JOHNSTOWN – In Bruce Weinberg’s household during the 1980s it was not uncommon to see a pair of ski gloves being stored in the family’s freezer.
“For some reason I had taken a new design home and I remember my son had a friend over,” Weinberg, a vice president at Swany America Corp., said, recalling the moment more than 20 years ago. “And the friend says ‘why do you have a pair of gloves in your freezer?’ and I was like, ‘Well, where do you keep yours?'”
The ski gloves were Freezy Freakies, a children’s apparel fad during the 1980s designed by Johnstown-based Swany America. The gloves were designed with thermochromatic ink, the same stuff now used on Coors Light cans, which changes colors when the temperature changes, revealing colorful patterns.
“People used to keep them in their freezers during the summer, so they could take them out and watch them change,” Weinberg said.
Although the gloves were never manufactured locally, Swany America had such a hit on its hands with the Freezy Freakies, selling as many as 300,000 pairs annually in the 1980s, the company briefly discussed changing its name to Freezy Freakis or spinning off the product into its own division, said Weinberg, who was the national sales director for the product.
“It was so far above anything that was out there at that time,” he said.
After the craze died down, dwindling to less than 100 pairs a year, Swany – which still has its corporate headquarters and distribution center in Johnstown, employing about 18 people – focused its efforts more on high-end ski gloves under the Swany and Hotfingers brands.
Weinberg said the Freezy Freakies trademark continued to draw interest from companies looking to license the once popular glove brand, even though Swany has no exclusive control over the thermochromatic ink technology.
“Even in its hey day, other companies tried to do change color gloves but it was really the name that was in demand. If you wanted a change-color glove, you wanted a Freezy Freakie,” he said.
Recently, Swany decided to license Freezy Freakies to two companies: San Francisco-based Buffoonery Factory and Fantasia Accessories out of New York City.
Weinberg said Swany decided the time was right to license Freezy Freakies because of the popularity of retro 1980s items and because the company is so focused on its existing brands, which aren’t aimed at the children’s apparel market.
“You can never tell the life cycle of a product or when it could come back,” he said.
Swany will get royalties based on sales of the gloves, with a guaranteed minimum royalty for the right to manufacture and distribute the brand. Weinberg said the two license agreements are different; Buffoonery Factory has acquired the right to make adult-size Freezy Freakies using the original 1980s designs; Fantasia Accessories has acquired the right to make children’s size Freezy Freakies, utilizing both old designs and the right to make new ones.
Hans Reichstetter, one of the owners of Buffoonery Factory, said his company had hoped to use the fundraising website kickstarter.com to raise $10,000 to help their manufacturing of the adult-size Freezy Freakies, but they ended up raising $60,000. He said he’s now in the process of shipping out 2,000 pairs of the adult gloves to each of his kickstarter investors. He said he plans to try to market the gloves to independent retail stores, aiming his Freezy Freakies at nostalgic adults looking to purchase vintage style clothing, but for now the gloves are available through internet sales at getfreezy.com.
Reichstetter said right now he’s focused on four Freezy Freakies designs, but his license will allow him to use any of the different design and color combinations used by Swany.
“We’re looking to our customers to tell us what designs they want to see us bring back,” he said.
Michael Brett, executive vice president for Fantasia Accessories, said Buffoonery Factory’s approach represents the “pull model” of retail sales, targeting and enticing a specific kind of customer, while his company is focused on the “push model”, getting Freezy Freakies back onto the display racks of major big box retailers by September. Brett said Fantasia Accessories’ is partnering with large media companies like Viacom to bring popular children’s characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Nickelodeon’s PAW Patrol to the Freezy Freakie brand.
Brett said the science of reintroducing a retro brand like Freezy Freakies is relatively simple – pick a product once beloved by 8 to 12 year olds and wait until that age group has their own children aged 8 to 12.
“Kids still get a kick out of these gloves and parents remember when they had them. It’s that color change, when they get cold, you want to see it happen. That’s the pay-off,” he said.