Designed to Play


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The collection started with Crazy Shirts founder Rick Ralston, who started the company in 1964. Among his pursuits, he collected vintage toys and collectibles. Only the Best, inc. purchased the company in 2001, but many of his collectibles still reside in the headquarters.

While Crazy Shirts may be known for its T-shirts, its headquarters in Halawa houses so much more.

At the Crazy Shirts headquarters in Halawa, employees can plAy with A vAst ColleCtion of toy ships, airplanes and cars As eccentric And whimsicAl as its apparel design. Some are rare antiques and could be in a museum, but all can be played with by employees to inspire their imaginations.

The collection started with Crazy Shirts founder Rick Ralston, who started the company in 1964 by airbrushing hot rods and surfing scenes on T-shirts in Waikiki. Among his pursuits, he collected vintage toys and collectibles. Although Only the Best, Inc. purchased the company in 2001, many of his collectibles still reside in the headquarters.

The company has 23 stores in Hawai‘i and 12 on the mainland in California, Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Mark Hollander, CEO of Crazy Shirts, says Ralston’s interests were wide ranging. “[Rick] collected everything from articles of antiquity to marine salvage to toys of all kinds,” he says.

As visitors come up the stairways, they’ll find toy aircrafts from military jets to airlines hanging. “It draws people’s eyes up,” Hollander says. They include mid-20th century airliners such as McDonnell Douglas DC and Lockheed Constellation, a four-engine propeller plane built in the 1940s and 50s and used by airlines such as the now-defunct Pan Am. Since they are old toys, some are attached to string and can be swung around to imitate flying.

Cars also make a big part of the collection. Some were old paint models used by dealerships. Unlike today, car dealerships didn’t have dozens of different versions of the same car on the lot, so when a customer ordered a car and wanted it in a different color, he or she could choose the paint by seeing how it looked on the scale model car.

While there are still hundreds of toys and antiques at headquarters, it has been downsized.

“If company lore holds true, this is only a fraction of what it once was,” Hollander says.

The vast array of toys and models reflect the company culture of a business known for fun T-shirt and apparel design, from its iconic Kilban Cat to specialty dyed apparel and HydroPrint board shorts that change color when wet.

“At the core of our company, we are artists. We produce articles of whimsy that speak to people’s vacations and adds some levity to life,” Hollander says. “So having items like this around the workplace adds to that sense of levity and whimsy.”

According to its website, “The over arching theme that permeates through everything we do is making items that are classic and maintain a level of creativity and irreverence in design and, in a lot of ways, we create or help people save memories.”

The toys can be found around the office. “It’s not sloppy, but also not stuffy,” Hollander says. “Sometimes you don’t even notice it, but you can see it and pick them up and you sense the quality and the craftsmanship.” It echoes the ethos of Crazy Shirts, whose shirts are also known for their quality.

While some may be antiques and collectibles, employees are encouraged to pick up and interact with the toys. When space is needed, a boat in the gallery has been known to move around and toys have stayed at employees’ desks when a large open space is needed.

The Crazy Shirts headquarters, with a ground floor manufacturing and administrative offices on top, was custom built for the company in 1982. “Open office spaces are a big thing now, but we’ve been like that since the ’80s,” Hollander says.

The collection isn’t static, as antiques continue to be added. Decades-old T-shirts are sometimes sent from nostalgic fans and the company will put them on display. “It all circles back … It’s a pleasure to be a part of it,” Hollander says. Occasionally, classic designs will be revived and reprinted.

A 10-foot longboard was added to the collection from a fan who grew up in Martha’s Vineyard. “We’re not actively collecting anything, but when we come across things that speak to us, we add it,” Hollander says.

The company, which celebrates its 55th year in business in 2019, continues to grow and compete in the highly competitive retail market. “We get to do stuff that’s fun and bring a piece of Hawai‘i to our fans,” Hollander says.

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