Nick Elbisser and Jordan White, co-founders of online-based apparel brand Zip Zoo, find their inspiration in skateboard culture, the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine and the rebellious spirit of both. Their clothing designs represent skaters, artists and musicians — individuals who go against the grain.
Elbisser and White started skateboarding when they were teenagers in Northern Kentucky. Zip Zoo was originally the name of their high school skateboard crew.
“Before it was a brand it was our skateboard crew when we were teenagers,” Elbisser says. “Going around causing trouble, just doing whatever skateboarders do.” Skateboarding influenced their lives and tastes, engaging them in the world of street art and graffiti as well as the Hip Hop and Metal music scenes.
During his last years of high school, adversity struck Elbisser in the form of muscular dystrophy, which forced him to give up skating. He went on to Cincinnati State, where he studied screen-printing.
Elbisser began creating designs and printing them on T-shirts as an alternative way to express his passion for skate culture.
“I’ve been a T-shirt junkie my whole life, all from skateboarding days,” Elbisser says. “What inspires me is that whole style that goes along with being out in the street and starting trouble.”
Elbisser decided to take his designing a step further and teamed up his high school friend White, who studied sports business at Northern Kentucky University, to create Zip Zoo Apparel. Through Zip Zoo, they formed a self-proclaimed “symbiotic relationship” as designer and business manager, respectively. The brand launched online in 2009. At the time, the online store only offered unisex T-shirts, but over the years the collection grew to include beanies, hoodies, tank tops, women’s T-shirts and leggings.
Zip Zoo Apparel’s designs are minimal yet striking. Their clothing is often emblazoned with the Zip Zoo name, using typeface that is seen in the graffiti, street art and Hip Hop sphere, which the two had grown up around.
The brand is growing and evolving, but one thing that stays rock solid is the connection that Elbisser and White share with their brand’s identity.
“You can say it’s brand loyalty, but to us it’s not even about that,” White says. “Zip Zoo is our own identity. Zip Zoo was us before it was ever a brand. I got the Zip Zoo tattoo before I was even on board with the company.”
The clothing designs are showcased online by models who radiate effortless cool. Their photographer, Jeremy Kramer, often uses spots in OTR as a backdrop. Elbisser and White say the neighborhood inspires them because its alternative energy reflects the brand’s style.
Besides the Zip Zoo logo, their T-shirt collection features a few designs that reference Cincinnati’s culture and sports scene by incorporating Bengals stripes and OTR street names.
“We love the Bengals and the Reds,” Elbisser says. “I’m tattooed for them, he’s [White] tattooed for them. It’s not so much the actual teams, but the history behind them. We also get inspired by OTR and the cultural change that is taking place here.”
Even their mascot, “Chunk,” is a pig silhouette, paying homage to the almighty Porkopolis.
Despite the creative time and energy that goes into Zip Zoo, the prices are kept reasonable, with the average cost for a T-shirt being about $20. This is relatively rare in the world of independent clothing brands, where the price for a unique design can skyrocket into the $50-$100 range. “It’s mainly because we are involved with skateboarding,” Elbisser explains. “Skateboarders are like musicians. We are poor as fuck. So to provide something that’s really high quality and affordable is really important to us.”
Elbisser and White have big projects on the horizon and plan to push the envelope with what Zip Zoo has to offer. Their goals for the future include a new mascot (bye-bye, Chunk) and organizing opportunities to connect with their customers face-to-face, such as an upcoming pop-up shop at the new Simple Space, a minimal all-purpose event space in Over-the-Rhine.
“Our favorite part of our job is talking to people, getting to meet people, and just getting the brand out,” Elbisser says. “Even though everything is online now, everything is digital, we still get excited about meeting our customers face-to-face. We are not high-fashion, we are a bunch of ragtag ass skateboard kids, and we want our customers to get to know that side.”
ZIP ZOO APPAREL will have a pop-up shop at Simple Space (16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine) Friday-Sunday. More info: zipzooapparel.com.