Stanley thinks he began in 1974, but he was 84 when I interviewed him and his memory was a little fuzzy.
From its humble origins in the 1970s, the sport of motocross exploded into mainstream consciousness. Today's motocross races have network TV coverage, packed stadiums, superstar athletes, and a multi-billion-dollar aftermarket. The most visible segment of that aftermarket is the clothing industry, where brands like Fox, Answer, and several others compete for their share of a lucrative market. They may have started out small, but nearly all have risen to prominence despite their gritty roots.
There’s another brand, however, that started in those same golden years but has been almost entirely overlooked by the passage of time. This brand had the #1 position in the US market, all four Japanese brands were private label customers as were most of the European manufacturers. The sponsored talent was deep, including hall-of-fame athletes such as Hannah, Stackable, and Pomeroy, the clothing was made from a revolutionary new DuPont fabric, and the brand had a head start on other notable early powerhouses such as JT Racing. Featuring an iconic griffin logo, the name on this groundbreaking clothing was GRIFFS.
GRIFFS was founded by Stanley Arron in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Stanley thinks he began in 1974, but he was 84 when I interviewed him and his memory was a little fuzzy. Stanley was constantly tinkering with clothing, isolating performance issues, and then solving them with apparel technology. He was very prolific, securing four separate patents for electrically heated apparel - in 1968, 1969, and two in 1970.
Then he turned his attention to motocross. At the time, MX pants were made from leather. They worked fine for northern Europe in wintertime but were hot and uncomfortable during American summers. Stanley had found a new high-strength nylon fabric from DuPont called “Cordura”, and believed that this new fabric would be great for riding gear. He started talking around the industry about his idea and the buyer from Maico, Tom Steele, introduced Stanley to Steve Stackable. The pair hit it off, and began testing prototypes. Steve found the new pants much lighter and more breathable than leathers and discovered he could ride faster and longer as a result.
Stanley had found a new high-strength nylon fabric from DuPont called “Cordura”.
Stanley wanted to promote his new brand, and worked out a royalty deal with Steve. The pants would be called Steve Stackable Ultralites” and Steve’s signature would be printed on the waist belt of each pair. In exchange for his endorsement, Steve would get a 2% royalty on each pair of pants sold.
There were bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. Even as late as 1977, the American Motorcyclist Association rulebook allowed only pants made of leather in professional motocross. They blocked the use of Stanley’s new pants for competition based on the fact that they were not fireproof. Stanley had his pants tested by an independent laboratory with excellent results, and petitioned the AMA. “I went before the AMA Board under the premise of having just my pants approved,” Stanley recalled, “but one of the board members was from a leather manufacturer. He was furious. In the meeting, he told them point blank that they would be giving the industry to me.” Eventually, the AMA reversed it position and approved all nylon pants for competition, without any testing or certification required.
GRIFFS had a jump on the competition, and sales grew quickly. GRIFFS pants were much more rugged than those produced by competing brands such as JT, who used cheaper fabric to target a lower price. Stanley's choice to use rugged DuPont Cordura gave GRIFFS a reputation for superior durability, particularly in areas like New England and Michigan, where the punishment dished out by terrain and the elements was relentless and unforgiving on riding gear. This led to motorcycle companies requesting branded gear made by GRIFFS. Maico first, then Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Harley (yep, even Harley tried to make dirt bikes for a while), Can-Am, Penton, Bultaco all had their logos sewn onto GRIFFS-made clothing. GRIFFS was even making gear for fledgling brands that went on to become giants in the apparel industry themselves, including Fox, Answer, and O’Neal.
"....there wasn't a rider out there that wouldn't wear GRIFFS. One year I think I had 90% of the riders on the line."
Steve Stackable 's brother Rolf was a rep in the industry, and also his business manager. Rolf knew a lot of people - especially athletes - and was hired as the GRIFFS marketing/rider rep. Rolf excelled in his new job, signing up top pro after top pro. “The product was excellent” says Rolf, “and there wasn't a rider out there that wouldn't wear GRIFFS. One year I think I had 90% of the riders on the line.” The list of riders who wore GRIFFS is stacked with Hall of Fame talent; Jim Weinert, Jim Pomeroy, Kent Howerton, Darrel Schultz, Jimmy Ellis, Gary Jones, Gaylon Mosier, Gary Semics, Billy Grossi, Rick Burgett, Marty Moates, and many others. Recognizable as one of the first superstars of modern motocross is another notable GRIFFS rider; the legendary Bob Hannah.
A bigger problem was emerging: the gear companies, especially JT Racing, were becoming marketing powerhouses.
By 1983 GRIFFS had started to fall behind. The market was hyper-competitive, and JT was an absolute juggernaut. Steve Stackable had left the sport, and his brother Rolf was losing interest. Stanley knew he was in trouble, and tried to adapt. However, competition and higher costs were kneecapping him. He still was making a great product, but, just like today, marketing was driving the business and he was getting out-promoted. In a very short space of time, more than 70% of his business had vaporized, and after owning the late 1970s and early 80s GRIFFS left the motorcycle market completely in 1987.
GRIFFS started in 1974, and for about a decade was everywhere. It was never as flashy as some other brands, but pick up any magazine, look at old photos, browse EBay, or talk to industry people from that era, and you'll find the Gryphon rearing up. GRIFFS broke new ground with the use of Cordura, was known for innovative designs, and set the benchmark for quality. GRIFFS had raced with some of the most famous riders and brands in the industry, and built a fan base that still exists today. Along the way, GRIFFS carved out a part of motocross and motorcycle history that is rivaled by few brands in in existence. In the words of former factory rider Steve Bauer, “they were motocross”.