Zuggy, etc. A Cottage Industry with HeartJun 16, 2021 12:27PM ● By Mary Colarik
by Mary Colarik
The tale of the burgeoning cottage industry, Zuggy, etc. is a story about life-long friendships and endearing relationships. And as an added bonus, a part of this story includes surfing and the Big Kahuna.
Making the Connection
Jennifer Tracy and Israel, “Izzy” Paskowitz have been lifelong friends-both growing up in large somewhat unconventional surfing families. Israel was the fourth child of nine children born to “Doc” Paskowitz and his wife Juliette, often called the “First Family of Surfing.” Tracy also grew up in a large family, one of seven. Her father was Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, a true individual who left his nine-five job at his family’s Savings and Loan, built a shack on the beach in Malibu and became a surfing legend. Rumor has it that he first coined the name “Gidget-girl, midget,” for the young teen girl who hung around the surfers on the beach in Malibu. His lifestyle became part of the Southern California legend portrayed in the original Gidget movie in the character the Big Kahuna.
These two large families were connected through the surfing lifestyle, but at the time there was no way of knowing that years later Jennifer and Izzy’s life would intertwine, and that working with autistic youngsters would become a huge part of both their life’s work.
Tracy, who has no children of her own, is now a caregiver for six young men with autism, two of whom are her nephews, Noah Graham, 15 and Jonathan Guinn, 29. Paskowitz has a son, Isaiah, 30, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. Both families have become participants of the best friends group that work at Zuggy, etc.
A Business for the Group
Jennifer has nicknames for all her “kids” (what she calls these sweet guys in this group who have much to offer despite their varying degrees of disability), but rather than choosing one of the friend’s nicknames for their group, they chose Tracy’s childhood nickname, Zuggy instead.
More than just a name for the group, Zuggy, etc. has become a business for the guys; a way for them to work and earn money. Jennifer started it by having the friend’s individual drawings imprinted on T-shirts and mugs and selling them on a website. And as part of this small business endeavor, the guys occasionally made chocolate peanut butter balls to be offered as well.
Figuring that they needed a logo, Jennifer called upon another lifelong friend, Roy Gonzales, to create it. Gonzales, who is a surfer and artist in town, was in Nigeria when Tracy called him, “in a panic,” requesting that he “please” design the Zuggy, etc. logo. Gonzales completed the assigned task in two days, and Zuggy, etc. was formally launched.
A caregiver for one of the guys in the group, Juan Garcia, for about 19 years, Jennifer first met him while working as a teacher for special needs students for the Capistrano Unified School District. Garcia was just three-years-old at the time. Since then they have created a special bond, with Juan often spending the night at her home, providing his family with much needed respite care.
Tracy has since retired from CUSD due to an injury sustained on the job, and last year when the worldwide pandemic shut down schools and businesses, Garcia and the other guys were displaced from their regular, daily routines and their programs at the Regional Center of Orange County. For people with autism and special needs, routine is an absolute necessity.
Juan was in the middle of figuring out his next steps after graduating from Capistrano’s Unified Adult Transition Program. He was ready to start on a job development program at the Regional Center. Once the stay-at-home orders were in place it became difficult for him to comprehend all the restrictions in place due to the pandemic.
Another Opportunity Appears
One day while Tracy and Garcia were visiting Tracy’s friend, Kay Lopperleddy, who was busy sewing face masks. Juan was fascinated and was paying very close attention to the process. Lopperleddy who also works with special needs adults suggested that Jennifer teach Garcia to sew.
Tracy, who had never touched a sewing machine in her life, saw a way for her “kids” to make something to sell. So she learned to sew in three days and then taught Garcia and another of the guys, Paul Baker, 30, how to use a sewing machine. Baker who had graduated from the special needs program had also graduated from the Saddleback College two-year culinary program and was working at OC Pizza, San Juan Capistrano when everything shut down.
Never in her wildest dreams did Jennifer imagine that she would set up her “kids” in her tiny kitchen sewing aprons. The inspiration for the sewing project, patchwork aprons, came to Tracy one evening before bed when she saw a photo of a friend’s mom in an apron. This seemed especially apropos as the sewing machines were set up in Jennifer’s kitchen.
Encountering the Process
When I met with Jennifer Tracy and Kay Lopperleddy at Tracy’s home, only two of the guys, Garcia and Baker were sitting at the long kitchen table working intensely on creating their apron designs. It was a whirlwind of activity, with sewing machines whirring, neatly stacked piles of material on the table, Jennifer nearby ironing and Kay folding. And while explaining the workings of their company, Tracy and Lopperleddy kept busily adding the solid backing that finished each apron.
