by Hope Winsborough

In these days of mass market retail and logo-lust, it's easy to forget that all surfwear is rooted in one classic item; the surf shop tee. Shapers first offered custom tees branded with their board logos as a means of easy advertisement. When surfing took off, so did the brands - and the rest is history.

Galveston Island, Texas's Yaga Mo' Bettah Threadz grew from a flip-flopped version of that store-oriented philosophy. The store followed the shirts. In 1988, when the shop first opened on the Strand, the town's historic shopping district, the store was called Hot Tropics. Four years ago, Flores had launched the Yaga t-shirt line, which took its name and logo from a Jamaican slang term used to attract attention - translated roughly as "yo!". As sales of the shirts took off nationwide, the line grew - adding accessories, hats, bags and shoes - and the Galveston store adopted the name.


"The apparel business and the store were separate." Flores explains. "Back then we were carrying some of the original Stussy, Mossimo, Quik." His customers were "beach people" - surfers, boaters - and seasonal tourists.

Thanks in part to the success of yaga apparel, as well as to increases in tourism (including cruise-line passengers), the retail business grew steadily. And today, while there are more stores to compete with, Flores simply focuses that much more intensely on the same old factors. "You have to pay more attention to price points, because competition lowers prices. You have to work harder at the presentation".

Another thing that's helped set the store apart is Yaga's West Indian concept, which echoes throughout 3,200 square feet of kicked-back styles for men, women and kids. The key, says Flores, is maintaining a fresh merchandise mix without veering too far off course. "I think that compared with five or six years ago, vendors [are] going back to their roots," say Flores. "They're not trying to [pick up on] every fad out there." Flores works Surf Expo events with the overall Yaga concept in mind. "This September, I'll be looking for things that I can [adapt for] private label."

Although brands like Aranco and Pacific Legends "sell all day long," Flores would love to discover one or two more great men's lines at the show. Does he struggle with the decision to add an unknown to Yaga's strategic lineup? "We just bring it in!" he says. "Our store has enough of a reputation... we don't have to worry about it."