Leggoons, as any Omaha child of the ’80s remembers, were retina-burningly bright drawstring shorts, cotton, with crazy prints.
They were an Omaha institution, a company started in 1983 by two young, handsome, cocky entrepreneurs, Tom Ryan and Michael Kofoed, who by the time they were in their early 20s had owned a peephole installation company and a chimney sweep business, among other endeavors.
But it was Leggoons that took off. The board shorts were a teenage wardrobe staple during the mid- and late ’80s, in Omaha and beyond. The shorts spurred a sportswear line, and stand-alone stores and outlets followed.
Leggoons were also a fad. By the late 1980s, the popularity of bright board shorts faded, and the founders sold the brand. Leggoons moved out of Omaha and sputtered along for a few more years, before disappearing for good in the 1990s.
Or so it seemed.
This summer, Chad Carr is bringing Leggoons back.
He tracked down the investors who owned the rights to the brand’s name and logo, and he bought them. He’s redesigning the shorts, bringing them up-to-date while keeping the iconic drawstring, loud prints and bright colors. And he’ll relaunch the brand on Aug. 22, the first night of this summer’s Omaha Fashion Week.
He was motivated by a mix of factors, not the least of which were Omaha pride and 1980s nostalgia.
“This was a great company that really had its roots in Omaha,” Carr said.
Carr, a 1988 Millard South graduate, said he vividly remembered going to Brandeis to pick out his Leggoons, which he wore with a medical scrub top, canvas shoes and no socks.
And despite Leggoons’ fate the first time around, Carr, the founder and owner of Ticket Express, believes it has the potential to be a successful company.
So does Kofoed.
“It wasn’t perfect business, but it was certainly a journey that I think a lot of people enjoyed very much,” Kofoed said.
Kofoed and Ryan didn’t know a thing about the clothing industry when Leggoons began to take off. They were still in their chimney sweep faze then, and they wore purposefully obnoxious shorts, sewn by Ryan’s wife, in order to attract attention to their business.
It worked, Kofoed said, but not the way they planned. As they were walking door to door, trying to drum up business one day, they stopped by the home of a buyer for Brandeis who asked about the shorts, he said.
That was all the encouragement they needed, Kofoed said. They found investors and a manufacturer. They flew to New York to buy fabric. They attended meetings and trade shows shirtless and wearing Leggoons. At one show, they made a show of abandoning their booth in order to watch the Nebraska-Penn State football game.
They may have been naive about the business side of things, but they were very good at getting attention.
“We knew that even leaving to watch the game was part of a story,” Kofoed said.
As the business grew, they hired their friends. They developed the Leggoons stuffed animal and Kofoed flew to Los Angeles to pitch an animated series starring the Leggoons mascot (it wasn’t picked up). They expanded into sportswear and a children’s line, but still wore bright shorts to work each day.
“All we knew was that we were having a lot of fun, and we were young,” Kofoed said.
But for most of the 1980s, they were also losing money, according to World-Herald archives. In 1988 Kofoed and Ryan sold the brand, but the sale didn’t go smoothly, Ryan said. In 1989, Tarmak Enterprises, the corporation Ryan and Kofoed founded to market Leggoons, filed for bankruptcy.
“All of the things that make business suck, that’s how Leggoons ended,” Ryan said.
Kofoed and Ryan are still friends, but they remember their time at Leggoons differently.
Kofoed has stayed in the apparel industry and is currently the overall brand manager for True Grit Dry Goods and Bobi USA, companies based in Los Angeles.
“I look back at Leggoons and it was the beginning of the road map to my entire career,” he said.
Ryan runs an events company called Dallas Athletes Racing, which puts on triathlons, road races and similar events in the Dallas area. He’s a triathlete himself and has worked as a motivational speaker, too.
But he doesn’t think often or fondly of his time at Leggoons.
“Oftentimes what you look at is how something ends, and it didn’t end well for me,” Ryan said. “It’s something that I did for a few years of my life, but that’s really all it is.”
For the second incarnation of Leggoons, Carr plans to keep the brand close to its roots — bright beachwear, mostly for men, but with a few women’s pieces as well. He’ll send 12 looks down the runway on Aug. 22, and he hopes to have those looks ready for sale immediately after the show.
If other designers who have shown swimwear at Omaha Fashion Week are any indication, he’ll do well, said Omaha Fashion Week founder and producer Nick Hudson.
Women’s swimwear lines Kkini and Toxic Sadie have both found success after launching in Omaha, he said.
That Carr will revive a colorful brand with an even more colorful history?
“It’s a simple idea,” Hudson said, “but it’s a really good one.”
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