Brothers’ Ocean Fashion Line, Products Picked Up By Costco

Joe Pickard

Joe Pickard

SeaHawaii is landing in California.

The Oahu-based clothing manufacturer has signed a deal with Costco in California to have its ocean and logo wear featured at 10 San Diego and Los Angeles stores.

Founded by Kahuku High graduates Walter and Joe Pickard (a third brother Thomas is a boat captain), SeaHawaii has been in Hawaii Costco stores since 2011. The new three-month trial agreement begins at the end of May.

“That’s a biggie for us,” said an excited Joe Pickard, who established SeaHawaii in 1989 after working with Credit Suisse First Boston in Hong Kong. The Coast Guard Academy graduate earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in business administration and industrial engineering in 1985 and began a career in finance before the call of home became too great to ignore.

“I grew up on the North Shore, and my life was basically around the water,” he recalled. “My first love is being around the ocean, and I had to make a decision when I was in my mid-30s: Would I stay in investment banking or come back home?”

While flying between Hawaii and Hong Kong, Joe worked with his brother to establish a tour boat business on Kaneohe Bay and off the Waianae coast. Walter is fluent in Japanese, and both men believed that tourism would provide a better livelihood than commercial fishing. The permitting process took more than 18 months.

“I took the little nest egg I had built up from working at Credit Suisse and started the journey,” said Joe.

During their first three months in business, the brothers made about $3,000. Profitability got a small boost when tour customers asked about purchasing the orange and black T-shirts worn by the crew. More enquiries led to selling the simple shirts at canoe races and other ocean events. It didn’t take long before the brothers realized that there was money to be made in ocean apparel, especially for those who had direct ties to Hawaii’s ocean sports communities.

“Most everything you see in the surfing and ocean industry uses the image of Native Hawaiians — it’s a very visible presence because this is where it all started,” said Pickard, himself of native blood. “I saw very few opportunities for Native Hawaiians, and I always felt a personal interest, loving the ocean and making a way for people like me who grew up in Hawaii or are Hawaiian and wanted to participate in the business.”

In 2008 they ramped up production to include their UV-protective Monkskin designs (named for the protected Hawaiian monk seal). Sales that first year were between $20,000 and $30,000 and have increased annually by about 40 percent.

Although the shirts are made in China, Pickard is quick to point out the designs and inspiration for the line of clothing are all local. His chief designer is boat captain Pete Whitney of Waianae.

“He discovered talents he didn’t know he had,” said Pickard.

SeaHawaii currently has no plans to market its goods outside of Costco, but that could change if the California trials prove successful. “We haven’t really thought about it yet. Costco has been really good to us; they’ve been a really great partner, so we’re trying to take advantage of that opportunity. Being in Costco is a huge brand developer for us.”