“Aloha!,” said Dave Abrams as he began his keynote address to the Rotary Club of San Marino last Thursday afternoon. Though not a typical greeting, Abrams’s statement was appropriate for the subject matter he was about to discuss.
“There was an old television commercial,” Abrams continued. “It was a guy named Victor Kiam, and he looked into the camera and said ‘I love Norelco razors so much, I bought the company.’ Well that’s what I did with Reyn Spooner.”
If ever a speaker was preaching to the choir, it was last Thursday because in the audience and at the dais were at least two dozen attendees sporting his product.
A San Marino resident, Abrams along with a group of friends led by former San Marino resident Charlie Baxter, purchased the iconic sportswear company from Wedbush Capital in 2014 and has overseen a period of significant growth that predicts a bright future. But Abrams was more interested in educating Rotarians on the company’s rich history, which has a local flavor.
“The brand was originated by a man named Reynolds McCullough, who grew up on Catalina Island and was a paratrooper in the Army,” said Abrams. “When he came back from the war, he opened a store in Avalon called Reyn’s Menswear.”
The haberdashery grew to where McCullough’s empire expanded to six locations, including a Palm Springs store. But in 1957, McCullough’s focus changed greatly.
“He would look into the sky and see all of the DC-3s flying over Catalina on their way to Hawaii and he desperately wanted to go,” said Abrams.
There, he found a bustling new economy and a burgeoning surf culture to match. True to his background in clothing, McCullough noticed how the saltwater and sand combined to give surf apparel a soft, faded look – “and he liked it,” Abrams exclaimed. A local bartender experimented by sewing a few shirts inside-out, revealing the less distinct side of the fabric.
When Reyn saw that he said, “We’ve got a product here.”
McCullough went to meet with the Gant Brothers in New York City with his idea and came away with the brand’s signature look, which included button-down collars, matched pockets, double-stitched seams and side vents. Reyn partnered with local seamstress Ruth Spooner to tailor his new shirts, – eventually buying her business – and Reyn Spooner was born.
McCullough was successful in marketing the shirts as “fitting of the business community in Hawaii.”
Abrams – who was dressed in a Reyn Spooner original that acknowledged the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor – explained how each design is created from hand-painted original art and “Tells a story. A story of Hawaii.”
By 1962, Reyn Spooner had carved out its place as the authentic brand of Hawaii.
“It was about real people with real stories,” said Abrams. “It became known as the Brooks Brothers of the Pacific. The Ivy League of coastal Hawaii.”
In a marketing move that eventually injected the brand into the national psyche, McCullough gave an original Reyn Spooner shirt to each member of the Hawaiian Senate and House of Representatives.
“Reyn and the Hawaii Fashion Guild launched “Operation Liberation” so that the government and business community could wear their shirts on Fridays,” Abrams explained. “That eventually became known as ‘Aloha Friday’ and is actually the precursor to what we now know across the country as ‘Casual Friday.’”
The statement received an audible response of pleasant surprise from the audience.
Abrams explained how the brand eventually left the McCullough family and how licensing helped Reyn Spooner expand.
“You have all seen Reyn Spooner shirts that represent teams from the NFL, NCAA, Major League Baseball,” he said.
He mentioned a 2010 campaign that launched Reyn Spooner’s “Modern Collection” that did not go as planned.
“Great intentions, poor execution,” he said of the move. “It was like New Coke.”
He is excited that market surveys claim the brand still has a bright future.
“This generation will be much more likely to wear what their grandfathers wore than what their fathers wore,” said Abrams.
Abrams and his wife, Amanda, live in San Marino with their two children.