When Violent Gentlemen first made it on to national television, the company consisted of three people. It so happens that one of those three guys who founded Costa Mesa's hockey-based apparel company was a fan-favorite in the NHL--former Anaheim Duck right wing George Parros (better known to non-hockey fans for his magnificent mustache).
The other two founders, Brian Talbert and Mike Hammer, were just hockey fans who happened to have the skills to create one of OC's fastest-growing clothing brands. Talbert covered the design, while Hammer handled the logistics. Throw in Parros' instant credibility with the hockey crowd and a couple of locker room shirts for the Ducks' playoff run, and Violent Gentlemen took off almost instantly.
"In March 2012, we designed two shirts. George (Parros) brought over a bunch of signed posters, and everyone who bought the shirts got a poster for free," Talbert says. "We didn't make very many because we weren't sure how they'd sell, and then we sold out within a week."
That was just the first of many successes that caught Violent Gentlemen off-guard. The NHL lockout that began just six months after the initial shirts sold was yet another roadblock that threatened to bring down the fledgling brand. After all, it's tough to sell hockey-themed clothing with no hockey on television.
"When the lockout started, we decided to design a tee with a lock and chains over the logo that said 'Let Them Play' and sold that," Talbert says. "People were super into it, but as soon as we got through that, George signed to play in Florida."
At first, it seemed like Parros' departure from the Ducks could be a major blow to Violent Gentlemen, particularly considering Florida's status as a hockey backwater. Ultimately, Parros ended up maintaining his beloved status both in Florida and Anaheim, and an unexpected purchase from one of the Ducks' recent acquisitions at the time helped to create yet another connection with the team.
"Right before the season started, we got an order from a Sheldon Souray in Malibu. We figured there couldn't be more than one Sheldon Souray living in the area, so we reached out to him," Hammer says. "Between him and George, those were two of the best guys we could have as a part of our crew."
Their friendship with Souray paid off, as when the Ducks went on to make the playoffs after the 2012-13 season Souray asked Talbert and Hammer if they would design the locker room shirts for the players.
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"The team loved the playoff shirts we made," Talbert says. "(Ryan) Getzlaf wore it in an interview a big playoff win, and that was really the first time Violent Gentlemen was on TV. I think a player wore the shirt for an interview after each of the three games they won that year. It kind of established us as a legit company and made us seem a lot bigger than we were."
Since then, Violent Gentlemen's main struggle has been keeping their products in stock, particularly in the Ducks' team shop. While developing a fan base both in and out of hockey hasn't been a problem for them, Talbert and Hammer still get disapproving looks sometimes from people who don't understand the name of their brand.
"There's a big difference between 'violence' and 'violent' that people don't understand," Talbert says. "A violent gentleman is someone who might be aggressive when they need to be, like on the ice or in any sport, but then is the kind of guy that will help someone up if they get knocked down. Sometimes people get caught up on 'violent,' and we're just begging them to get to the second word."