Skate, snow, and punk rock were all parallel lines that converged with Joel Gomez’s famed Sessions brand and shop starting in the ’80s. Gomez has re-invented himself by launching 45RPM Vintage, a brand that pays homage to his passions.
The start-up produces retro T-shirts, hoodies, and crewnecks referencing popular skateparks, athletes, and brands synonymous with skate and snowboarding from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The designs are attracting attention.
“Right before COVID hit, I wanted to make some of the skateparks I grew up skateboarding at, like Soquel here in Santa Cruz and Winchester Skatepark over the hill in Campbell, into a couple T-shirts for me and some of my friends to wear,” Gomez said of the impetus behind 45RPM, which gets its name from his love of 7-inch records.
He’s since been printing limited edition T-shirts bearing images and graphics from the time, mixed with vintage colorways such as neon pink and royal blue or tan and red.
The more he’s printed, the more word’s gotten around about what Gomez has been doing and the more fun he’s been having deciding which skatepark to feature next. This includes tracking down owners to ask for their permission to design the T-shirt and sending them royalties checks.
Was once a simple hobby, but now it is gaining popularity among those who have fond memories of the skate parks and snowboarding or skating in the past. Gomez now has a 45RPM webshop and works almost full-time.
He has two releases a year and retailers have consistently reordered his product. The 45RPM clothing is available in about 10 shops, including Goodtimes, Hanger 94, Easy Rider, FTC Skateboarding, Santa Cruz Boardroom and Pacific Wave Surf Shop, Santa Cruz.
“It’s a labor of love. It’s a passion and it’s growing,” Gomez said.
It’s currently a lean staff running the operation.
No sales force exists. It’s just Gomez and his former Sessions customer service manager Patty Townley handling everything from design and distribution to packing web orders.
The print runs are intentionally limited. The intention is to eventually increase production in line with demand.
Gomez’s first order was for 50 direct-to garment printed pieces. The design was Winchester Skatepark, Campbell, Calif. with its famous pink bowl. Hilary Sims – the wife of Sims Snowboards founder Tom Sims – gave him permission to make a Sims Pure Juice shirt.
“When I did that, people were like ‘What else do you have?’” Gomez recalled. “Every time a shirt came out, I wore it. Yellow, light blue and tan were the colors of that time. Very ‘70s colors, and it got people going.”
The encouragement and feedback he’s received from those in the industry has been insightful and Gomez said he’s now seeing plenty of potential for the brand.
“One of the challenges that I had in the beginning with a couple shops I tried to sell to was they told me, ‘We don’t sell to a lot of 50-year-olds and 40-year-olds.’ So I thought, ‘Maybe I’m targeting this wrong,’” Gomez recalled.
Turns out the shops pushing back and saying the 45RPM shirts weren’t for the current consumer, didn’t have it quite right. Gomez heard a different view from some shop owners catering to mostly 20-somethings who said the shirts were moving due to their retro vibes—even if the customers didn’t know the skateparks.
“It’s been fun. It’s been humbling in the sense that I’m working a lot and doing a lot of hands on, but at the same time it’s very enjoyable,” Gomez said.
Celebrate the past
45RPM is not Gomez’s first foray into apparel and retail. He started his first business in 1983 with the multi-tentacled sessions. His experiences from that venture could be useful when he launches 45RPM.
Gomez was only 22 when Sessions opened. It was impossible to resist the idea of opening a shop where Gomez could spend his days surrounded by music and snowboarding.
Sessions Mail is a mail order business that was started in 1986. It sold skateboards, punk rock Tshirts and records.
Sessions’ snow outerwear rolled out in 1990, followed by a record label three years later that would go on to record bands such as the Descendents, No Use For a Name, Foo Fighters, and Audioslave.
Outerwear grew rapidly and became a multi-million-dollar business that ultimately chipped away at much of Gomez’s time.
“I wasn’t as focused with the store and the mail order,” Gomez remembered of that period. “I shouldn’t have been the CEO. I was more of the creative mind, and I started being in a lot of business meetings and it took away from that because the outerwear just blew up.”
Gomez sold Sessions to Oregon’s Pretty Great Company in 2012. He’s still associated with the brand as a founder and ambassador, helping post throwback photos on Thursdays for Sessions’ Instagram.
45RPM allows you to return to your creative side while also paying respect to that time period and introducing it to a whole new generation.
“I love coming out with new designs and I get excited when people hit me up about them,” Gomez said. “The history is so rich. It’s not about trying to live in the past; we’re just trying to celebrate it.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at [email protected].