Jonathan Oe & The Dreaming Lion
A man's search for meaning through scissors, celebrity athletes and thousands of miles of fabric
My grandparents migrated from Japan to Hawaii 130 years ago. They worked in the pineapple and sugar cane fields, then made their way to California. They experienced the war. They lived in the relocation camps and lost their homes. My story begins in Venice, California, in the late 60's. It was an amazing community of blue collar workers, gangs, surfers, and artists that shaped who I wanted to be. After college, I worked for a couple years, then made my way back to Japan, searching for spiritual awakening and an understanding of who I was.
When I returned to the U.S. I decided to go out on my own, and started a company representing U.S. brands in Japan. I soon met the CEO of Gilda Marx Industries, one of the world's leaders in the leotard business. I went to work for Gilda Marx and built a division for the company in Japan. I loved this business, of reshaping a woman's self image through spandex, and I was very good at it, shattering company sales records and opening direct business into major Japanese retailers. But within a few years, aerobics would fade away, and so did the business for Gilda Marx in the United States. So I moved back to California, and started again...
SURVIVING MY MISTAKES & SHOWTIME
My love for clothing ran very deep, and I badly wanted to learn how to make clothes. So with no one to teach me how, I bought a tiny, cut and sew business in Glendale California. This tiny place, with just 3 employees, made custom sports uniforms for teams. I decided to teach myself how to make my own clothes while designing and selling them.
Ironically, the tiny business I bought also happened to do the lettering and alterations for the Los Angeles Lakers, and for many years made the uniforms for the them. While supporting the Lakers through 5 championships, I went out and found new high school and travel team clients during the day, and during the night I studied patterns and taught myself how to make clothes for football, basketball, and baseball. As the business struggled to survive, I worked like a maniac, driven to unlock the secrets of my craft. Many nights I slept on the cutting table, unable to stop working. I had a natural talent at making patterns. I knew how a person should look and feel when they wore something - whether it was a basketball short, a football pant, or a compression piece. I was able to feel it and express it 3 dimensionally when I was creating patterns. I worked many nights past midnight making patterns and samples, then cutting complete team orders the next day for production.
AND THEN CAME THEGLUV
Then one day, someone suggested that I make girls softball uniforms, because girls were being dressed up like boys, and they no longer wanted to play the sport. I realized that there was one person in the world that could change that reality. I spent several months, working late into the night, making patterns that would create attractive, feminine yet athletic body lines for teenage girls playing softball. I created a pink and black logo of a 3/4 open heart with a "G" in the center that looked like something from an Austin Powers movie. TheGluv was born, and would shatter the way teenage softball playing girls saw themselves. We not only re-engergized the sport, but we also changed the way girls softball uniforms were designed, manufactured, and sold - all right here in the U.S. by my amazing production team. As we helped teenage softball playing girls find greater self acceptance, joy, and empowerment, it was time to turn my attention back towards developing a line for American men that would lead them to a different place…
THE DREAMING LION
The experience of creating TheGluv left a deep impression on me. It proved to me that clothing could truly change the we feel about ourselves and influence the direction of a person’s life. For men, I sensed a void - there was no sense of direction or guidance - we were all in new territory from both a fashion sense and a social sense. We were free to wear whatever we wanted to wear, when ever we wanted to. And that just left us with a sense of chaos and confusion. Baggy basketball shorts and oversized t-shirts, and a baseball cap became what fashion was supposed to be. Men of all ages, sizes and shapes dressed like 5 year olds. And let’s face it - the old uncomfortable structured wool suits were just impractical. “Business Casual” - what in the world was that? Levi’s and a plaid shirt?
I sensed another situation where I felt I could create a physical product and philosophy to respond to a spiritual and social vacuum.
I wanted to create an Oasis for Men who were daring enough to step beyond the comfort zone of the swoosh and the ways other men and women saw the world. I wanted men to value themselves a little more, and have the imagination and drive to go after the life they desired. I wanted to create an aspirational space, where they won’t be judged - a space to dream - and to pursue those dreams. And to understand the depth in that pursuit. Our wealth is in the things we learn, and the skills we acquire on that journey.
This was the World of LEORÊVER - the Dreaming Lion.
To Be Continued…
March 11, 2020