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Check out Factor 54's cover story in todays Orange County edition of the LA Times/Daily Pilot!

October 2, 2006

Check out Factor 54's cover story in todays Orange County edition of the LA Times/Daily Pilot!  

F54 -- Is it a plane, a spy, a band?
It's none of the above. It's Costa Mesa's new surf, skate and punk rock clothes company.

By Amanda Pennington

COSTA MESA — What's with those F54 stickers all over town?

People who have lived in or visited Costa Mesa or Newport Beach in the last few years have probably seen the mysterious F54 stickers on street signs, stop signs, overpasses — even on drive-thru windows at fast-food restaurants.

Mystery solved: Factor54 is one of Costa Mesa's up-and-coming, youth-centered surf, skate and punk rock apparel companies.

"It's all about the youth, but who isn't," said co-owner Ted Wueste, sitting in the company's backyard warehouse. "The difference with 54 — Factor is synonymous with family — we're about the actual youth and the person. We want to engage the parents."

Wueste and owner and founder Todd Miller are all about family and hope to foster the burgeoning careers of young grommets ripping it up on the waves and on the street.

"I've ridden for bigger companies, and my experience is definitely not as good as it is with Factor, just because I feel more connected," said Christian Morabito, 17, one of Factor54's oldest surfers. "I definitely feel more of like a relationship with the team manager, Todd Miller, and all the other people at Factor."

Miller grew up surfing the break at 54th Street in Newport Beach, hence the company's name. After having a successful career surfing and marketing for Quiksilver, Miller searched for an alternative to the big corporations for kids interested in the surf and skate industry, and kicked off Factor54.

Miller did not want to launch the company prematurely and decided he would brand the company to the max, waiting for just the right time to go big.

That's where the stickers come in. He established a small team of riders — they now have about 10 skaters and 10 surfers under 18 — and a small collection of shirts. Stickers started popping up everywhere, creating a buzz about the company. He had some help from the big boys, including Quiksilver's Bob McKnight and Danny Kwok, who he called his mentor.

From there he went backward, or that's what some people thought, he said.

"I could have started the company off with a lot of money," Miller said. "But I thought, let me build some equity, and the one thing I know is marketing, so I just burned it in everyone's mind."

Christian said he remembered seeing stickers and not knowing much about the company until a buddy started surfing for Miller. This year, Miller paired up with Wueste, who was looking for a company to invest in, and the two started getting Factor54 clothing into stores.

The kids are contacted by Miller on a regular basis — something some of the riders said other company's team managers lacked. He talks to them about school, goals and surfing or skating.

"First off, Todd's not as much of a flake," said team rider Victor Done, 14, who is ranked fourth in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. "If he can answer the phone, he does … he's more of a good friend."

Victor, who is one of Factor54's top riders, has been approached by other companies, but sticks with Miller and Wueste because of their focus.

Unlike many of the industry's top companies, Factor is not planning to extend its reach beyond kids for a while. But like others, they are becoming a player worldwide. With the addition of a Latin America representative, they're starting to see orders come in from other countries.

At the recent Action Sports Retailer trade show, they received about $20,000 in purchase orders, which surprised them. They value their core beliefs, which remain focused on the kids and the surf and skate lifestyle.

You won't see Factor54 shirts in Tilly's or similar stores any time soon. They are very hesitant to sell their merchandise to stores that don't sell surf or skate hardware.

"This is who we are," Miller said. "We're surfers, skaters, we're musicians…. It's not about trying to be something we're not — our philosophy is let's just be who we are and the rest will follow."

Factor54 recently landed a key spot in the new Surfside Sports being built on 17th Street in Costa Mesa — and the guys were more than stoked. They also have some apparel at the Froghouse, a store that isn't known for its selection of clothes, but rather for its boards and wetsuits. These days, Factor54 can be found in about 40 stores worldwide.