I’m 15 minutes late in meeting Jeff Yokoyama at his Costa Mesa space, Yokishop, and I’m frantic — white-knuckling it all the way if an hour in rush hour traffic on the 405 freeway can be that. I'm stressed and I can't believe the 405 has done this to me again. But Yokoyama couldn’t be any more calm when we meet — his mellow disposition is calming.
“You’re not late, you’re right on time… I just got back from surfing,” he says, almost Zen-like. “I go out all the time — it was beautiful this morning… perfect.”
And that’s what Yokoyama seems to be at his core: The archetypal reserved surfer -- thoughtful and mellow, yet witty and brash when he needs to emphasize a point. Sitting down with him, you get the sense that he’s seen it all within the world of fashion and design, and in his early sixties, maybe he has.
At 20, Yokoyama created Maui & Sons. It’s now someone else's lifestyle label (complete with an energy drink and a themed restaurant), but in 1980, it was just Yokoyama -- selling throwback board shorts with elastic waistbands and silk-screened t-shirts with that familiar black logo and neon geometrical shapes. (If you meet him, ask him how he created that logo — it wasn’t originally for a clothing line.)
One day, he was hustling t-shirts out of his car to surfers within a 10-mile radius of his local beach, the next day he looked up, and he was the owner of a $20 million surf apparel empire.
“It just got too… big,” Yokoyama says as he laughs of his final Maui & Sons days. “Once a label gets that big, the initial excitement goes away.” I kind of describe it as that ‘warm water’ feeling — the enthusiasm. I didn’t have that warm water feeling about [Maui & Sons] anymore so I sold the label… eventually I created a new line.”
After creating and selling off several other successful labels (most notably Pirate Surf and Modern Amusement), he founded Generic Youth with his then teenaged daughter, CoCo. What started as a way to spend time with his kid became a local movement.
“Generic Youth is a line, but it’s also this,” Yokoyama says as he looks around his shop, renamed Yokishop, a nod to Yokoyama’s nickname. “I create everything here, but lots of other things go on here, too — it’s a little like a groovy little community rec center — the kids know about it.”
While Yokishop functions as a retail space, it’s more like an artist’s fantasy clubhouse. The east side of the space serves as his creative, pattern and sewing workshop, with recycled fabrics piled on every surface available, sketches for a tote bag that’s to be sewn tomorrow, and found trinkets. The west side of the space, depending on the day of the week, has been used as a lounge, a lecture hall, a yoga studio, a makeshift concert venue, and even a hair salon. (Yokoyama started out as a hairstylist and still keeps his license updated.)
“And we still do Burger Wednesday out in the parking lot,” he adds. “Donate a towel, and get a free burger.”
And those donated towels were Yokoyama’s big flashpoint. The Generic Youth brand began with one shirt design, but developed into a full clothing line, hand-stitched in-house from found and recycled materials. His Beach Towel Hoodie (made from the same towels that are still swapped out for burgers) became a shop staple, and a vision was realized. The idea was simple: clothing made out of found, recycled, and repurposed materials.
“Generic Youth’s clothing was always based on using old fabric and clothes that people were just throwing away anyway, then creating a new garment out of it — that’s it — a simple idea,” Yokoyama admits as he shows me a reconstructed military-inspired jacket hot off the sewing machine. “But Yoko’s Garden is a bit different — we’re working with universities, USC at the moment.”
Yoki’s GARDEN (along with his third line, Pidgin Orange) is housed in Yokishop, but if Yokoyama’s game plan works out, you’ll be seeing Yoki’s GARDEN clothes racks at university books stores near you.
But Yokoyama’s current focus is 1Goodwill: He wants to create small boutiques within Goodwill retail stores and fill them with one-of-a-kind pieces made by students. The students would get a cut of the revenue, Goodwill would get a cut, the university would get a cut, most importantly to Yokoyama, materials destined for landfills would get a second life.
“Right now, Yoki’s GARDEN is built around old USC gear — jerseys, warm-up jackets, t-shirts -- old materials that the university doesn’t know what to do with — that’s where we’re starting,” Yokoyama explains. “These are old uniforms that would just take up space in landfills. We’re repurposing the jerseys with the school’s colors — cardinal and gold — and creating the new garments — jackets, blankets, totes… the ‘Fight On’ fingers…”
Take a glance up towards the rafters and clotheslines in Yokishop and you’ll see old Trojans football jerseys neatly stacked and hung, waiting for Yokoyama’s recycling process. Today, I’m sitting under 50 or so worn SC home jerseys.
“Society wastes stuff, but I had to think different,” Yokoyama explains. “That’s what we have to do as designers now — think different. In the future, everyone will be forced to design differently… manufacture differently. That’s why starting Yoki’s GARDEN at the college level is so important — the students are open to this, and the great thing is, every year new students can come and see and learn what we’re doing here.”
Yokoyama is in talks with other schools at the moment — Stanford, the University of Oregon, Arizona State — and he stresses universities are the critical places to expand. He’s currently pitching a similar idea to Goodwill — he sees Goodwill and university bookstores working together to produce an exclusive line of Yoki’s GARDEN one-offs. The interesting part is, he wants to get these ideas off the ground so he can hand them off to students interested in fashion and lessen their carbon footprint.
“That’s what this is all about,” Yokoyama sighs. “I can’t do this forever. I want to pass the baton, I want the younger designers to see that we’re doing here and create differently… Design different, make different, sell different.”
Store Hours: Mon - Sat: 10am - 4pm / Sun: Closed
1Goodwill is the US based charity chain with Barn sized stores