Gecko Hawaii, The King of ‘90s Radicalwear, Is Back

New designs and a Riff Raff partnership highlight a return from a decade-long hiatus

November 13, 2020 8:00 am
gecko hawaii
Remember these? They're back.
Gecko Hawaii/Facebook

If you were growing up in the early ‘90s and weren’t living in some Victorian mansion that required a dress code, there’s a good chance you owned a piece of clothing from Gecko Hawaii. 

Started in Hawaii in the mid-’80s, the brand got its start catering to the surf and skate crowds that enjoyed its bright color palette and tubular gecko-themed graphics. As is usually the case, trends that were popular among the countercultures eventually went mainstream, and before long, kids everywhere from beach towns to the suburbs were rocking the lizard-branded gear.

The label fit in with similarly minded clothing companies like And1 and Big Dog that were popular at the time: casual sportswear built around the image of a central character, emblazoned with maximalist ‘90s designs and edgy catchphrases. 

As their target demographic aged out of this type of clothing, though, Gecko’s footprint diminished until it all but disappeared from the market. Founder Derek Sciacqua explains that in the early 2000s, many of the retailers that carried them — like Kohl’s, Sears and JCPenny — were moving towards an in-house production model to increase margins. As he tells it, “When a customer walked into Kohl’s store around that time they saw Tony Hawk, Hang Ten, Vera Wang, Candies, etc. To the consumer it looked like Kohl’s was buying from all these great brands. In reality, Kohl’s owned the licenses to all of these brands. They manufactured the product themselves and were able to make more margin than if they bought directly from the brands. The retail space for smaller brands like Gecko began to shrink.” 

gecko volleys
Gecko’s signature “volleys”
Gecko Hawaii

By 2010, Gecko had scaled back production to the point that they were only selling in Hawaii.. But as of this year, Sciacqua, along with his co-founder, Vik Watamull, decided the time was right to relaunch the brand.

And it does seem like the right time. If you scroll through Instagram or TikTok, you’ll see the bright, flashy maximalism of the 90s everywhere. Fashion is cyclical, and at this point the decade qualifies  as “vintage” to younger consumers. Search “Gecko Hawaii Vintage” on Etsy or Ebay, and you’ll find a not-insignificant number of options. 

Sciacqua points out that oftentimes when nostalgic brands like his are revived, it happens because someone bought or licensed the rights and is manufacturing it under a completely new business model. Not so with Gecko. As he proudly tells it: “We are the original team. We are even working with some of our original artists to redo their hand-drawn designs. Since a lot of our original art was done before computers, it has been a labor of love bringing some of them back.”

gecko windbreaker
The Gecko windbreaker in fuchsia
Gecko Hawaii

Gecko plans to revive many of the best-sellers from their 30+ years of archives in addition to plenty of new graphics. They are using similar fabrics and techniques to the original production in order to enhance the vintage vibes of the collection, but they are augmenting that by working with some updated technology and softer fabrics as well. 

Gecko’s marketing strategy is also in line with current trends:  they’re embracing the collab, for starters. A limited-run artist series launched with hyperreal portrait artist Brian Viveros, and will feature a rotating slate of other creators going forward. 

On top of that, oddball rapper and social-media personalityRiff Raff — real name Horst Simco, which, wow, that is awesome — has been tapped as a brand ambassador, and his day-glo  aesthetic couldn’t be a more perfect fit. Sciacqua tells us that little Riff Raff was constantly decked out in Gecko gear, and when the pair first connected, the synergy was instant. He too has his own line from Gecko, and they’re also making tour merch for him, which you can buy on their site. 

Turning to the full collection, the real stars of the show are the beach pants, volleyball shorts and windbreakers, though they have plenty of other, more toned-down items if you want to sport the brand without putting an eye out. While nostalgia will be the entry point for most with Gecko, there’s definitely something here for anyone who wants to experiment with a more relaxed look in these largely homebound times. As Sciacqua puts it, “Gecko is for everyone who likes to smile and have a good time. We are all about fun.”

Amen to that — especially in 2020.

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