Danville Express

Living - June 1, 2007

The latest craze

'Cowboy' rides into town with Fuzzy Duds

by Jordan M. Doronila

They're comfy, colorful, cool and crazy. They're Fuzzy Duds - and they're spreading like wildfire in California.

"They feel so comfortable," said Danville resident Steven "The Cowboy" Johnson, creator of Fuzzy Duds. "They feel good. Every person I have seen that have put them on has smiled."

"It's a local phenomenon," he added.

Fuzzy Duds are shorts made of polar fleece. They come in different colors and designs: black with white skulls, pink and ivory, orange with cacti shapes, blue, fatigue pigments, gray and ebony, and many more.

Dozens of local residents already wear them, and kids at Stone Valley Middle School in Alamo have Fuzzy Duds Fridays. Students at Monte Vista and San Ramon high schools wear them as well.

"I like them because they are really comfortable," said Braden Chase, the seventh-grader responsible for starting Fuzzy Duds Fridays at Stone Valley. "You can really wear them anytime you want. It's not too hot."

"They're not regular shorts," he added. "They can express who you are. They are still awesome."

Johnson started making Fuzzy Duds six years ago because he wanted comfy shorts to go with his snowboard gear. When he first created them, he didn't have any prior knowledge of sewing. He was in debt and was homeless.

"It took me three days to make my first pair," he said.

When his friend saw his shorts, they wanted them. Then more friends and other people desired them, too.

Johnson hopes to keep his business local, yet sell them statewide. He noted that he wants to keep the clothing at a high quality and maintain personal contact with his customers.

Chase's family members have invested in his product and have made connections with Californian retail outlets. Johnson said he has sold at least 1,500 as of May. In the future, he hopes to sell from 100,000 to 200,000 pairs annually.

"We want to keep the quality," said Braden's mother, Cara Chase.

As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Johnson acquired various nicknames: crash, scar, and arms. He was called "crash" because he suffered various injuries, one from falling off a pile of hay. He was called "scar" because he has a wound from being hit with a golf club on his forehead. At the time, he said it didn't hurt that much.

And he was called "arms" because he used them to resist getting tackled in a rugby game.

He moved to Southern California at 20 to pursue acting in Los Angeles. It took him three months to become an extra on the hit TV show "Star Trek."

"It's what I wanted to do," he said.

In the meantime, he enjoyed surfing at all the popular beaches in California. He said he was engulfed in the surfing culture and rode the waves intensely. He earned the name "The Cowboy" for the fierce and fearless way he would ride the waves.

"I've always been super athletic," he said. "There is a gene in my family that helped me excel in athletics."

He also enjoyed the celebrity culture.

"It's not the fact they are celebrities," Johnson said, but rather the adrenaline rush he feels in being around them.

He also did standup comedy and improvisation, and performed in bands. But the surfing culture took a toll on his health, and he decided to move away from California and study acting.

After living in the Golden State for four years, he moved to Georgia in 1991. He studied his craft, did mountain biking, continued improvisation, and did valet parking for two to three years. In Georgia, he met his girlfriend and together, they moved back to California and lived in San Ramon.

They had a bad breakup after several years. Johnson got into financial trouble and wound up sleeping in tents and in his jeep.

"I was embarrassed," he said.

Then his idea to make Fuzzy Duds came to him, in 2001. Although he didn't know how to sew, Johnson was able to fine-tune his product after making many mistakes.

When he pitched his Fuzzy Duds to possible backers, he initially received ridicule and rejection.

"Everything was a hassle," he said. "The American dream was a nightmare."

At this point he was working at a warehouse in Dublin and making Fuzzy Duds in his free time, he recalled. He slept in the warehouse and would rent a room at a motel in Livermore to take a shower.

"I was drinking coffee all the time," he said.

He said that his life would move like waves; some would be high and some would be low.

"There are breakdowns and breakthroughs," he said. "That's the cycle."

Nonetheless, he managed to produce his zany shorts and build up a demand in the area. Johnson's mother was instrumental, helping finance Fuzzy Duds and giving him advice.

"I love my mama," he said. "I respect my mom. I want her life to be comfortable."

His product was rapidly taking off. People bought his shorts at bike and surf events. Kids in the San Ramon Valley started seeing them and wanted to wear them.

"We heard about them when I was in fifth grade and I put on one pair and I couldn't stop wearing them," said Braden Chase.

He also likes their creator, "The Cowboy."

"He's a really nice guy," he added.

His mother Cara agreed.

"He's like Forrest Gump," she said. "We honestly love this guy's spirit."

To find out more about Fuzzy Duds, visit the Cowboy's Web site at www.cowboysfuzzyduds.com

Do you wear fuzzy duds? Tell us about it on Town Square at Danville Weekly.com


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