Growing up, my mom said I yelled too much when I got excited.
It was true.
I still remember her buying me a pair of LA Gears and the UPS guy stopping by our house to deliver them. I was out front playing with a boomerang that loved to get stuck on the roof. As she walked out to show me, I could sense the new sneakers and flipped out with excitement. I finally had a pair of LA Gears, and life was complete.
Well, my mom punished my obsessive yelling (in excitement!) that day by delaying the enjoyment of my awesome new kicks until the next morning. I got up at the crack of dawn and opened the box for the first time... jackpot. I finally had a pair of shoes the other kids at my school didn't and life just seemed to be more complete.
I've always been a collector of cool little things - basketball cards, Desert Storm cards, Hot Wheels and yes, even Pogs. What's fun to me about collecting is that it was always super exciting to find something rare that none of my friends had. Yes, in case you are wondering, everyone was super jealous of my legit Pog collection.
As I got older, my love for collectibles grew into something I had always wanted to have: Lots of sneakers. While all my 'grown up' friends started getting real jobs, collecting watches, fast cars and nice apartments in the city I just wanted some sweet shoes.
Now if you love shoes, you also love making sure things match. I kid you not, my obsession with this little detail changed my life.
I remember sitting in my condo in Phoenix one Saturday afternoon, looking at a pair of lemon lime colored Nikes I was planning on wearing later that day. I wanted to find something small to match the shoes without being obnoxious (because lemon lime colored shoes are not obnoxious on their own 🙂 ) and I thought about how cool it would be if there was a wristband that matched. I decided take a trip to the fabric store to buy some elastic and make a wristband of my own. I bought a few yards of black and a few of white, some silver thread and some paint markers, then headed home.
I still remember drawing on the elastic for the first time and being so excited that it actually worked. I did some simple neon yellow lines, then sewed it together and ran out the door. As time went on, I'd continuously have people ask me about it. Most thought it was a slap bracelet until I showed them how it would stretch. It was comfortable too, I never left home without it. Even on days that I had to look a little more professional, I'd flip it over to the all black side and wear it instead of a watch.
I flew back to visit my famiily for the holidays at the end of 2010, wearing my Strap as usual. When I got to Michigan, both my brothers asked what was on my wrist.
I still remember Jordan saying "bro that's fresh!" I laughed that the term "fresh" was apparently back in style and decided to take them to a fabric store so we could all make some wristbands together. That night my entire family sat down at the kitchen table and started drawing up the craziest things we could think of. Admittedly, our crazy ideas basically consisted of geometric shapes, but it was a great start. 🙂
My mom had a ridiculously hard time sewing the wristbands together as they were so small and intricate, but got all of them done after a few hours of failed attempts. My dad suggested we call our new invention Zox Straps. We all laughed at the time, but he insisted it would catch on so we went with it. He now claims he owns 1% of the company because of this. 🙂
The next day, my brothers both wore their newly created wristbands to school for the first time. I remember sitting on the couch when they got back. They ran in the door with excitement, saying that we had to figure out how to make more as all their friends wanted some.
That's when it started.
We sat down to brainstorm and just started writing down ideas about what this brand meant to us. We wanted to be collectible, collaborative, philanthropic and a completely epic experience. Each of those things, to this day, is still a pillar of who we are as a brand, and that makes me super happy.
We took ideas from our favorite things and integrated them into our brand: The golden ticket from Willy Wonka, the packaging from a pack of basketball cards (but resealable to keep it fresh!), the nicknames people give sneakers and the VIN numbers on cars. I remember sitting there for hours thinking up names we could call each design.
We started looking all over for people to make these for us, to no avail. There wasn't even a factory in China that we could order elastic wristbands from which, to be honest, made me even more excited. We began making calls, sending emails, and sourcing materials for every piece we'd need to make the perfect product.
We borrowed a Pantone colorbook from a friend and got to work on our first printed sample, the original 5 color "Swagger Jacker". When the samples were finished, each of us wore one around to see what people thought. The response was overwhelming again, and we realized it was time to get off our butts and really do something with this.
We designed the F&F (Friends & Family), printing off 1000 wristbands then individually numbering the tags on each one. I happen to be very lucky that one of my best friends is a ridiculously good photographer, so I flew my brothers out to Phoenix and we did a shoot with them. Naturally, we had to be super cool looking so we took our very first company photo with our own version of Zoolander's "Blue Steel".
Well now we had a product that we loved but there's not really an instruction manual on what to do next. So we did what any awesome person would do and decided to share them with people we cared about.
We used to bring them everywhere we went in little sandwich bags. People loved 'em! After a while, my friends started asking me if they could have some to give to people they met because they kept giving their own away, right off their wrists.
This was a key moment for me because it started the concept of what is now our VIP group; brand ambassadors that love the brand as much as I do and really just want to spread the word.
So the F&F went super fast, but we weren't sure if that was just because they were free or if people were really digging what we were doing. At that point, we still didn't have a website and to be honest, I'm just a nerd without nerd skills. I can't code to save my life. After months of waiting for friends that swore they'd help us get something up, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
One day all the waiting had gotten me to a boiling point and I snapped - I was going to build a site before I went to sleep. I worked on it for 17 hours straight before it was finished and I passed out; it was awesome. During that 17 hour run, I actually designed a Strap called Night Owl as a tribute to other folks that stayed up late working on something they love.
Looking back now I realize that it was that Strap that really set the tone for how we named most of our designs going forward. They had to be something inspiring or meaningful that people would wear because it meant something to them. That night set the tone for our business as a whole; we were pushing ourselves every day to be better.
We decided to ease into our second Strap called "Double Dutch" by packing two Straps in a single bag without telling anyone. Right before we put them for sale on our site, I realized it might be a good idea to put a little note inside the bag as well so they realize why they got two: One to wear, one to share. This is the birth of what's now affectionately known as the Collector's card.
As much as I'd love to say we're all grown up now it's just not true. All 3 of us are just huge kids that absolutely LOVE what we do. I will say this though: Watching both of my brothers grow into young men of character has been seriously amazing; I'm the proudest big bro you'll ever meet.
Personally - I wake up every single day so stoked to craft another incredible experience for each and every one of you. You're on my mind 24/7 and I continually push the boundaries here at ZOX because I want nothing but the very best for you. I always tell Brandon and Jordan that as long as we're making folks smile, we're doing things right.
Until next time!
PS - a few years ago I made a little video around Thanksgiving telling this story. Enjoy! :)