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RoAcH Studios: Short History of the king of the “Iron On” T-shirt
In 1962 Russ & Dennis Roush started what would become one of the largest and most influential apparel graphics companies of the 60’s and 70’s. The brothers Roush were big fans of the California car scene. The images coming from the west coast that appeared in Hot Rod Magazine and Zap comics were exciting and fresh. The fact that you could get a T-shirt with one of those images was even better. The fire was started and Dennis and Russ began to get into the T-shirt business. In those days, airbrush painting shirts was the most accessible way to start. Just like their hero’s from Cali, Ed Roth, Stanley Mouse, & Von Dutch, they set out to make money and have adventure working the drag races, car shows, and state fairs of the USA.
After a couple of years in the trenches, the Roush brothers ventured into the mail order business and started competing with the west coast vendors like Rat Fink. Roach could be seen in the back of Hot Rod and Car Craft Magazine.
They needed help to grow the business and recruited Stan Peterson from California. Stan had been air brushing shirts and doing silk screen work. He was getting into a new process, the iron on transfer, at the same time. The iron on transfer was a new technology and was just what the young Roach Studios needed to out-compete the other companies. They could carry a large graphics library and low inventory. The transfer made just in time production possible for the mail order T-shirt business. Stan moved from San Diego in 1966 and took over art and production. The company was starting to roll.
Between 1966 and 1970 Roach grew and took on new ownership. John Baird and Stan Peterson took over the company and recruited renowned artist Ed Newton. Ed was the principle artist at Roth Studios. He designed some of Roth’s cars and did most of the artwork that was turned into T-shirts.
Ed Newton was critical to the early success of Roach. He came from the art underground in California. His friends included artist like Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, David Mann, and others. These were the guys that did the rock concert posters, album covers, counter culture comics like ZAP, and the T-shirts that help define the 60’s and 70’s graphically.
Roth struggled with his business due to the fact that he was spread thin between custom cars, apparel, and car show appearances. He mae some questionable deals with the likes of the Hells Angels and was alienating his principle backers (Revel Models). Roth’s mistakes opened the doors for Roach.
Roach made new gains. Thousands of T-shirt shops started up in the 70’s because of what Roach and their competitors had begun in the late 60’s. A just in time manufacturing process that allowed a T-shirt shop to offer hundreds of designs and a good selection of apparel styles and colors. These shops were high margin apparel stores with cool built in.
From 1970-1980 these stores were on fire and so was Roach. In 1978 roach had grown to 20 Million plus dollars in gross sales and had a customer list of thousands of T-shirt shops all over the world. Roach used this money and notoriety to build one the most influential graphics business in the apparel industry. The Roach catalog was a big deal. Coveted by designers, customers, and competitors all over the world.
Roach had entered the licensed apparel business and begun to modernize by the 1980. Licensing was not a part of the business in the early days. Most companies just saw the T-shirt as a good bit of free advertising. As that changed, Roach changed with them. The problem was the iron on transfer did not allow for the licensors to control the apparel business. The iron created more problems for the licensors than it solved. Soon the business had a real problem. With no licenses for hot TV shows, movies, bands, and other popular subjects Roach’s core customers started to loose margin and have inventory problems. The short story was they were all about to go out of business. In just a few short years Roach was bankrupt. In 1987 the company shut the doors. Thousands of T-shirt retailers followed suit. Without the selection and margin, they had no business.
Roach, Inc. was auctioned off in the late 80’s and fell into a deep sleep. In 2010 Brian Peterson , son of the Roach principle Stan Peterson, acquired the rights to trademarks and copyrights for all of the Roach collection of art. Brian s currently trying to raise awareness and interest in the vast collection of art by introducing an apparel line based on the Roach collection of art.