Creator of famous Texas sandal company finds adventure in every business turn
Somewhere in a U.S. Coast Guard log book from the early 1970s, there’s a line that reads: “Kevin Bruce Brown — detained for piracy.”
Brown, 60, owner of the Pirate Brand, a supplier of custom T-shirt and logo design to area businesses, was then a teenager sailing around Galveston Bay in his homemade catamaran when he came upon a partially sunken yacht and decided to remove some of its deck hardware. According to maritime law, an abandoned vessel in peril may be salvaged, or so Brown thought. The finer details that distinguish acts of salvage from acts of piracy in Brown’s case might be somewhat murky.
Brown removed a few cleats and blocks and put them in his sail bags and tied them under the netting of his catamaran and went on his way. It wasn’t long before Coast Guard officials were signaling him to tie off next to their cutter. Fortunately for Brown, his vessel was too small and low in the water for the authorities to board immediately. Brown took the opportunity to “straighten up” his boat and undid the ties that were holding the sail bags, quietly letting his booty sink to the bottom of the Gulf. When Coast Guard officials came up empty, they let Brown go.
It was the first of two times Brown, a Nassau Bay resident, has been accused of piracy and consequently the reason he named his company Pirate Brand. The second was in 1996, for trademark infringement on a company he created in 1973 called Tiddies. The legendary Gulf Coast company made millions of dollars throughout the 1970s manufacturing and selling Brown’s unique design of sandals. The sandals had become a household name in Texas. Brown named the company after a colorful quote by a merchant mariner friend who tried on one of the first-ever “very soft and comfortable” prototypes of the sandal.
After selling the company in the late 1980s to a family member and acquiring it back in the 1990s, Brown was accused of trademark piracy, at which point he immediately changed the name to Pirate Brand. After 40 successful years in business, Brown in 2012 buried the last pair of sandals he would ever make in his backyard in Nassau Bay in favor of focusing on his first passion in life — drawing.
Long before the success of Tiddies, Brown was an artist, drawing with mostly pen and ink. His father, a prominent Pasadena doctor, once told him in typical 1950s dad-speak, “You can’t eat art.” He wanted his son to go to medical school. Brown, inspired by the likes of world famous cartoonist and illustrator Robert Crumb, wanted to be an artist, but acknowledged the practicality in his father’s advice.
Brown has created his own path, applying his artistic skills to various business ventures, designing logos and marketing materials for Tiddies and Pirate Brand among others.
Familiarity with the beach apparel retail industry naturally led to creating T-shirt designs, which is the mainstay of Pirate Brand, along with custom cold beverage coolers, better known by their trademark name, Koozie. Although Brown doesn’t hold the Koozie trademark, he isn’t being accused of piracy.
His vibrant illustrations have adorned the fronts and backs of T-shirts around the Bay Area. His customers include restaurants such as T-Bone Tom’s in Kemah; Gilhooley’s famous oyster hangout in San Leon; Tookie’s, a popular burger joint in Seabrook; and a few surf shops from Galveston to Port Aransas.
“I’ve been to at least three funerals where the person wanted to be buried with their favorite Pirate Brand beverage cooler,” Brown said.
These days, he enjoys working on his art.
“I love it when someone comes up to me and says they love my work,” he said.
Though, technically speaking, Brown isn’t a pirate, he has lived something of a pirate life, letting his passions take him where they will.
His next big idea takes him back to the ocean and back to another one of the loves of his life — making boats. He’s developing a business plan to build and sell 50-foot custom day-cruiser catamarans out of a facility in Bacliff.