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Be a shorts order cook

Got Internet? Then with just a few clicks, you can customize your own board shorts. In real life.

May 23, 2010|By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times

Are you feeling bored with the same old board shorts?

Help is here. And while the notion of customized surf trunks is nothing new — companies such as Katin and Birdwell have been offering one-offs for decades — until now the level of customization has amounted to little more than choosing among a handful of color-blocked fabric panels and picking accent colors from a limited palette.

But a 7-week-old Santa Monica start-up, Shortomatic.com, is taking customization to a new level, allowing anyone with Internet access to click a few buttons and transfer almost any photo, design or piece of artwork onto a pair of men's board shorts that are then printed, cut and sewn by hand within a few miles of downtown Los Angeles.

There are only a few exceptions to what the company will print: No trademark infringement, no pornography and "we're a hibiscus-free zone," jokes Shortomatic's chief executive, creative director and co-founder, William Cawley, a 45-year-old British expat with a background in the ad business. "We're sick of seeing all those board shorts covered in hibiscus prints, so we tell people we won't do that."

But aside from the offensive flora (and Cawley seems as if he might be amenable to that with just a bit of arm-twisting), the world is pretty much your oyster — an oyster that could quite easily end up as part of a sea shell mosaic festooning your custom shorts.

On the second floor of an industrial office park in Santa Monica, William and his wife, Jennifer, 43, a professional freelance photographer, sit surrounded by a mind-boggling sampling of the possibilities: One pair of shorts depicts a photo of a Mexican-flavored Day of the Dead skull composed entirely of jelly beans. Another pair shows two sweat-beaded cans of Red Bull. Another is plain black, with a low-slung gun holster circling the waist. The Pepto-Bismol-pink pair of board shorts that Jennifer Cawley wears has a demure drawing of a '50s-era pinup girl in frilly knickers and a pair of bunny ears lounging on the right leg. If you're not feeling creative, you can choose from the site's online gallery, curated by Jennifer, bearing work by artists who receive a cut of the proceeds.

The Cawleys and a third co-founder, Maryl Georgi, a 42-year-old yoga aficionado who serves as the company's chief financial officer, started their adventures in customization in July 2008 with the launch of Yogamatic.com, which used a machine that worked like an outsized inkjet printer to put photos and artwork on personalized yoga mats, a sampling of which hang like heraldic banners high on the walls of their office space. There are the Dalai Lama smiling beatifically, the Rolling Stones logo superimposed over a smoothed river rock, puppies, children and serene beach scenes. Cawley points to one that depicts several photos of a teddy bear bent into various yoga poses. "We call him yogi bear. Get it?" Cawley asks.

To hear Cawley tell it, moving from making 12-square-foot yoga mats to being able to offer wearable, comfortable board shorts in an easy-to-manipulate computer interface required the kind of mental gymnastics worthy of the yogi bear. But it was mental calisthenics well spent; the Shortomatic.com site is so easy to use and so much fun, it's easy to burn an entire afternoon mocking up board short styles that will never see the light of day.

After you choose a size (due to fabric width constraints, sizes top out at a 38-inch waist) and upload a file from your computer, a preview of the finished product will appear on the screen, and the image on the shorts can be moved, resized, mirrored or duplicated on each leg. From there you can specify background and accent colors (which, in another cool feature, can be plucked from among the hues in your original image) and choose black or white for the contrast stitching and drawstring color. The final opportunity to personalize is writing a message of up to 140 characters on the inside waistband.

The end result — for a couple of clicks and a $99 price tag — is a one-off pair of super soft and supple polyester microfiber men's board shorts unlike anything else that exists, delivered to your door within 21 days. (Which means that if you uploaded a photo today, Dad could have a pair of boast-worthy board shorts in time for Fathers Day.)

Cawley doesn't want to talk specifically about what he has up his custom-printed sleeve next, saying only that a women's short silhouette will be added next month.

"We've got some more garments and accessories in the works," he says with a smile. "The umbrella company of Yogamatic and Shortomatic is called Anymatic, LLC for a reason."

For now, the three are content to let their board shorts speak for themselves — which doesn't appear to be a bad strategy, since each pair is practically guaranteed to be a conversation piece.

What really excites Cawley is the prospect of people using the shorts to make a statement — the way an Obama "Hope" yoga mat from Yogamatic.com did in October 2008.

"I mean, I'd thought about getting all the hobos on the PCH to wear board shorts printed to look like they're covered in gaffer's tape," he says.

"The possibilities are endless."

adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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