Up From the Underground

Photo by Matt OttoIn 1998, one year before their hip-hop-inspired clothing line L-R-G would sell more than $300,000 in merchandise at the Action Sports Retail expo (ASR), Robert and Jonas—who don't use their last names—were still working odd jobs, everything from valet parking to working for Kmart and JC Penney.

Today, they have a catalog of their entire line, a binder full of press clippings and schedules to clear if you want to talk to them. They have a warehouse in Santa Ana—one their marketing guy calls the ugliest on the street. Theyhaveamarketingguy.And they ship enough product to fill that warehouse and one in Manhattan.

“We wanted to do fly gear that was creative,” Jonas says, sitting in a black office chair where his thick, gold L-R-G medallion shines under halogen lights. “[But] I didn't know where to get a button or a zipper. Robert knew how to make things. He made everything into a physical form.”

“We were trying to make North Face in El Monte,” Robert says, grinning. “We didn't make stickers and T-shirts our first line; we had [hand-cut] pieces.”

Jonas designed the original logo in his room, and they sewed their first products in Robert's apartment: two pants, a jacket and four T-shirts. Robert knew a pattern lady, so they had a few samples made and then headed to Fred Segal to try to open an account.

They were losing money on every jacket sold, just to get them on the streets: “We just wanted people to see them,” Jonas says.

ASR in the summer of 1999 is when they broke big: they sold their entire stock of merchandise in an afternoon, and afterward, they hunkered down, establishing a fan base in the hip-hop community by adding people like Kanye West, Madlib and Mr. Choc to the roster of people who get freebies. Their oversize, living-large silhouettes caught on.

Five years later, they're looking for inspiration outside their original market, working in Japanese denim and real fur. “When we design, we are trying to fill out our closets with what we don't have,” Robert says.

Now they don't have a problem turning a profit on their clothes, with close to 200 pieces in their catalog and eight major shipments every year. And, of course, they like that.

“If we could ride this out at the level it's at till the end of our life, we'd be happy with that,” Robert says. Now they get calls from publicists requesting clothes. Tom Arnold wore L-R-G on his Best Damn Sports Show Period, and Robin Williams did, too. L-R-G has gotten over, which was the point.

“That's the whole goal: to become a staple brand,” Jonas says. And now that the men's line is running, L-R-G is trying to spread its roots into women's fashion, camping equipment and—of all things—yachting clothes. Just because it's something they haven't done yet.

“Brands that don't adapt cease to be brands,” Robert says.

“But we're not into camping really,” Jonas adds. “We're into yachts and stuff.”


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