By DANIEL TAUB
As a teen-ager riding the waves on a foam board off the coast of Newport Beach, Jesse Walter first became aware of and annoyed by the fact that no one was making clothes specifically for bodyboarders like himself.
Sure, there were plenty of surf clothing labels Quiksilver, Body Glove, Billabong, Gotcha. But most bodyboarders think of themselves as a breed apart from surfers, sharing the same waves but not the same attitude, and the clothing made for surfers is not always ideal for their bodyboarding counterparts.
"If you looked in the magazines, there were no clothes for bodyboarding," Walter said. "I just decided to do it. There was a market open."
Walter didn't wait until graduating from business school, or even high school, to launch his business. He started his apparel company, Premiere Clothing America, at the age of 16, working out of offices at his cousin's City of Industry medical software business.
After getting off to a slow start, Premiere Clothing is beginning to take off. The company, formed less than three years ago, generated about $178,000 in revenues last year, almost quadruple its prior-year level of $45,000.
"We're the first people to do this the first ones to make it this far," said Walter, now 18, who has operated the company full-time since graduating from high school in 1997. "There have been a handful of companies that have tried bodyboarding clothing and haven't made it this far."
Premiere Clothing's swim trunks, T-shirts, cargo pants, shorts and hats seem to be catching on among those who take to the waves atop spongy boards about the size of snow sleds.
"They're very popular with the bodyboard industry," said Larry Roldan, manager and buyer of Alternative Surf, the Bodyboard Shop in Seal Beach. "They're actually one of the first all-bodyboard apparel (companies). The demand for their stuff is just unbelievable."
"It's selling insane, because it's exclusive," agreed Reggie Abbott, manager and buyer for Active Ride Shop in Chino. "Not that many bodyboard companies make good clothes, or clothes period."
Aside from swim trunks, Premiere's lines do not look all that different from the casual wear made by other sports-oriented apparel companies. Its shorts are long and baggy, as is the style among teens; its girls' tank tops are short and form-fitting; and its T-shirts come in a variety of colors all of which sport variations on the "Premiere Clothing America" logo. The company's name and logo which are becoming increasingly known among bodyboarders are big selling points, Walter said.
Abbott said most of the customers buying Premiere Clothing items are bodyboarders, but a significant amount about 20 percent don't bodyboard at all. "They just like the style of it, the way it looks," he said.
Alberto Ayulo, who recently bought a shirt with a Premiere logo at Active Ride Shop, is one of the non-bodyboarders. "(They) just look nice," said Ayulo, 18, of Claremont, who is a skateboarder. "I just kind of like the style."
Walter, who grew up in the city of Covina in the San Gabriel Valley, started bodyboarding off Newport Beach with a group of friends when he was 13. When he began thinking about starting a clothing company, he turned to his cousin, Al Guerra, owner of Kalifornia Medical Systems, to help him get started.
"I was the only one, financially, who had the vision of marketing and had the ability of putting businesses together and making them work," said Guerra. "So he approached me for a second opinion on what he had in mind."
Guerra found that no clothing companies were specifically targeting the market. "I looked at the numbers and said, 'This kid might have something interesting here,' " he said.
Guerra set Walter up in his City of Industry office and the two started what was originally called Potent Clothing America. Another apparel company with a trademark on the "Potent" name threatened to sue, but the new name still retains the initials P.C.A., so as not to lose the customer base. (Guerra originally invested $10,000 in the business, but now pegs his investment at about $260,000.)
Premiere's swim trunks are lighter than most and have no buttons or zippers in front, where the bodyboarder comes into contact with the board. Rather, the swim trunks fasten with Velcro on the side. But Walter acknowledges that it's not all that different from other sportswear lines.
"It's the label," he said of the reason for success. "It's the image."
Given the success Premiere Clothing is finding with that image and the long hours that growing a company requires Walter said his bodyboarding has become less of a priority. In the three months leading up to the holidays, Walter said, he only bodyboarded two or three times.
"I work too much," he said. "Seriously, I'm so slammed."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.