Biz NewsOn the Gama-Go
A local designer sends hip monsters to take over your wardrobe.
By Starla Estrada
THE CAST OF characters at Gama-Go (www.gama-go.com) yetis, ninja kitties, deathbots, and tigerlillies are seemingly unstoppable. Gama-Go is a business, a concept, and a team of designers behind iconic creatures emblazoned on limited-edition men's and women's clothing (T-shirts and button-ups, track jackets, sleeveless hoodies), accessories (coin purses, wallets, bags, jewelry), and lifestyle trinkets (Zippos, plastic and plush figurines, posters, stationery). The San Francisco-based company is in line with the branding concepts of Hello Kitty, Paul Frank, and Emily the Strange, but its emblems are a bit more adult, more design-savvy, and fueled with a sense of humor, not just cuteness or angst. "Basically, it comes from the mood we're in that day," cofounder Chris Edmundson says. "The designs come from all the things that make up our lives: our interaction with each other, walking to work in the city, the music we listen to," cofounder Greg Long adds.
And an audience is lining up to share in that experience. Recently, the yeti salt and pepper shaker set sold out online in less than 24 hours. Gama-Go has also collaborated with local companies Classic Hardware and Chrome Bags to add jewelry and messenger bags to its 2005 product line. And it hopes to open its first retail storefront here later this year.
The company has its roots in 2000, when coworkers Edmundson and Long, along with longtime artist pal Tim Biskup, bemoaned their creative and business limitations at their jobs and schemed up Gama-Go. Edmundson and Long hailed from a toy manufacturer in Oakland; Biskup was (and is) an artist inseparable from his sketch pad. With backgrounds in manufacturing, design, art, and sales, the trio decided to take their experience and ideas and create their own brand. With six T-shirt designs, Edmundson approached Villains clothing store (1653 Haight, S.F. 415-864-7727). The tees featured ironic Prozac, Vicodin, and Oxycontin pills spilled across the chest. Villains snatched up the designs, and the earnings allowed them to grow their concept into what is now recognizably Gama-Go (the creatures and their endearing design image). Fred Segal in Los Angeles soon followed Villains' lead, selling Gama-Go clothing at a much ritzier price. But at its first major trade show in Las Vegas, while Gama-Go had the pleasure of having the booth across the walkway from Nikki Sixx, it didn't receive a single purchase order.
The trio quickly realized that by hiring a business development professional, they could stick to what they're good at: managing people, generating ideas, and embellishing their creativity. "We have a history that the brand is built on. We want to grow so as not to jeopardize that," Long says. The friends celebrated Gama-Go's one-year anniversary by moving the business from Long's living room to their new South of Market headquarters with a staff of 10. The manufacturer now sells its products throughout the United States, in most of Europe, and in Australia. "Most companies look outside the U.S. to grow their brand. We did the opposite. We started in the U.S.; now that stores in other countries are coming to us, we're able to make a more competent decision about whether or not it's a right fit, about whether or not we trust how [Gama-Go] will be portrayed," Long says.