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Welcome to
Gotcha

Note From the Co-Founder: Michael Tomson

In the mid to late 80s, there was a sign in the design studios at Gotcha which read: 'We aren't just selling clothes, we're selling culture.'

This was pre-social media and the concept of followers, before the whole idea of brands telling stories through their products. Our mission always existed in a larger context with a bigger purpose. That's what has always separated Gotcha from the rest.

In our eyes, we were not just making boardshorts and t-shirts. We were creating a look that embodies a lifestyle, a language, an attitude, a music sensibility; Gotcha's look would disrupt fashion houses in Milan, Paris, and Tokyo, taking surf style into a global arena.

And it worked. Gotcha catapulted the surf industry into a new realm, gave it respect and opened up the perception of surf as a legitimate category in apparel. Suddenly every major department store in the US had to have surf product on their shelves. Trade shows turned into near riots with every retailer trying to buy surf product...it was crazy. Did we expect it? No. Did we plan for it? Hell no! We were just having fun, we were making the clothes we thought were cool and taking it from there.

Gotcha grew, in a short 10 year period, to become one of the largest and most important surf brands in the world. And we did it through innovative design and (extremely) bold advertising. The persona we created for the brand was totally unique and modern, unlike anything in the market before us. Which is why we were recognized with numerous awards for design and art direction. We created product categories that surf shops had never carried before.

It was an extremely creative period, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.

Co-Founder: Michael Tomson
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  • CATALOG HISTORY

    CATALOG HISTORY

    During its formative years, Gotcha's innovative product and strong graphic design drove the brand forward. In particular, the brand's approach to catalog design was unique: far more concept driven than product driven, far more focused on aesthetic execution than whether style numbers, prices and delivery dates were correct. Catalogs were the equivalent of today's 5 minute clips, acting as brand platforms: ambitious, edgy, modern, and in some cases, definitely weird.

    As Dave Gilovich, a former editor of Surfing Magazine, once said: "In the early days when I went to Laguna to see Gotcha I always had a sense I was walking into the future...that this was the new direction."

    Gotcha's catalogs were a big part of that perspective.

  • Gotcha's first catalog, New Wave, came out in spring of 1985. Michael Tomson explained: "We called it New Wave because new wave music was happening...Depeche Mode, the Cars, New Order...we were listening to KROQ a radio station out of Pasadena and we were working with Jay Vigon and Rick Sereini, two art directors out of LA with a modern sensibility. Of course we had no budget to do something grand, so they suggested doing it diecut in an angular shape. It looked cool, didn't cost that much, we went for it."

  • The Waterborn catalog, produced in 1987, raised the bar for creative ambition. The location - inside Haleakala crater on Maui - was extremely challenging. It's a dormant volcano and its illegal to drive down into it. The goal was to capture an eerie moonscape effect as a backdrop to the narrative of a lost tribe called the Chagots (the Gotcha word scrambled), who were obsessed with the clothes. The experience was at times completely surreal, but the results were outstanding.

  • In Fall 1987, the images were shot in Seattle in the rain. We were shooting seasonal clothes so we called it the Weather Proven catalog, and created a rubber cover.

     

  • By the time Spring 1988 rolled around, we were ready for something straightup product driven. We used saturated color in a large 22" x 8" format with bold type on the cover stacked vertically: EARTH LIFE ANIMAL POWER. Very impactful, very product driven and very successful in communicating the identity of the clothes.

  • Spring 89: The catalog, House of Gotcha, was created for our European partners and shot on the beach.

     

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  • Many of the print ads are remarkable as much for their ingenious solutions to unsolvable problems as for their strategic creativity in positioning the brand in the market. For example, the concept of the Airbrush Campaign originally had nothing to do with airbrushing. We had an ad shoot set up, with a deadline to deliver material to 2 national magazines in 5 days. And we had no clothes. So we had to facsimilize them, and make the whole thing look good enough to be seen as though this was what we intended to do in the first place. Pivot. Adapt. Keep your cool.


  • The Breakout Campaign of 1981 represented Gotcha's breakaway from the market and the traditions of creating advertising in that space at the time. It was sexy, it was product focused, it was shot close up and had production values never before seen in the surf market. This was in 1981, when the surf market was still coming out of its seventies hippy hangover. It was a watershed moment in the evolution of the brand.


