An Oral History: Jiberish
The Jiberish founders tell their story of beginnings, branding, and a big move to Boston
Words: Mike Rogge
Started as a hobby by three friends, Jiberish evolved into a movement that stretches from their home court in Denver’s LoHi district to Park City, Utah, and across the globe. Often elusive, Jiberish’s founders have never officially offered an interview, as they prefer to let the clothes and their high-profile athletes do the talking. And talk they do. Through Newschoolers.com and their Vimeo channel, the Jiberish edits have amassed hundreds of thousands of views by the tall-hooded ski and snowboard congregation. When the church of Jiberish speaks, its flock listens.
But now, founders: Pete Drago, 34, Dave Boger, 33, and Gabe Anderson, 31 are willing to chat, admitting that not doing interviews in the past had left them with a lot of things to say.
What started as a 24 piece clothing order turned into a brand that’s focused, highly controlled, and, in August, headed to Boston for their most ambitious move yet.
As they say, sound the horns.
How did this company start?
Pete Drago: The name Jiberish—the root word in there is “jib”—is a word that has a lot of history and connection within the freeride market on the ski and snowboard side. The word “jiberish” has this connotation for being nonsensical. It’s also a mix of non-connected things. For us, our passions lie in a lot of different areas. We’re a Denver-based brand so we have a city life and a mountain life. A lot of other places out there don’t have that unique mix. Our passions lie anywhere from hip hop music to French wine to action sports to art and food. There are a lot of different things in our life that we’re drawn to individually and collectively that comes through on a creative level with the brand.
Where did the brand begin?
Pete: We just found the invoice from 2004. It was $417. We made 12 sweatshirts and 12 t-shirts that had Jiberish on them. We created the logo and the name. The goal at the beginning was not to start a company per se. We just wanted to make some clothes and bring our own unique perspective from a creative level to an industry and a scene that we thought would be really fun to be a part of. That was really the focus of it from the beginning. As a result, there were a lot of decisions that were made that weren’t financially driven. It was done entirely on what we thought would be cool and what would put the brand in the best position from a connection standpoint.
Is there a moment when this went from being a fun idea with friends into a job and a business?
Pete: In the fall of 2008, we dropped our winter collection. In the 24-hour period, we took more orders than we had taken in the entire year before. Product had sold out so quickly that we weren’t expecting it at all. We dropped it in the middle of the night to avoid servers crashing. The orders were totally nuts. We couldn’t have dreamed of selling that much in one day. We were up late packing orders, every night, sometimes till two or three in the morning and after our day jobs. We had always asked, “When do we go full time and make that jump?” It felt spontaneous but we had talked about it for years. I put my two weeks in at work and that was it. And I thought we’d run out of money in April. I was like, “alright, we’ll do this for four or five months.” Once I went full time there was no way we’d be able to run it like we did before. The brand was growing at an exponential level.
Where were you working at the time?
Pete: I was working in the mortgage business. It was fall of 2008 and a good time not to be in that industry. I had a good relationship with the company and they said if things didn’t work out I could go back. That’s when it felt real. Quitting the day job and the benefits and shit, that was the most risky part and when it went from a hobby to being real.
With today’s technology and how easy it is to get samples, in the States or overseas, it seems like anyone can start a brand. Newschoolers.com had this period where there was a new hat company popping up every week. What sets you guys apart?
Gabe Anderson: I can go draw a logo and start a brand and a website that day. But is there any substance or foundation to that? No. Before we pulled the trigger and went full time with the business, we wanted to make sure that we had the brand really strong and had strong support from the community we were working with. From there, it’s easy to know when to pull the trigger and take the next steps and open a store, open a second store, and that type of thing because essentially, our market was supporting us and pulling us towards success, rather than us pushing it on them.
I remember specifically at that drop being at Dave’s house, packing orders till 3 a.m., and one of the pieces that was not selling as well was a piece called Fruit and Orbs. It was a mint colored one. Right around that time, we dropped an edit where [Tom] Wallisch was wearing that specific piece and then all of a sudden it was literally sold out. That was the first time we realized the power of Wallisch and two, the power of dropping these edits and having kids recognize it as something that Wallisch liked.
What’s the least successful product Jiberish has produced?
Dave Boger: We don’t look at products from a successful versus not successful standpoint. We look at it from a health of the business standpoint and whether or not we’re reaching our goals. Those are more internal things.
