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Chip and Pepper

Chip and Pepper
Take two
by Geoff Kirbyson
May 3, 2004

After a roller coaster ride in the Canadian surf wear market in the late eighties and early nineties, Chip and Pepper Foster have re-launched themselves and their brand in the US.

The twin surfer dudes who became millionaires riding the popularity of Chip & Pepper Wetwear surf shorts, t-shirts and sweatshirts, are now attracting attention from some of the top names in fashion for their second love, denim.

Chip and Pepper's high-end jeans are now sold in some of the best-known retailers in the world and they've been featured in magazines such as Elle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan and on television shows such as “Sex in the City.”

 
 

The 30-something twins, with their shaggy blond hair and dude-speak are just as high profile. Not only do they design their own product, they’re the promotional faces behind it as well.

"We're an added feature of the brand,” says Chip. “Chip and Pepper is a great name, people love it. They can identify with twin brothers. But I think right now, the business itself is based on quality.”

But as hot as the Chip and Pepper brand is today, it was almost cold when their Winnipeg, Canada-based company went into receivership in 1991. They overextended themselves with licensing agreements that put their name and distinctive logo — two sunglass-wearing bulldogs — on everything from barbecue sauce to running shoes to chicken strips. Their brand, which had always represented fun, cool and quality, had become unfocused. They even had to endure a legal battle, which they eventually won, for the right to use their own names.

When it was over, the twins decided they needed a break and a fresh start. So, after spending a couple of years heli-skiing, snowboarding and hosting a Saturday morning cartoon show on NBC, Chip and Pepper put together a plan to re-emerge on the fickle fashion scene from their new home base of Los Angeles.

Their renaissance began with the opening of a high-end vintage clothing store called Golf Punk on Melrose Avenue, one of the hottest retail strips in town. It was while selling retro t-shirts and jeans to celebrities and pseudo-celebrities that they decided they could fill a niche in the high-end denim market, an area they had first thought about entering back in their surf shorts days. "We always knew if we got the Chip & Pepper name back, we could capitalize on the market. Not just because of us – two real people, but the integrity of our brand and what we've done. We've learned from our mistakes. It's so important for a company to evolve," says Pepper.

"We learned so much. We took that knowledge, which was street level, and what was going on in the market from celebrities, to old vintage denim. We knew we could have another chance. We knew if we had the right product, sold to the right stores and did the right things, we could have a Number 1 style and Number 1 fitting jean," he continues.

Because of the high quality of their denim and the unique combination of their fabric and washes, they elected to sell at an upper-end price point to the likes of Harvey Nichols in London, Holt Renfrew in Canada and Barneys, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus in the US.

"We chose this level," Chip says. "We said if Chip and Pepper is going to do it, we're going to do it right. We're going to pick up right where we left off, selling great stuff at the best shops."

Thus far it’s working with sales up 30 to 40 per cent from a year ago while the list of high-end stores selling their product continues to grow.

“We took a holiday and we're back where we were,” Chip says, before being interrupted by his brother. “I would say we're way, way, way, way bigger,” Pepper insists.

They both admit to a bit of shell shock from the success of their Canadian business, which began with a CND$ 1,000 loan from their dad in 1987. "We started that business when we were kids," Pepper says. "To become millionaires when we were young kids, it was so quick.”

“Our dad thought we were nuts," Chip laughs. "Chip and Pepper, in the eighties, that was the coolest brand in Canada. We had really good quality and our prices weren't cheap. I wish our business was in Canada but it's down here in LA, and I love LA. I love the weather. I love not plugging my block heater in."

Chip and Pepper also have a unique opportunity to showcase their sense of fashion and reinforce their personal brand with their own cable show on E! Entertainment and the Style Network. Called "The Looks For Less,” the show challenges the dynamic dudes each week to replicate high fashion outfits on a value-conscious budget.

"We’ll have someone on who wants a US$ 2,000 Marc Jacobs outfit but she only has $200 to spend," Chip says. "She’ll ask, 'can you do it?' 'Yeah, we can do it!' And we run around the mall, but we have to do it in an hour, and what we come up with looks pretty much identical." "People have an identity towards us (with the TV show), they can see who we are," Pepper adds. "It's nice when you're at a big fashion show and you see Sheryl Crow, Daisy Fuentes, and they come up to us, 'Chip and Pepper, I love your show!' It's kind of cool. When Sarah Jessica Parker is wearing our product, she's wearing a Chanel outfit and Chip and Pepper jeans, it gives you credibility."

Chip says they have also been approached about a license on a new line of surf wear. As tempting as it sounds to re-embrace their past, he says they're not going to bite. At least not yet.

"Right now we have so much to worry about with our business, we don't want to gobble ourselves up. This is an exciting time for us, we're just going to take baby steps. When we took big giant steps, that's when we made mistakes. This time we have blinders on. We're going to focus and keep our ducks in a row," he says.

 
  
Geoff Kirbyson is a business reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press in Canada.
     
 
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