based 20/20 Sport, a manufacturer of activewear, mostly T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies.

Over the following year and a half, Stock and Truax would grow increasingly disillusioned with 20/20.

"All of the ideals that we had going in were gone," Stock says. "It wasn't 'our company' anymore."

Under the direction of 20/20, Stock and Truax were still working long hours, but now owned only between 3 and 5 percent of the company, with 20/20 owning about 90 percent. But this wasn't the only source of their ennui. The biggest issue was that 20/20 wanted to leverage Zubaz's licensing deals with the highly influential sports leagues to grow a tops business, while Stock and Truax wanted to continue focusing mostly on bottoms (pants and shorts). It was a problem that Stock and Truax decided was ultimately a dealbreaker.

"We left, we gave them our shares, we walked away," says Truax. "I think we ended up getting paid through the year, and we left. (Attempts to reach 20/20 principals and their lawyers were unsuccessful.)

In 1996, 20/20 Sport filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Zubaz seemed like it would forever be a brand of the past.

"I think it was very difficult for them," says Tim Greeley, Stock and Truax's longtime friend from the gym. "Here were these two guys who took a chance and put a lot of sweat into starting something, they rode the wave, and all of a sudden it's gone."

Stock and Truax aren't ones to cry over spilled Muscle Milk. After their messy split from 20/20, both men immediately went back to work. Stock opened another gym in St. Paul, while Truax landed a job with Knights Apparel, Inc., a sporting goods manufacturer.

But no matter how busy they got with other projects, Stock and Truax never forgot about Zubaz.

"Any time you innovate and invent and you see it to a pinnacle and it doesn't go the way you envisioned it, there's obviously going to be a lot of reflection and some disappointment," says Henn, the friend and former prison guard, now an inventor of "As Seen on TV" sporting equipment. "Zubaz didn't grow the way it was supposed to. It kind of died. But they felt that it wasn't time to go off into the sunset."

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