A fitting way to describe the menagerie that is the Big Apple, the term "Zoo York" was coined by graffiti artist and musician ALI in 1971. Two decades later, skateboard guru Rodney Smith used the term to name his board and accessories company, which evolved into the first East Coast lifestyle brand for skaters. In 2001, Marc Ecko Enterprises acquired Zoo York, hoping to develop the gritty, street-inspired brand for the global market. Zoo York aspires to keep its street cred intact while becoming a formidable player in the fashion scene.
The Soul Artists
The heart of Zoo York was once the crew of misfit kids that gave the city its nickname. Started in the early 1970s by teenage tagger ALI, the Soul Artists were a mix of graffiti artists and skaters that roamed around Manhattan. Convinced that New York was like a zoo, ALI began to call his city "Zoo York," a name that was soon adopted by the skater segment of the Soul Artists. Also known as the "Zoo Crew," the team revolutionized what is now known as "street" skating, acting as the East Coast equivalent of the California "Z-Boys." The crew began to dissolve in the 1980s, with college, drug abuse or real-world careers taking precedence in the youths' lives.
Zoo York Skate Company
In 1993, professional skater Rodney Smith founded the Zoo York skateboard company, which sold boards and skate supplies before branching into apparel. Smith, who was not an original Zoo York member, maintains that ALI gave him his blessing to use the name in the year before his death. The reactions of the other Zoo Crew skaters have been mixed, ranging from apathy to contempt, but Smith feels his decision to use the name was reverential and should be taken in that spirit.
Zoo York exploded in the mid- to late 1990s, selling boards, shoes and knitwear for men and women. The shift in focus to apparel was lucrative, but clashed with head honcho Rodney Smith's skateboard-centric vision. He sold the company to Marc Ecko Enterprises in 2001 to relaunch SHUT Skateboards, the company he abandoned to start Zoo York. With a history in graffiti of his own, chairman Marc Ecko, as a fan of the culture, is committed to maintaining the spirit of the brand.
Ecko's Zoo York collection is mostly comprised of tees and denim; the few dresses are breezy and appropriate for daywear. At times, with silhouettes that evoke the SoCal skateboarding boom of the 1970s, including Vans-inspired shoes, it's easy to forget that Zoo York is an East Coast brand. There are only hints of the culture that gave Zoo York its name and identity, among the docile neutrals in gauzy, airy fabrics. Cropped sweatshirts and distressed jeans add an urban retro touch, but the delicate floral-print pullover and oversized tanks are more Dogtown than Midtown. Some wonder whether Zoo York is ironically eschewing its style capital hometown, or whether it's "just a phase."