Body Glove International LLC
Body Glove International LLC
Subsidiary of Dive N’ Surf
Incorporated: 1997 as Body Glove International, LLC
Sales: $200 million (2006 est.)
NAIC: 315211 Men’s and Boys’ Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors; 315212 Women’s, Girls’, and Infants’ Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors; 315299 All Other Cut and Sew Apparel Manufacturing; 315999 Other Apparel Accessories and Other Apparel; 316211 Rubber and Plastics Footwear Manufacturing; 33992 Sporting and Athletic Goods Manufacturing; 44819 Other Clothing Stores; 45111 Sporting Goods Stores
Body Glove International LLC is a leading manufacturer of wetsuits, swimsuits, and other products for those who like to be active in or around the water. Body Glove claims to be one of the earliest California lifestyle brands. The business traces its origins to 1953, when the Meistrell twins took over one of Los Angeles’ earliest surf stores. The addition of swimsuits and surf-inspired street clothes gave Body Glove one of the most widely imitated looks of the 1980s. As the global economy ebbed in the 1990s, the company extended its brand through numerous licensees, though some of its new products may have alienated its traditional surfing and diving customers. A refocus on the company’s roots around the beginning of the 21st century coincided with the addition of footwear and protective cases for portable electronics. In 2005, the company signed up well-known contract manufacturer Rays Apparel Inc. to produce sportswear for the Body Glove brand.
BUILDING A BRAND: FROM WETSUITS TO SWIMWEAR
Body Glove was founded by Bob and Bill Meistrell. The twin brothers were born in Missouri, and as avid swimmers in local pools and lakes they began improvising diving equipment at a young age. When they were teenagers, in 1944, the family moved to Manhattan Beach, California, and there they naturally gravitated toward the ocean. They worked part time as lifeguards before serving in the military during the Korean War. Bob Meistrell also became one of the first certified scuba instructors.
In 1953, the Meistrells bought into the dive shop enterprise of Bev Morgan, who owned a Los Angles store called Dive N’ Surf. The Meistrells borrowed their share of the buy-in, $1,800, from their mom and became partners in the store venture, with each man owning a one-third share. Dive N’Surf, which would give birth to the Body Glove brand and company of the same name, was formally incorporated in California in August 1956 and sales gradually took off. The Meistrell brothers bought out Morgan the next year, and he went on to launch his own dive gear business.
During this time, the Meistrells developed one of the earliest wetsuits. According to Body Glove company lore, searching for a good material to insulate the body against cold water temperatures, they happened upon Neoprene, a synthetic rubber material developed by du Pont and commonly used as backing for refrigerators. Though the resulting neoprene wetsuits were not waterproof, the air bubbles inside the spongy material did help wearers retain body heat in the water, and the suits were a vast improvement over earlier heavy and restrictive solutions such as oiled woolen sweaters.
The question of who actually created the very first Neoprene wetsuit is debated by some. Candidates besides the Meistrells include Jack O’Neill, founder of the surf equipment empire bearing his name. While the Meistrells started out in diving, rival O’Neill’s original base was the surf community. Naturally, some overlap developed over the years. The scholarly consensus is that Hugh Bradner, a physicist at the University of California–Berkeley, invented the wet suit in 1952 while pursuing research for the U.S. Navy. Though he apparently eschewed financial gain for the product of work performed for the government, commercial versions were available within a few years.
The Body Glove brand’s distinction was the fit of its products—they fit the body like a glove, hence the brand name that came into use in the 1960s, reportedly the invention of marketing consultant Duke Boyd. The Meistrells paid Boyd $200 to have a logo designed, and Boyd, Bill Meistrell later recalled, “found a guy who did it for $35.” Other innovations claimed by Body Glove included hoods and a design without zippers. Body Glove was also among the first to make wetsuits available in colors besides black. The company also claimed to be the first to produce wetsuits designed for the feminine form. It backed the first all-girls surf team, the Golden Girls. In 1998 some female members of the Meistrell clan opened a women-only shop called “Sea Jane Surf.”
By the early 1980s, the Dive N’ Surf shop’s sales had topped $1 million, while Body Glove sales had topped $2 million. Moreover, the Body Glove wetsuit was enjoying an international reputation.
MAKING A SPLASH IN SWIMWEAR AND STREETWEAR
Before 1986, the Body Glove brand was known mainly to surfers and divers. However, in that year, a young designer named Robin Piccone licensed a line of swimsuits to Body Glove. Featuring unique, technical materials such as Neoprene, the designs projected a unique look and would be widely copied by others by the end of the decade. Piccone eventually left Body Glove to focus on her own label. “I became trapped in a look there,” she later explained to Women’s Wear Daily. Piccone also designed sportswear, but for other labels rather than Body Glove.
On the beaches, Body Glove’s fluorescent wetsuits stood out from the traditional black. On the streets, the use of Neoprene in street clothes such as miniskirts made for a striking fashion statement that began in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s Body Glove came out with its own line of women’s sportswear via licensee Panaj Distribution, Inc. Its focus was moderately priced, urban fashion. The brand, according to WWD, made the transition from elite boutiques to mainstream department stores by the end of the 1990s, when rapidly growing sales were said to be approaching $200 million. Distribution extended as far as Japan, Australia, and Germany.
