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Surf Shacks 042 – Jeff “Yoki” Yokoyama

Meet Jeff “Yoki” Yokoyama, a 60-something-year-old family man from Newport Beach, California, who doesn’t look a day over 30. While the secret to his youthful look and energy may be unknown, I have a hunch it has something to do with his active lifestyle, creativity, and hard work—or maybe it’s the positivity and constant stoke face he wears every day. Good looks and health aside, Yoki is ahead of his time when it comes to sustainability and fashion sense. After starting Maui and Sons in ’80s, then Modern Amusement in the ’90s, he now has one of the coolest shops and clothing lines in California, aptly named “Yokishop.” We recently caught up with Jeff at his shop and home right down the street in Newport Beach.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

My Name is Jeff Yokoyama, my nickname is Yoki. Yoki in Japanese means “Good.” I was born in a small town near downtown Los Angeles called Glendale in 1955. I grew up loving football and surfing. After graduating from Glendale High School, I moved to Hawaii to find warm water.

I surfed and sailed every day and worked in restaurants. About 3 years later I moved back to the mainland to study cosmetology and hair. After a year of school, I passed my test and moved to Newport Beach, California and started to work at a salon in Fashion Island. I was making $89 a week as an assistant to the styling director. Now only 23 years old, I was moved up to a stylist and started making close to $2,500 a week. That’s when I started my first clothing line called Maui and Sons in 1980, I was 24 years old.  

I love your shop in Newport. How did the concept come about and when did you first set up shop?

I started Yokishop about 10 years ago when I noticed that there was a change in the way I wanted to design, make, and sell product. I started to design from things that were being thrown away, I also wanted to make all product domestically here in USA.

Tell us about your partnerships with USC and UCLA.

My daughter played volleyball for the University of Oregon, that is when I noticed that they were discarding tons of used and game worn uniforms. I thought if I could get some of those uniforms I could make cool stuff and sell it back to the kids on campus. I make all sorts of things from the discarded uniforms; tailgate aprons, duffle bags, hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts. It’s a very rewarding project in that we have used over 2,000 USC articles of gear that was once destined for a landfill. The only challenge is that we are not able to keep up with the demand.

It sounds like the fashion industry as a whole has a big problem with waste. What do you think these companies should be doing differently?

Everything!

What other brands and partnerships are you looking into these days?

Ralph Lauren and the Ivy League schools. Levis to repurpose their 501s. We are also trying to get sponsored by Nike so that we can start doing business with 200 D1 schools across the nation.  

Let’s rewind for a minute. You also started a very iconic clothing label a while back called Modern Amusement. How did that come about?

I started Modern Amusement around 1995. It was only kids clothing at first and then I made a mens line for Japan only. About 10 years ago I sold Modern Amusement to Mossimo.

Have you always been interested in fashion?

No, not really, I loved sports!

What are your favorite parts about Newport Beach and the area in which you live?

Seeing all my friends doing great things.

Your home is so cozy and filled with character. What are your favorite parts of your home?

Our back yard because it’s the beach, sand and ocean.

If your house was burning down and you could only get out with five items, what would you take?

My wife and 4 kids.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, sage advice?

Perfect is dead. Be everything that everyone else isn’t. People buy not what you do, they buy WHY you do it. The unknown is the future. Believe that you can do it.

Step inside Yoki’s rad shop here:

Yokishop

/ Photography by Read McKendree, interview by Matt Titone

Check out more Surf Shacks here.

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