Juan Garcia was working on a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) design. Meanwhile Paul Baker was diligently putting patches of brown material together in a very specific pattern. While he was working, Baker and I discussed his favorite culinary delights, those he enjoys baking for family and friends. His specialty is Irish cupcakes made with Bailey’s and Irish Whiskey.
Paul sews six days per week about six hours per day. He likes creating color patterns for each row of the apron. He says he enjoys using different colors to create interesting and vivid patterns. These friends like doing different designs with kittens, Hawaiian prints and just before Christmas 2020 offered several Christmas themed designs. Both guys said they feel great about earning money and figuring out different designs and patterns. Sewing and having a business with friends makes them happy, especially knowing that their creations make others feel happy when they receive their orders. They love hearing where all the orders come from—many are from out of state and even the country, including Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Another of these friends, Ali Akily, 24, also sews, while the other guys have various tasks. Guinn works with Garcia handing him squares of material, and since it was determined that Paskowitz has the best handwriting in this tightly knit group, he writes a thank you note that is inserted in the boxes with each outgoing order. All the friend’s names are listed under the word, “love.” Finally, Graham packs the aprons into boxes to be shipped out to customers.
Tracy’s mom, Phyllis, Jennifer, and her dear friend, Tootie, cut all the squares for the endeavor. Recently, Camille Guinn, Tracy’s niece and Jonathan’s sister, has been sewing patchwork totes - they are also sold on the Zuggy, etc. website. She sews at home with her mom. The group has now sold 269 aprons.
When all the guys are in the kitchen working it gets quite lively-they don’t watch television, however, the TV displays a lively playlist, featuring a lot of reggae. Bob Marley and the local surf reggae band, Common Sense, are favorites, mixed in with Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears and Snoop Dog, (who the guys have seen in concert).
Support for the Venture
Late last fall Zuggy, etc. caught the eye of local media outlets, and the guys appeared on ABC7 KABC Eyewitness news; featured on a SoCal Strong segment. On the same day ABC7filmed, Good Day LA showed up at Tracy’s home to film the friends while sewing; painting an inspirational story for others with special needs, illustrating that people with disabilities are capable of running a business, earning money and working together toward a common goal.
In February, a story in the Orange County Register featured the guys photographed wearing their aprons, explaining how the group was formed and how they created a new enterprise during the pandemic. All this press prompted more members.
Two local enterprises support this group’s small business venture. Syren’s Hair Parlor sells the aprons in their salon and O.C. Pizza offers monetary support. (Baker has now returned to work at the pizza spot one day per week). And, the group has been invited to speak about their thriving business at an upcoming San Clemente Kiwanis Club meeting.
Zuggy and the Big Kahuna
The Big Kahuna and surfing are also a major part of Zuggy, etc. When Izzy and his wife, Danielle Paskowitz’s second child, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism they were very discouraged. One day in a moment of frustration Izzy put the child in the ocean. A big smile lit up his son’s face, so his dad immediately placed him on a surfboard, and instantly Isaiah calmed down. This incident led Paskowitz and his wife to establishing Surfers Healing in 1996, a surf camp for autistic children – offered free of charge. And since April is Autism Awareness month, Zuggy, etc. donated five dollars from every apron sold in April to Surfers Healing.
Tracy, her mom and six siblings also created the Kahuna Cares Foundation five-years-ago in memory of her dad, Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy who passed away in 2012. Kahuna Cares is dedicated to “this creative guy for his appreciation for those who march to the beat of their own drum and who embrace those who live with special needs.” The foundation hosts charity events giving funds to several Southern California non-profits that offer services to those with autism and other disabilities, including Surfers Healing, OCAutism, Rock Autism, Fish for Life, THERAsurf, Red Autismo and Great Opportunities.
Time for Fun
These friends also love to travel with Tracy and often Lopperleddy, who Jennifer describes as the “one friend who always has your back.” They recently returned from a long weekend in the desert, where they had lots of fun swimming and ordering room service. They have visited Hawaii, Cabo, New York and New Jersey. They told Tracy they are ready for a trip to back to Hawaii in February 2022.
If interested in supporting this worthy endeavor, visit www.zuggyetc.com to purchase aprons, T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and occasionally peanut butter balls.