Blurred lines: Zubaz, The Road Warriors and the greatest pants in the history of the world
Back in the early ’90s, you couldn’t swing a fanny pack in a WWE locker room without whacking a Superstar in a pair of Zubaz. The baggy, brightly colored pants — originally favored by power lifters for their functionality — became a requisite part of every professional wrestler’s wardrobe when The Road Warriors — partners in the Minnesota-based company — started tossing out free pairs backstage. Eventually, as star athletes like Dan Marino and Scottie Pippen began to embrace the brand, Zubaz became a pop culture phenomenon with tens of millions of dollars in sales.
Like every style trend from bell bottoms to trucker hats, Zubaz were very much of their time. And, yet, somewhat miraculously, the pants have begun to make a comeback. Thanks to nostalgic jocks who grew up in Zubaz — WWE Champion John Cena and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots chief among them — there is renewed public interest and an effort to rebuild the brand beginning with an online store.
WWEClassics.com called up two of the men responsible for the Zubaz boom — Road Warrior Animal and Zubaz co-founder Dan Stock — to find out how their wild pants went from the gyms of Minnesota to the closets of every man in America in 1991.
Back in the early ’90s, you couldn’t swing a fanny pack in a WWE locker room without whacking a Superstar in a pair of Zubaz. The baggy, brightly colored pants — originally favored by power lifters for their functionality — became a requisite part of every professional wrestler’s wardrobe when The Road Warriors — co-owners of the Minnesota-based company — started tossing out free pairs backstage. Eventually, as star athletes like Dan Marino and Michael Jordan embraced the brand, Zubaz became a pop culture phenomenon with tens of millions of dollars in sales.
Like every style trend from bell bottoms to trucker hats, Zubaz were very much of their time. And, yet, somewhat miraculously, the pants have begun to make a comeback. Thanks to nostalgic jocks who grew up in Zubaz — WWE Champion John Cena and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots chief among them — the brand is rapidly relaunching, beginning with an online store.
With our own adoration for all things zebra print in mind, WWEClassics.com called up two of the men responsible for the Zubaz boom — Road Warrior Animal and Zubaz co-founder Dan Stock — to find out how their wild pants went from the gyms of Minnesota to the closets of every wrestler on the planet in 1991.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Many people don’t realize the role that you and Hawk played in the success of the Zubaz brand. How did The Road Warriors get mixed up in the fashion industry?
ROAD WARRIOR ANIMAL: [Hawk and I] had two gyms at that time. We had a place called “The Gym” and the other place was called “Twin Cities Gym” and we would come across different kinds of sweatpants. We got together with two of the guys that were managers at our gyms — Bob Truax and Dan Stock — and said, "We need to come up with an idea for pants that we can make for big guys for leisure, sporting events, working out or whatever.” Diane was the seamstress who came up with the first prototype for Zubaz.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Did anyone think they were going to blow up like they did?
DAN STOCK: No. We had no idea. We were just doing it for the bigger guys in the gym. The first two and a half years that we were in business, it had nothing to do with any sports leagues. It was just a comfortable, crazy colored pant that people wore. We had all kinds of different prints and colors, shapes and sizes. The zebra print became the most iconic, most popular design that all the people liked.
WWECLASSICS.COM: How did Zubaz go from something strictly for gym rats to the pants every guy had to have?
ANIMAL: Hawk and I were wrestling for the NWA on TBS. Every time we went to the ring or did a TV taping, we had our Zubaz on. Once that started catching on and people started seeing those pants and wanted to buy them, we simultaneously did a deal with J.C. Penney and had it mainstream. Once the NFL saw we had it mainstream, we started launching stuff with them.
STOCK: At that time, you had a lot of people wearing Raiders stuff who didn’t even know who the Raiders were, but it was the cool, hip thing to do. I’m sure that we sold a lot of product to people that weren’t even football fans.
ANIMAL: We did a poster with Hawk and Dan Marino and I where Dan Marino’s got the Zubaz on and as soon as we took the pictures, they were [selling] like crazy. The first year I want to say did about $14 million dollars in sales and then it jumped to $28 million a year or two after.
WWECLASSICS.COM: How were you able to start a business relationship with the NFL?
ANIMAL: Part of getting in with the NFL was this guy Bobby Monica, who was an equipment manager for the Miami Dolphins. His brother, Teddy, worked for Riddell and that’s how we got all of our shoulder pads for all the spikes and stuff. He would send the shoulder pads over to me and I would drill them out in my basement or garage. It kind of evolved together with the Zubaz and the shoulder pads and the spikes.
