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Volleyball Star Makes a Name in Beachwear

August 21, 1987|MARY ROURKE

Easterners phone his Santa Monica store and order clothes they've never even seen. "Send me everything Sinjin wears." That's the way they order.

They're talking about Sinjin Smith--"King of the Beach"--a tall, tan, 30-year-old volleyball star who earned his title on sandy courts across America.

He and his brother Andrew and sisters Rosebud and Georgiana opened a store nine months ago called Smithers, a family nickname. It's become part volleyball hero's shrine, part sports news central.

They stock only two fashion collections at Smithers: Sideout Sport and Maui and Sons. One sponsors Sinjin on tournaments. The other sponsors Andrew. By Christmas there should be Swatch Watches. You can just imagine why.

Other items in the store include Cool Feet sandals (another Sinjin sponsor) and the requisite volleyballs and nets.

People wander in carrying posters of "the king" for him to sign. If they buy a hat or a T-shirt like his, they expect him to autograph it. While they wait, they can browse through two thick photo albums of tournament snapshots or check the up-to-date volleyball scoreboard near the front door.

Sinjin is the big draw for sports fans, but Andrew is no slouch either. He ranks fourth or fifth nationally on the tournament circuit this season, he says.

What Andrew lacks in scoreboard points, he makes up in physical appeal. With his chiseled profile and intensely blue eyes he models for Ralph Lauren ads and fashion catalogues. He doesn't have a salesman's personality, but his looks alone seem to be able to sell plenty at the store,where he often leans against the cash register signing autographs as people move past the check-out counter.

In his spare time, Sinjin reads Hollywood movie scripts, looking for a romantic lead he can play in a film about his favorite sport. But volleyball, not acting, is his top priority, he says. Andrew, however, admits: "My main consideration is financial. If I could make more money modeling one weekend, I'd do that."

Whatever it is about the store--with its blend of sports star quality, fashion taste, atmosphere and personnel--business took off so fast that the family's accountant invested his own money in it a couple of weeks after it opened, says Rosebud, the store's general manager.

The brothers travel to promote their game, but stop by the shop several times a week. Rosebud, a "weekend player," caters to fans by taking their purchases home with her and getting a brother to sign them.

Among other things, the store is putting Sideout Sport on the map. Steve Ascher started the company less than three years ago, as a junior at UC Berkeley. He signed Sinjin for sponsorship when the business was only 6 months old. "Immediately sales went up times five," he says.

For 1987 he expects figures to approach $5 million. The company's lead item is double-strength, wider-leg volleyball shorts. "Athletes' legs are a little bigger than the average adult's," he explains. Other items include T-shirts, sweats and some casual men's street wear in subdued duo-tone prints. "Volleyball fans are more like tennis players than surfers," Ascher says to explain the conservative styling.

Thanks to Sinjin's popularizing of the Sideout line--he now owns a large share of stock as well as wears the clothes almost exclusively--a number of volleyball teams are ordering the sportswear. And recently the women's tennis team at UCLA expressed an interest in the line.

The place in the sun of a volleyball star is brief. Andrew says he plans to play for another couple of years and practices up to four hours daily to keep his rank. Sinjin says he's pushing his luck in hoping to play four more years. By then he will be age 34. Early indications are that the store will still be going strong.

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