Op and Gotcha, revived: Michael Tomson, Jr. Jenks, and team weigh in

Many will remember it like it was yesterday: Op and Gotcha’s heyday in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when surfing was still gaining mainstream traction and before the likes of massive chain retailers and brands.

op and gotcha

A look at the design drawing board inside the Icons of Culture studio.

It’s no secret that the 2000s presented more hardships for the industry than expected, and Gotcha Founder Michael Tomson saw this coming (he sold the brand in 1998 and moved on as an industry consultant.) The same story applies to Op, which was founded in 1972 by Jim Jenks and later sold to several different parent companies in 2003 and 2006.

Today, the brands are being revived by Z Supply LLC., with design and creative support from Tomson and Jenks’ son, Jr. Jerks, who have dug into the archives and pulled out styles that helped both brands elevate surf culture to the mainstream status decades ago.

“The collections look back at the authentic culture and style that started it all, honoring the timeless looks of Op and Gotcha with a contemporary edge,” said
Tony Sanchez, director of sales for Z Supply.

Under a capsule named Icons of Culture, the two brands were picked up exclusively by Urban Outfitters, and have since followed that with a well-recognized roster of specialty stores, including Jack's, Sun Diego, Fast Forward, Brave New World, Farias, Surfers Supplies, Bunger, Bambootique, and The Spot, to name a few, Sanchez said.

We talked with Sanchez, Tomson and Jenks to hear more about the collection and future goals for the companies.

op and gotcha

A look into the Icons of Culture capsule, which features Op and Gotcha branded gear.

Will the pieces continue to be throwback, iconic pieces that lived in the collection in the past, or will we see anything that is more modern surface?

Sanchez: We will continue to showcase iconic pieces, translating those into modern cuts and silhouettes.

What are some of your favorite pieces from the capsule collections?

Jenks: The Cord walk shorts. They were a staple for Op and that style basically built the brand.

icons of culture

New life has been breathed into the original design for the Op cord.

Tomson: I'm not really a good indicator of what the best styles are because I always like the weird ones that are more ‘out there’. Having said that, I like the jeans because that type of design was unheard of in 1987. Nobody was distressing jeans, let alone printing on them; they were progressive. My favorites are also the tie-dye shorts, the black striped short in the Rhythm Division, and the mesh printed T-shirt.

What does it mean to you to see these iconic pieces resurfacing and resonating with a whole new generation of youth?

Tomson:The best way that I can describe the relaunch of Gotcha is to compare it to finding a bonus track on an album that you have been listening to for a long time. You never knew it was there and it's a great track. That's the way I feel about this. It's a great surprise, and it's working.

Jenks: So killer! I am so stoked to see a new generation look at Op in a whole new light. Greg and the Z Supply team did an amazing job mixing contemporary styling with classic art. Our family is very proud of what they did.

icons of culture

A look at some key pieces for Gotcha women.

Related: Gotcha’s Founder tackles the industry’s toughest topics

Having seen the evolution of the surf market over the years, what is your current take on the state of the surf industry?

Tomson: I've seen some difficult and challenging times before, but none I think are as severe as this. The main reason for that is twofold. First, fashion itself has lost its place in the hierarchy of consumer preferences.

The coolest thing right now is technology; that's what's sexy in the minds of consumers, so we've taken a backseat to that. Second, there is a huge shift in buying patterns. The internet has completely changed the way people buy products; this has had a major effect on retailers.

In the past, the online business was maybe 5% to 10% of sales. But today, it's climbing and is much higher. This has destabilized our retailers and their buying ability. In addition, internet buying has undermined the brands that have relied on selling to them for all of these years. These two forces at work that have upended the apparel business. It's showing and it's really difficult.

op and gotcha

Inside the colorful resurrections of surf’s heyday: Icons of Culture spotlights the most historically significant styles, which are on trend today.

Jenks: I love the fact that vintage brands – Op and Gotcha – are being embraced by a new generation of kids. It is a real stoker that iconic surf shops and hip specialty stores are looking at the brands again.

Currently, the surf apparel market is a tough business, while in the late ’70s through the early ’90s, the business was lucrative. The multi-chain stores, that built these brands into empires, are closing down and hurting the industry. I am stoked to see new brands like Brixton, Catch Surf, Captain Fin, and Critical Slide pushing it.

With Icons of Culture, shops like Hobie, Hansen’s, and Jacks are still powering through the ups and downs of this crazy business; this gives me hope that the surf industry is still strong.

op and gotcha

A progressive sillhouette paired with an archival print from Gotcha.

What does the surf industry need?

Tomson: The surf industry needs things that are innovative and unique – crazy weird stuff that comes from a different place. Only then will consumers react. And, even if that reaction is negative, it's better than indifference. Right now, it's hard to find a pulse in the sea of sameness on retailers' floors. Ironically, it's things like Gotcha, which look out-of-step with current styles that have a chance to succeed. The product, the fabric, and the colors are different. It stands out!