LICENSING ACCESSORIES AND LIFESTYLE MARKETING
Revenues were $80 million in 1988. Numerous licensing deals were being handled by American Marketing Works, Inc., of Gardena, California, which supervised eight sub-licensees. Some of the offshoots were criticized for taking the brand away from its surfer base, however. For example, Body Glove licensed Wundies, Inc. to make women’s lingerie.
At the same time, a connection to the water and water sports enthusiasts was clearly evident in other brand extensions, such as sunscreen, lip balm, and hair care products for people active in the water or snow. In 1995, the company announced it would begin marketing its own sports drink. Brio Beverages signed up to manufacture the new potion, called QEM.
Like modern-day Einsteins for the ocean, the twins used their creativity and found a new insulating material called Neoprene and invented the first practical wetsuit, opening the cold California waters to year round enjoyment for surfers and divers, including early giants of surfing like Greg Noll, Mickey Munoz and many more. The suit “fit like a glove” and Body Glove was born.
Extending the product line beyond actual surf-wear was important to the company, since the surfing industry had experienced a major slowdown as a recession swept the planet in the early 1990s. By this time, there were a couple of Body Glove stores in California, one in Redondo Beach and one in Torrence. However, during the decade, retailing proliferated in Asia, with eight locations in Hong Kong and three-dozen outlets in Thailand. In addition, New York’s A.H. Schreiber Company was producing Body Glove swimwear for women and girls in the mid-1990s. Body Glove introduced a line of sportswear for juniors in 1999. These operations failed to blossom, however, and Body Glove took a few years off from the ladies’ sportswear market.
With its brand identity closely affiliated with the surfing lifestyle, Body Glove’s marketing efforts celebrated the company’s advocacy for the health of the world’s oceans. For a public service spot for Earth Day 1990, the company produced an impassioned movie trailer featuring a sea lion at the edge of a polluted sea as a child narrated quotations from the book of Genesis. It proved too depressing for some theater chains to screen.
STEPPING INTO FOOTWEAR
Body Glove leapt into the footwear market in 1999 starting with adult footwear designed to be worn in or at the water. A kid’s line followed a couple of years later. These included slides for skating and soccer.
Concept 21 of Manhattan Beach developed Body Glove footwear, producing the aquatic shoes under license. In 2001, it unveiled a “Dawn Patrol” boot for presurf or après-ski walks with wet feet. Body Glove’s contract manufacturers included Santa Fe Footwear, also of California.
21ST-CENTURY WATER PLANET
Body Glove had revenues of about $100 million in 2001. The company occupied four buildings in Manhattan Beach, as well as a warehouse in Long Beach. According to TransWorld Business, the company then had 18 licensees in all. The common theme, marketing vicepresident Scott Daley told the journal, was “personal protection for a water planet.” The company cultivated its most enduring success by increasing its efforts to market its specialty store roots. Indeed, its motto was “Protect the Core,” and its wetsuit business was as strong as ever. Personal floatation devices for the emerging sport of wakeboarding seemed a natural extension. Another key new product extension was its line of orthopedic products for sports medicine, including knee braces and ice wraps.
Although wetsuits remained the core of the company’s business, it was eclipsed, at least in the surfing market, by O’Neill Inc. and Rip Curl. Unlike other manufacturers, Body Glove made general-purpose wetsuits in addition to designs tailored for specific applications such as scuba or surfing.
Body Glove’s export of the water-loving California lifestyle spanned the oceans, and the brand continued to be strong on the other of the Pacific. In Malaysia there were more than 30 outlets by 2003. The company opened its first branch there seven years earlier. Body Glove’s unit in Thailand, which operated another 30 or so stores, announced in 2005 it was preparing for an initial public offering.
SURFING INTO THE FUTURE
The Body Glove brand and lifestyle surged beyond the waterfront into everyday life. Around 1999, a relatively young company called GoNeo LLC began producing protective gear for cell phones and other portable electronics under the Body Glove brand. Neoprene and other materials cushioned the devices and protected them from scratches. Computer accessories giant Fellowes Inc. acquired GoNeo, and its Body Glove business, in 2001. As the consumer electronics industry continued to churn out new products, Fellowes continued to shape new protective covers for them under the Body Glove name. One of these introduced in 2007 was an iPod case featuring a kickstand for hands-free operation.
- Twins Bob and Bill Meistrell buy a share of Los Angeles’s historic Dive N’ Surf shop.
- Body Glove introduces swimwear via designer Robin Piccone.
- Body Glove introduces footwear and protective cases for portable electronics devices.
- Rays Apparel Inc. begins producing sportswear for Body Glove.
There was some shuffling of licensees over the years. Montreal’s SGS Sports was signed up to produce swimwear. In 2005 Body Glove contracted Rays Apparel Inc. of Irvine Beach, California, to produce its sportswear for young men and juniors. Rays already produced clothing for leading California lifestyle brand Ocean Pacific. Rays soon brought out a line of surfer’s shorts for Body Glove featuring a unique breathable and water-repellent fabric. Body Glove also reentered the women’s sportswear market in 2005, thanks to its new licensee.
Company cofounder Bill Meistrell passed away from Parkinson’s disease in July 2006 at the age of 77. By this time, Body Glove had annual revenues of $150 million to $200 million, according to various reports.
Frederick C. Ingram
Body Glove International; Body Glove Europe; Body Glove Japan; Body Glove Asia; Body Glove Australia; Body Glove New Zealand.
Billabong International Ltd.; O’Neill Inc.; Quiksilver, Inc.; Rip Curl, Inc.; Warnaco Swimwear Inc.
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