The Ode: No Fear (1989 - 2011)

It was the perfect brand for the era of extreme sports, but when the alternative-lifestyle tide inevitably ebbed, No Fear was left high and dry.

The No Fear clothing brand was born in 1989 to twin brothers Mark and Brian Simo in Carlsbad, Calif. Professional NASCAR racing drivers, the siblings were no strangers to the extreme lifestyle, and they immediately focused on amateur and professional motocross racers.

The private company partnered with Honda to support world-renowned riders, but also catered to spectators, wholesaling affordable gear through specialized vendors. Sensing an untapped market, No Fear quickly expanded its product lines and sponsorships to include other alternative sports such as surfing, snowboarding and BMX. By 1990, No Fear had emerged as the leading marketer of alternative sports-and-lifestyle products.

Through the mid-1990s it had little competition in its demographic of 18-to-24-year-old men. Known for its skull motifs, anti-establishment bent, and existential slogans such as “He who dies with the most toys, still dies,” No Fear became a premier lifestyle brand, and today the company holds more than 50 trademarks including “So Cal” and “Fearless.”

In 1993, Vancouver-based company No Limits Sportswear acquired exclusive rights to sell and market all No Fear branded products in Canada. No Limits grew No Fear into a familiar and popular brand here, and wholesale totals for the athletic gear rose to more than $13 million. That helped No Fear become one of the world’s fastest-growing apparel companies. Between 1993 and 1995, global sales grew from $30 million to $120 million, according to No Limits.

In 1995, No Fear again wowed fans, when it launched a racing video game called Kyle Petty’s No Fear Racing, which capitalized on the enormous sales of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. But that success wasn’t sustainable, and as the popularity of alternative sports began to wane, sales of No Fear products fell almost as quickly as they had risen. No Limits was forced to diversify as a distribution company, and no longer carries the No Fear products.

No Fear wasn’t ready to give up. In 2000, well after the peak of its popularity, the company opened its first three retail stores. The store base grew to 54 at the end of 2009. That allowed No Fear to take its direct-to-consumer revenue from nothing in 1999 to US$39 million in a decade. In 2004, the company pushed out to include “extreme energy” drinks, which are controlled by Pepsi. The slogan “Man up” was an attempt to reconnect with the young men who flocked to the brand 10 years earlier. No Fear also saw the opportunity to extend its brand into music, and partnered in 2007 with House of Blues/Live Nation to launch an annual No Fear Music Tour, which has supported bands such as Bullet for My Valentine and Lamb Of God.

But No Fear just wasn’t able to get its claws into enough guys, and the company filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 24. Bankruptcy papers reportedly list assets of $10 million to $50 million and estimated debts up to $10 million. In the past few months, No Fear was pursued by a number of shopping malls who threatened legal action against it for being behind on rent.

True to former slogans like “Losing is not an option,” CEO Mark Simo said in a press release that the goal is to reorganize the company and surface from under its debt. But while its now 41 stores in 10 states will remain open through the restructuring, the trend wave that made motocross and surfing cool among the mainstream has long since ebbed.