Quality is at the heart of everything Jay Durkee does. From living in beautiful San Clemente to raise his family, to producing the most-durable, sought-after T-shirt around. As founder of Heavyweight Collections Inc. his quest-for-the-best has paid off in multiple ways - he offers an amazing product that the public adores, and gets to work in town with the people he loves.
“Working with my family is great,” Jay enthused of his wife, Maxanne, and sons, Taylor and Luke. “Every day I feel so blessed.”
When the company began in 2010 Jay had already spent years developing the signature shirt in response to market demand. “I started the Heavyweights in 1995 for older surfers,” Jay explained, many of whom were nostalgic for that thick cotton tee that would last from season to season. “I already knew how to develop quality products, plus this was for a market I knew existed.”
Jay knew the body style he and so many men were after: short sleeve, comfortable, heavier weight - reminiscent of the popular Hang Ten shirt that had ruled the coast and beyond in the 1970s.
“That Hang Ten customer had grown up so we created this.”
Having enjoyed a successful career with Lightning Bolt Surf Company, Surfer’s Alliance and Time-Warner in sports apparel and accessories, Jay knew the process and began wholesaling his shirts to big retailers to use for their private labels. “The problem with that business model is that the margins are tight... and you get paid late,” Jay laughed.
Tapping from his network of colleagues Jay recruited Steve Ward, who’d been part of the Surfers Alliance brand, to help develop and run sales. “Steve just had a knack for selling so he became our point person at the surf shops and trade shows,” Jay said.
Success followed and so did partnerships on specialty lines: Duke Boyd (after the local entrepreneur who started Hang Ten); Go Barefoot Brand, featuring men’s Aloha shirts; and Old Honolulu Trading Company. The private label for Beckers Surfboards was such a hit that to this day fans still refer to the heavyweight tee as “The Beckers shirt.”
In 2002 Jay opened a warehouse at the renowned Fletcher family’s Astrodeck on Los Molinos, later moving to space at Amanceer. When close friend Steve Caulkins of Strucco Construction insisted that the Durkee team share his warehouse at the south end of El Camino Avenue, Jay wasn’t sure it would be a fit.
“Steve told me he’d make a great little store off the warehouse--and sure enough he did!” Jay remarked. “Now we could have customers coming in, especially our local loyal ones, who wanted to see and touch the product in person.”
By 2005 Maxanne was prodding her husband to consider online business to further increase sales. “I told him you need an online business going, that’s what people are doing,” Maxanne said, and proceeded to build a commerce site to capitalize on their popular product.
The strength of these direct-to-consumer sales allowed Jay to downshift from wholesale and partnerships to establishing his own brand. In 2010 he did just that-- founding HCI for the world to enjoy.
“We have customers from around the world and an especially big presence in Japan,” Maxanne explained. “The Japanese customer loves the classic tees but with a completely different style. They love the American trends, the vintage 90s shirt.”
The sons came on board, too, applying their talents in their areas of expertise. “I’ve been working with my Dad since high school, on and off, for as long as I can remember,” Taylor said, whose strong art background has been a force in T-shirt design, website images and ads. “My Dad’s always had the heavyweights but when it became this brand it was something we could all plug into.”
Luke also spent formative years helping at the warehouse after school and now runs the fulfillment end of the operation, confirming orders get to customers as planned, as well as managing social media marketing. “People definitely shop from their couch - it’s the way of the world,” Luke said, noting how ecstatic customers can get when they receive a Heavyweight shirt. “They tell me it’s the last shirt they’ll ever buy, they can’t believe it when they try it!”
Hardly mass-produced, there’s a micro-managed method to getting them made just right. According to Jay it’s all about the unique, thick yarn - more expensive than light cotton - but vital to the heavyweight process. He’s also meticulous on colors and regularly visits the Los Angeles sites to sample the dye lots in person. “I drive to the factories and see and touch the samples, face to face - it makes a big difference,” Jay explained, proud of keeping his goods American-made. “We want our product made in the US and with top quality and fit.”
Local labor costs more than sourcing goods overseas, but Jay feels it’s worth it. “I’d rather stay local, and our customers appreciate it, too,” Jay said, noting that it was a huge benefit during the global shutdown in 2020-21. “We’ve been able to ride through a lot of the supply chain issues since Covid.”
Jay attributes good relationships with “mom-and-pops,” from small sewing businesses to family-owned operations, as key to his success. “We like our contractors we use, while the big guys go overseas to get cheaper labor. I just feel better about this.”
Taylor agrees. “Our product is connected to our community,” Taylor said “All our manufacturing is done as close to home as we can do it.”
The Heavyweight tee in its range of styles continues to be a knock-out with customers in town and across the globe. “Our number-one bestseller is the classic fit in solid colors - white, black and navy,” Jay said. “It’s the meat and potatoes of our business, there’s such a big demand.”
HCI also offers seasonal colors throughout the year. “We can garment-dye any color,” Jay said, adding that custom orders are always welcome. “If you have a special event or fundraiser, reach out and we’re happy to get you a quote. We have access to all types of styles you’d ever want!”
The low overhead, local lifestyle - doing what you love and creating a timeless, treasured product-- clearly agrees with the Durkee crew. While they remain busier than ever, fulfilling orders and creating new lines, the family couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve accomplished.
“I’ve been here my whole life - where else would I move? San Clemente has the best climate, there are so many amenities and things to do,” Taylor said. “This town is a part of our business and we’re integrated into the community.”
Through drive and dedication, Jay has succeeded in making quality count in life and work, home and happiness. He is especially grateful for his tight-knit heavyweight team. “I feel so blessed to raise my family here and to work with them now is really special.”
Heavyweight Collections is available exclusively at The San Clemente Store at the SC Outlets and online: www.heavytshirt.com. For details call (949)492-5630.