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A Brief History of Zubaz

Longtime readers know that we here at mental_floss aren’t afraid to tackle the big issues. Politics. Religion. Science. And today we’ll bring that fearlessness to another hot-button issue: Zubaz. Let’s take a look at the history of the hottest zebra-striped pants of the early 1990s.

When we think of Zubaz today, “utilitarian” probably isn’t the first word that pops into our heads. However, friends Bob Truax and Dan Stock actually had a practical purpose in mind when they created the garish pants. Truax and Stock owned a Minnesota gym that was popular with bodybuilders. The bodybuilding clientele had a problem: the hardcore weightlifters couldn’t find pants or shorts that comfortably fit their massive thighs while offering the flexibility they needed in workouts. In 1988 Truax and Stock began brainstorming a new kind of shorts for the heavy-lifting man.

The pair developed a comfortably baggy pair of shorts with an elastic waistband, and their bodybuilding customers and friends quickly became hooked on the roomier duds. They named the shorts “Zubaz,” a take on the '70s street slang “zooba” for “in your face.” The duo also cleverly made their shorts in loud, distinctive, day-glo patterns—the classic zebra-stripe pattern was one of the first Zubaz prints—that matched the company’s slogan, “Dare to Be Different.”

With a Little Help From the Road Warriors, J.C. Penney and Female Inmates

The men started doing a pretty brisk business selling Zubaz out of their gym solely on word-of-mouth hype. When it came to promotion, Truax and Stock had a pair of aces up their gaudily printed sleeves: wildly popular professional wrestling tag team the Road Warriors were partners in the designers’ gym. Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal looked right at home in Zubaz; the flashy pants meshed well with their trademark face paint and spiked shoulder pads. Then, Zubaz caught another break: after a J.C. Penney manager saw a fan sporting a pair of Zubaz at a hockey game, the department store chain began distributing the brand nationwide.

The actual production of the early pairs of Zubaz sounds a tad farfetched. Truax and Stock were buddies with several corrections officers who worked at Minnesota prisons, and when the guards heard the bodybuilders needed a workforce to stitch their increasingly popular shorts, they had a suggestion: hire female inmates to do the work. Thus, early pairs of Zubaz were the products of convict labor.

50,000 Pairs a Week

As Zubaz’s national reach expanded, so did the brand’s star power. Dan Marino became the most famous name to endorse the brand, but supermodel Claudia Schiffer also pulled on Zubaz for a series of ads. The brand’s growing popularity led to a growing product line that included longer pants and caps printed in professional sports’ teams colors. Eventually the brand was moving an eye-popping 50,000 pairs of Zubaz a week.

Of course, Zubaz popularity wasn’t as enduring as Truax and Stock probably hoped. Although Zubaz sold over nine million pairs of pants and pulled down around $160 million in sales during the early 1990s, the pants didn’t quite end up becoming a timeless classic. Truax and Stock sold their shares of the company in the early '90s, and by 1996 the business was bankrupt.

Zubaz Redux

After Zubaz went belly-up in 1996, Truax and Stock reacquired the trademark. They sat on the concept until 2007, when they launched a line of new Zubaz as a novelty product aimed at retro-minded young men. According to a 2008 Minneapolis Star Tribune profile, the partners decided to keep the venture small by mostly selling on the Internet, out of a shop at the gym Stock owns, and at a few Minnesota sporting goods stores. The Zubaz.com webshop currently offers pants, shorts, hats, sunglasses, and ties.

If you're a baseball fan looking for an excuse to come out to the ballpark, several Major League teams are holding Zubazpalooza events. Get a ticket and a pair of Zubaz for around $35.

As one might guess, a large portion of the revitalized Zubaz brand’s customers were old devotees whose Zubaz had met similarly mysterious fates. As Heron Marquez Estrada of the Star Tribune wrote, “As word of the return of Zubaz has spread, Stock and Truax report getting a lot of inquiries from men who bought the pants -- often in their favorite pro team colors -- 20 years ago, and then their wives ‘lost’ them.”

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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iStock

From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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