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In Their Own Fashion : Three Local Designers Answer the Question: Does Anybody Around Here Have Style? : John Drury : DESIGNER TO THE SURFERS

April 29, 1993

Meet John Drury, probably known to many of you as the slightly impish, freckled singer J.D. with Raging Arb and the Redheads, the loyally followed Ventura rock band that gets thrown out of venues more often than overflowing ashtrays.

"Well, yeah, we have been tossed out of a few places," says Drury, on a recent afternoon away from his day job as a Ventura car salesman. He is dressed in a pale flannel shirt and baggy, knee-length shorts that receive regular tugs to keep them from traveling too far south.

And what, you may ask, is this rock singer, salesman and self-described "skater" (skateboard rider to the uninitiated) doing behind our first fashion door?

For an answer, look carefully at his outfit: At the logo of an impish, redheaded kid on the hem of his pants. At the same logo on the pocket of his flannel shirt and on the baseball cap he casually tosses into the air. It may be the same logo you've seen on bumper stickers all over the county.

On T-shirts. Surf boards. Jackets.

The logo is of a boy named "Redhead," and the wearer is its creator. He also is the president of Redhead International, the Ventura company that grew out of a crowd-pleasing promotional idea for the band.

Last year, Drury says, the Ventura-born line of clothing left the confines of the county and was sold in 150 stores up and down California, in Hawaii, Florida and even in a few outlets in England and Germany. Redhead clothing also caught the attention of Japanese buyers, Drury says, who snapped up about $200,000 worth.

"Right now, in Japan, the big fashion statement is to look like an American surfer," says Kathy Merrick, a former Simi Valley surf store owner and now Redhead International's vice president. "They actually have businessmen who strap surfboards to their cars and drive around town with them. Of course, none of them will probably ever come close to the beach."

But long before Japan or Germany or England caught on, there were the laid-back youths of Ventura, who Drury says first recognized the real fashion article when they saw it.

"Maybe it was because it was something different and something local," he says. "Or maybe it was just because the character (Redhead) has a bunch of mischief in him and everyone has a different idea of who he is."

Merrick thinks it goes even further: to having created clothes that fit the lifestyle of a lot of younger Venturans. "Ventura is a beach town. It would make no sense to have high fashion here. This makes sense for where we live," she says.

John Gonzales, who works at Five Point Skate in Ventura, says the clothing line sells well, mostly to boys looking for durable, unconstricting clothes to wear while skateboarding.

"The kids like it, but so do their parents," Gonzales says. "It's a good, clean graphic and not hard-core. It's not like skull and crossbones that you see all around."

Although Drury won't reveal exactly where the company stands financially ("I'm still selling cars, so that should tell you something"), business, he says, is doing better than ever before.

It's certainly far beyond anything Drury might have imagined nearly a decade ago, when he first conceived of the logo to put on T-shirts for friends and loyal followers of Raging Arb. It wasn't until people from outside Ventura County saw the shirts in a few local surf shops, and expressed interest in them, that Drury saw Redhead as having bigger possibilities.

To test the market for a slightly naughty-looking kid embossed on generally oversize clothing--which is directed primarily toward surfers and skateboarders ages 8 to 18--Drury started out by selling Redhead T-shirts and caps out of kiosks in shopping malls, and traveling to trade shows in San Diego and Las Vegas. Based on the sales there, he then expanded the selection of Redhead clothes to pants, jackets and shorts, which are now manufactured at the same Ventura garment factory used by Patagonia.

With things looking so good for the company, Merrick says she just wants to make sure that the Redhead clothing line doesn't end up like many others, which have been victims of their own success.

"What happens is that things sell well in small mom and pop stores, and then the big department stores want them," she says. "Then everyone has it, and it's not cool anymore.

"We want Redhead recognizable," she says, "but we also want him to stay on the cutting edge."

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