Step into Jack Denny's office at World Jungle Clothing Co. in Costa Mesa, and you'll feel like you've entered another world--that of a 1970s-era college dorm.
There's an old Jimi Hendrix poster on the wall, a remnant of a brown-and-white South Pacific tapa cloth tacked over a window and an eye-popping orange velour easy chair, rescued from a thrift store, in the corner.
Denny even looks like a college kid; on this day he's sporting baggy corduroy pants and a '70s-style shirt. And when you ask him what he loves about his job, he sounds like a kid:
"It's the surfing," he says. "That's why I work hard. So I can go to neat places and surf."
Denny, 31, isn't quite as laid-back as his clothing or his office would suggest. As co-owner and director of design for World Jungle, he is helping the $8-million-a-year company thrive in the competitive world of surf/sportswear. He would like to see World Jungle be the next Stussy or Mossimo, and he's worked hard to quickly expand the company since it began in 1990.
World Jungle has prospered mainly by avoiding the fashion mainstream and gimmicky looks, earning the respect of surfers. Denny has shown a knack for riding a trend just as it is starting to swell, then pulling out when the look has saturated the market.
He had been designing for Gotcha for six years when, during a three-week surfing trip to Bali, he decided to start a "small, hard-core" surfwear company that made clothes and trunks with an ethnic look.
"At the start, the clothes were unique," Denny says. "They were so tribal."
They were also hot. Soon, other companies were doing tiki-type trims and primitive prints.
Denny recently decided it was time for a new look. With his latest spring collection, he's departed from World Jungle's roots.
"The old World Jungle was ethnic and tribal-driven," he says. "We've eliminated that. The clothing is much cleaner."
There are no busy prints in the new collection. Fabrics are plain but sometimes textured. There are knit shirts reminiscent of vintage gas station uniforms, with simple striping and ribbed trim. One shirt has a textured herringbone weave with engineered stripes in earth tones.
"It's our best-selling shirt for spring, and it's very different from what we've done in the past," Denny says.
Another shirt has a single vertical stripe down the front. There are also retro-looking woven shirts, including one in a brown-and-cream plaid, and corduroy shorts in light earth tones such as sage and blue.
World Jungle's graphics have gone Americana. There are stars and stripes and a pair of swim trunks color-blocked in red, white and blue ($40 for shirts and trunks, $50 for pants).
The company's snowboarding line features two-tone and color-blocked jackets and pants that look as if they might have been designed in the '50s for factory workers and firefighters--in retro hues such as khaki, dark green, chocolate and navy ($100 to $140).
World Jungle sells to about 400 retailers in the United States, Brazil, Australia, Fiji, Peru and Japan.
"Between the small, 3- to 5-year-old companies and Billabong and Rusty, there's a gap where there's plenty of room for sales and growth," Denny says.
To fill that gap, Denny and partner Macy Barton recently added Michelle Tripi to design World Jungle's expanding sportswear line, while Denny continues to design surf trunks and walking shorts while overseeing T-shirt graphics.
Denny, who was born in Ohio, has lived in Laguna Beach since he was in the eighth grade. He surfs "a lot" and enjoys the waves in Hawaii and Fiji.
"I was just in Hawaii watching the Pipe masters," he says. "It's a lifestyle."
Denny loves to travel, but he often finds fashion ideas close to home. He likes to rummage through thrift shops for inspiration. La Brea in Los Angeles is a favorite shopping hangout.
"Instead of going to Europe, I go to thrift stores and spend a couple hundred dollars," he says. "I like the '70s stuff. I want to make a shiny polyester shirt."
World Jungle has a large collection of vintage clothing handy, should inspiration on a collection lag.
"The old '40s and '50s shirts are still the cleanest you can find," Denny says.