WWECLASSICS.COM: So did The Road Warriors hold official titles with the company? Did employees report to Executive Vice President Animal?
STOCK: No, it wasn’t that official. You’ve got to remember that back then they were on the road. They wrestled like 275 days a year, so, unfortunately. They weren’t around that often.
ANIMAL: Hawk and I had stock in the company. We were about 25 percent owner each. We had Dan and Bob run the ins and outs of the business. Hawk and I would come back and be part of all the big decisions of the company like, when to go on the NFL and all that.
STOCK: We used them in a lot of different advertising — billboards, all types of print ads. Also, there was obviously no internet back then, so they played a big part by wearing it around and being seen in Zubaz in interviews and magazines. We kept them supplied with product and you can’t miss those guys walking around the airport or down the street
WWECLASSICS.COM: Eventually, every Superstar in the early ’90s was wearing the uniform of Zubaz pants, fanny packs and jackets from Ribera’s Steakhouse in Japan.
ANIMAL: Every wrestler in the United States was wearing them, because we always brought a big box of them with us on the road and handed them out to people in the locker room.
STOCK: It was like a form of sponsorship. That was how the word of mouth spread and they did a great job. They were obviously looked up to, they were stars in all the promotions they were in and I’m sure it was a big deal to the guys that got them.
WWECLASSICS.COM: It really became an international fad, didn’t it?
ANIMAL: Everybody who was wrestling in Japan at the time wore the Ribera jackets with the Zubaz pants.
STOCK: We always did really well there. Obviously, wrestling is huge in Japan and The Road Warriors were very, very popular over there. I’ve actually tried to get in touch with the guys at Ribera’s Steakhouse — I know that’s a classic place.
ANIMAL: I gave “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith a bunch of pairs and he took them over to Great Britain and gave them out to people when he went on tours overseas. We were on one of the first “European Rampage” tours that WWE did and I was in this novelty shop with Bret Hart in Glasgow, Scotland. Bret Hart’s buying leather jackets and lo and behold there’s a rack of Dallas Cowboys Zubaz pants hanging in the store. I told the guy that I was part owner of the company and he was like, “Yeah, sure, Animal.” I showed him a business card and he couldn’t believe it.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Does the word “Zubaz” actually mean anything?
ANIMAL: It was a South St. Paul term where if you made a dunk or a jumper on somebody, it was like, “Zubaz!” It was just a term that some kids made up on the playground and Hawk and I being inner-city kids, we just loved that.
WWECLASSICS.COM: When did you realize it was time to get out of the Zubaz business?
ANIMAL: When you see that your costs and shipping are starting to exceed your profits. That’s all.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Was the company as big as it could have been?
ANIMAL: It could have been bigger. I think what happened with the company was that it grew too fast for us — demand, cost of delivery and everything else. But it was a great experience and if I could do it all over again, I would. I think it would be phenomenally successful in today’s world.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Dan recently relaunched Zubaz along with Bob Truax. Are you surprised by the renewed interest in Zubaz?
ANIMAL: The thing about textiles is that they come in trends. They last for 15 or 20 years and then the trend goes out and now the trend is starting to circulate back around again, because people can buy them online. Colleges like Ohio State and Michigan and Wisconsin are starting to buy them like crazy now, because you can buy them in the team colors.
STOCK: Our demographic has changed so much. Our biggest customers right now are high school and college kids. Chances are they were fans when they were little kids and now it’s something they’ve taken in.
ANIMAL: It’s doing gangbusters. I’m getting ready to call Dan to see if he’d want to do something about getting it mainstream again. It would be great do something with WWE and have the wrestlers wearing Zubaz.
STOCK: We did stuff with WWE back then and in WCW with Goldberg and all those guys. We sold a few hundred thousand shirts for Dennis Rodman, so that’s kind of a no-brainer.
ANIMAL: It’d be up the alley of guys like Tons of Funk or even The Usos. There could be some crazy Hawaiian print Zubaz for them.
STOCK: The beauty of our product is it’s an easy fit. You just really need to know how tall you are to know what size. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 feet tall or 250 pounds, you take a large. That’s what an elastic waistband is — it’s an easy fit.
WWECLASSICS.COM: Do you still wear Zubaz every now and then?
ANIMAL: Oh yeah, I’ve got some Zubaz. I’ve got a mining company and a construction company I’m part-owner of in Liberia and I’ve got some camo Zubaz that I wear out there in the bush.
For more info, check out Zubaz.com