  • No computers were used in the creation of the Computer campaign. This was the pre-digital age, pre-Illustrator and pre-Photoshop. We knew change was coming, but we had no idea in what form or how. All we knew was if we blew up the pixels that make up a photographic image we would create the effect of some futuristic technique and it would look like we were visionaries of some sort.


  • The SubCulture campaign was (and probably still is) the only youth culture advertising that addressed the politics of cool in the Southern California surf world and didn't rely on celebratory athletes to sell its products. Rather, it hoped to tribalize surfers by expressing a common social belief and attitude in a humorous way. Surfers have always prided themselves on their underground status; on the fact that their way of life was not bound by the rules and regulations of bat and ball sports, just the ocean and its mythology.

    By the time the nineties were in swing, this underground status was under siege by crowds - hundreds of thousands of new surfers were in the surf everyday putting a serious question behind the notion of surfing being this cool exclusive thing. Every spot was packed and finding those uncrowded days was challenging. "If you don't surf don't start." "If you don't skate you don't relate." "Too many kooks." Subculture was advertising with a social message, and was one of Gotcha's most memorable campaigns.


  • The SubCulture campaign was (and probably still is) the only youth culture advertising that addressed the politics of cool in the Southern California surf world and didn't rely on celebratory athletes to sell its products. Rather, it hoped to tribalize surfers by expressing a common social belief and attitude in a humorous way. Surfers have always prided themselves on their underground status; on the fact that their way of life was not bound by the rules and regulations of bat and ball sports, just the ocean and its mythology.

    By the time the nineties were in swing, this underground status was under siege by crowds - hundreds of thousands of new surfers were in the surf everyday putting a serious question behind the notion of surfing being this cool exclusive thing. Every spot was packed and finding those uncrowded days was challenging. "If you don't surf don't start." "If you don't skate you don't relate." "Too many kooks." Subculture was advertising with a social message, and was one of Gotcha's most memorable campaigns.


  • The SubCulture campaign was (and probably still is) the only youth culture advertising that addressed the politics of cool in the Southern California surf world and didn't rely on celebratory athletes to sell its products. Rather, it hoped to tribalize surfers by expressing a common social belief and attitude in a humorous way. Surfers have always prided themselves on their underground status; on the fact that their way of life was not bound by the rules and regulations of bat and ball sports, just the ocean and its mythology.

    By the time the nineties were in swing, this underground status was under siege by crowds - hundreds of thousands of new surfers were in the surf everyday putting a serious question behind the notion of surfing being this cool exclusive thing. Every spot was packed and finding those uncrowded days was challenging. "If you don't surf don't start." "If you don't skate you don't relate." "Too many kooks." Subculture was advertising with a social message, and was one of Gotcha's most memorable campaigns.


  • The Trestles Campaign. Trestles is a group of quality surf spots in Southern California, just south of San Clemente. We used it as a staging area for many shoots, mainly because Gotcha had assembled a team of the world's elite surfers, and the only way to keep these guys focused on the task at hand was to shoot them in a place they could relate to, where they were in their element. Shot tight, with no set up. Just the photographer capturing the interaction in real time letting the surfers do their thing.


  • The Blue Cool campaign. We were looking for a design strategy that didn't preclude the idea of showcasing the talents of our formidable surf team. We wanted to show surf action shots but we didn't want the ads to follow the cliched industry formula of action shot with brand logo attached. We needed a prism through which the action could be viewed that gave it an identity separate from the competition. We found it in the album covers of Blue Note records from the sixties and seventies. Gotcha received numerous design awards for this copy-driven, graphic-heavy campaign.


  • The Punk series was, in many ways, a pinnacle for the brand. The original photography and post-design work put the brand in a different league from other surf brands.

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2017 PRESS: Celebrity

Olivia Munn wearing the Waves Mock-Neck Sweatshirt

Gwen Stefani wearing the Palms Long-Sleeve Cropped Tee

Vanessa Hudgens wearing the Waves Mock-Neck Sweatshirt

Featured Brands: Gotcha


Urban Outfitters Blog

Since its start in 1978, Laguna Beach-based Gotcha evolved into one of the most influential surf brands of all time. In honor of our collection of throwback Gotcha pieces in collaboration with Icons of Culture, we take a look back at the brand's legacy with an interview with brand founder Michael Tomson.

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Men's 2017 Collection

FULL STORE LIST COMING SOON

In the meantime, help support our friends in Texas and shop for Gotcha men's T-Shirts at Benjamin's Surf and Skate in Corpus Christi.

Women's 2017 Collection

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