Design By Humans
Published On: Tue, Mar 20th, 2018

Living the Beach Life: Old Bull Lee Makes Board Shorts and Shorts for City Living

Old Bull Lee is the apex of independent style. It’s a U.S. designed clothing brand that offers shorts, shirts, and board shorts with a distinctly beach-centric vibe; relaxed, wearable clothes that somehow are also stylish enough to wear in the big city, whether it’s fashion-forward New York or trendy Los Angeles.

Owner Lee Johnson makes clothes that represent the best of beach living, clothing that’s cool enough to leave the sand or the BBQ and head to the street. It’s soft, it’s durable, it fits well, and it features strongly curated design and fabric that makes a bold lifestyle choice. Johnson culls fabrics from France and Italy, makes his clothing in the U.S., and features bold color patterns and sophisticated styling.

So, how did Old Bull Lee make the beach life into city life? Johnson starts at the beginning.

“I grew up in the east, on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Land everywhere, no kids – all your friends were trees. We didn’t have television, winters lasted forever, clothes were thoughtless warmth,” he laughs, insisting it wasn’t as terrible as it sounded. Eventually, he moved to California, worked as an architect for 15 years, and “One morning I woke up, stretched my arms, walked out the door and started a clothing company. I don’t think the reason is as simple as any one thing…I think it has something to do with contribution and courage and standing up and saying ‘This is the best I can do.’ I respect when I see people do that, and I guess I wanted to try.”

Johnson officially began in 2011, starting on a small scale. “No one was buying much because no one knew we existed yet, money was flying out the door and the hope was euphoric and the reality was scary. Then probably sooner than we would have preferred, we got some really big press and that completely caught us off guard. Around the clock, for five straight days we couldn’t pack boxes fast enough. Obviously, those are the good problems to have.”

Things have changed now, with the internet shaking up everyone’s retail business model. “In fashion, it has opened up a fairly easy channel with which brands can go directly to the consumer. In the past, the large-scale costs and technological hurdles of launching a brand all added up to massive capital requirements that lent themselves to the large well established manufacturers. Social media has somewhat leveled the playing field. It has empowered smaller brands, allowing them to get their products in front of very well-targeted audiences at a relatively affordable cost.”

On the distaff side, low cost, short-lived, disposable clothing has become all too prominent, and promotes a throw-away attitude, Johnson says. Which is not the way Old Bull Lee operates. The company, Johnson says, is devoted to “Good design and straight-forward quality.”

And that’s where his connection to architecture pays off. “The only thing that architecture and clothing share in common, it turns out, is that to get something made well, you have to know what you are doing. That is one of the things about me, I have a lot in common with an acorn. My nature is to put my head down and grind it out till I’ve gotten to where I want to go.”

And where Old Bull Lee has gone is special indeed. It’s not just that cool beach/city fusion that makes spring and summer style pop, it’s a dedication to innovation, beautiful garment-making, and practical comfort all rolled into one company.

Some patterned street short designs are printed in France by a 150-year-old company that uses Persan WAT roller printing to provide a soft and layered depth and great color performance. The material is lightweight, with a tight weave and substantial feel. Solid color shorts may utilize superior Japanese-made Duck-weight cotton, with vibrant color that’s over dyed to last long. And when it comes to Old Bull Lee board shorts, the design is just as meticulous, and the artful palette just as engaging, some in rich tapestry florals, some in an undersea look, some using work from internationally renowned artist Eduardo Recife. How hip can you get?

Johnson says his most unique item is “Our Groovy Festival short. It’s not for everybody,” he notes of its edgy style. The most popular? Well, that depends on the region. In New York: “The French styles are very popular. In Texas, they seem to like all things blue. Because of the casual beach lifestyle in California, a lot of guys wear board shorts as day to day wear instead of shorts. California is the only state where our board shorts outsell our walk shorts.”

Designs are created by Johnson himself and outside artists as well as textile houses in Europe. “It is really what we spent a lot of effort on and we throw away a lot.” Production takes place throughout the U.S., with shorts sewn in L.A., board shorts in Orange County, Calif., and shirts on the east coast. Johnson wants, and gets the best.

And so do the guys who purchase his clothes – and the women who gift them, and maybe, just maybe, steal a few of his signature pieces to accent their own wardrobes.

At Old Bull Lee, it’s all about quality – of design, fabric, color, and true independent spirit. On the beach or in the city – whether you’re taking the train from Penn Station and the ferry to Fire Island or the I-10 from DTLA to Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu; leaving the morning waves for a big city job or the urban rush for a weekend by the sea, Old Bull Lee has you covered. Fashion forward shorts, board shorts, and shirts with the style you crave for just about any life you want to live.

About the Author

- Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and produced screen and television writer. New books include the romantic suspense of Executive Impulse (Crimson); more romance and mystery with Between the Sheets (Entangled), co-written with Linda Marr; and the mystery thriller Marathon (Five Star/Cenage). Her previous titles include the award winning romantic suspense of The Model Man and Five O’Clock Shadow (Kensington); the literary fiction of Dreamtown (FictionWorks), and the erotic novella Rodeo Man (as Nikki Alton) in The Cowboy anthology (Aphrodisia). In film, her work spans a variety of genres from supernatural thriller to romantic drama, family, teen, and comedy with an emphasis on independent film. A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, she’s written on staff for ABC-TV’s Port Charles; written, produced, and directed reality programming and documentaries for TLC, Lifetime, PBS, and HGTV, as well as numerous television commercials and corporate videos. She’s also written hundreds of articles on travel, love, the arts, writing, tech, food, parenting, and more.

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Living the Beach Life: Old Bull Lee Makes Board Shorts and Shorts for City Living