From the actual product standpoint, our core market likes certain stuff historically—stuff that trends later after snowboarding which follows skating. The stuff that we make and we want to wear, as adults and guys in their mid-thirties, is going to be a little more fashion forward than what our market calls for. There’s a balance between those two things. Finding that balance is how we determine how successful a line is. When we keep selling out year after year, from so many different skiers. Certain color ways don’t do as well but we officially re-sell through every product we have in about 90 days. Sell-through is typically about 90%.
Pete: We had a piece that we made that’s almost a collectible piece at this point. It’s an older piece call the Treez and Zeebs. It was successful in that it sold really well but we got into such an ambitious printing process with it, back in ’07. It cost $57 to print each one of those sweatshirts, pre-fabric and pre-sewing costs. I think we lost about $40 every time we sold one. We were selling it for $110. They sold like crazy and it was a really beautiful piece.
We came out very early in this game thinking that we were not going to make money on every piece but there’s going to be pieces that are just going to be so dope that we have to make them. We’re probably going to lose money on them. We’ll try and make it up in a different area. For us it was such an important piece from branding standpoint to show the range and kind of where we could go and how we could do things.
I think a lot of larger companies look at that and say, “There’s no chance in hell we could do that because we’re not going to lose money on something.” For us, it didn’t matter because it was an expensive hobby and we were all putting our money into the company and not taking wages at that point. That to me is what you could consider unsuccessful financially but I thought brand wise we were successful.
What’s behind your marketing campaign? Aside from partnering with Level 1, a collab with Newschoolers, and your edits, you’ve done very little marketing.
Pete: Well, it’s complicated. There are a lot of things that we do in terms of our team. Like Gabe said with Wallisch, we get them early. We like the skiers that are up-and-coming and under-appreciated that have great style. That’s our focus.
It’s about trying to have fun out on the hill, and creating or showcasing the lifestyle that we’re a part of or helping to create. I thought skiing was underrepresented on the style side of things. Part of that was that there wasn’t as many brands. The old guard of skiing had this big association with mogul skiing and/or racing. I think some of the fanaticism over our brand was that we didn’t have that. I think that’s a timing thing. We targeted park and/or freeride stuff. For the kids that had the identity of “Hey I’m a park skier.” This is what I want to do.
They made that connection with Jiberish and that’s part of the loyalty. This is their identity and I think kids take that identity seriously in this day and age especially when you’re trying to differentiate yourself from maybe peer groups and/or specifically from a parent to a child. How we won over the pocketbooks is through the parent and that’s a lot of our customer service and our integrity and company values that we hold near and dear to us. We try to treat our customers the way we want to be treated.
You opened the Denver and Park City stores during a bad economy. Now that the economy is starting to move in the right direction, what’s the future of Jiberish?
Gabe: The stores have been one of the more enriching and enjoyable aspects the brand. We’re control freaks over the brand and when we go into a space we can control the flooring, lighting, paint, the music that’s played, the greetings of when people walk in, how people are treated and controlling every aspect of our clothing and our brand.
Pete: We’re going to open a third store this fall. We haven’t announced it yet.
Where’s it going to be?
Pete: (laughs) We’re opening a store in Boston in August. The lease is signed. We got it done. We’re on Newbury Street. That’s going to be the most ambitious build out we’ve ever done.
We started this as friends wanting to do something fun and it’s turned into a business and we’ve been able to maintain those friendships, met some awesome and amazing people and meet athletes and musicians.
What is your relationship with Redman and who have you been most surprised to see rockin’ Jiberish?
Pete: The most surprising has been Paris Hilton. She bought a sweatshirt at Radio in Aspen and rocked it around I guess. But that’s not the coolest by any means. We have a great relationship with Pretty Lights. He shops at the store a lot. Obviously Redman and Method Man have been through a few times. Raekwon as well. A lot of Wu Tang guys. Redman has just been more notably lately with the E-Dollo [Henrik Harlaut] video. When he and Method Man come through to tour here they stop in. Currency, Big K.R.I.T., B.o.B., a bunch of electronic guys, some guys from the Denver Broncos and Nuggets. The phone numbers in Dave’s phone right now are pretty entertaining. Raekwon text’s pictures of him rocking the stuff. That’s about as G’d up as Gabe’s ever been.
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