The Town Of Hollister

In the year of 2,018 a friend and I were returning home to San Francisco from Los Angeles. A crash on I-5 caused us to detour toward Gilroy and take 280 home instead of coming through the East Bay. Not familiar with anything south of San Jose, the detour was an opportunity to see more of the valleys that spilled into the Peninsula. South of GIlroy, we saw a sign that the town of Hollister was fast approaching. Thinking it funny that a clothing company known for surf wear and an inland town nowhere near a beach had the same name I Googled if Hollister (the company) was based on Hollister (the town). Much to my surprise history was a lot weirder than I anticipated.

Hollister, The Person

William Wells William, a person who existed
William Wells William, a person who existed

William Wells Hollister, of who the town of Hollister is named after, was born near Hanover, Ohio in the year of 1,818 to Philena Hubbard and John Hollister. The Hollister family (people) were descendants of another John Hollister — naming is hard — who came from Massachusetts Bay Colony. Far and away from any major metros, William took up farming and selling goods before selling everything making the move west to California with family and a procession of 10,000 sheep. Their journey led them to the beautiful beach town of Santa Barbara although with 9,000 less sheep. Nostalgia for a time when traversing half the country with thousands of farm animals was not only doable but encouraged.

Hollister, The Town

Hollister, a town that has and currently exists
Hollister, a town that has and currently exists

Hollister (the town) was founded in the year of 1,868 on the 19th day in November by William Welles Hollister (the person). While it’s normal to name things — land, people, AirPods — after yourself, William retained the town’s original name of San Justo. The inevitable name change came years later when William sold the land. Hollister (the person) died well after Hollister (the town) was incorporated — year of 1,872 — in the year of 1,886. Hollister (the town) still exists today and you can visit if you want to.

Hollister, The Company

A Hollister store that unfortunately exists
A Hollister store that unfortunately exists

If you ever walked into any suburban mall located in the United States of America you have likely seen a Hollister (the clothing store). Its bungalow vibes, discriminatory employment practices and unaffordable beach style clothing are a cultural confusion woven into America’s strange history of malls. Hollister (the company) also shares a precarious origin story.

Dave Eggers wrote about Hollister (the company) history noting employees were told this origin story:

John M. Hollister was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent his summers in Maine as a youth. He was an adventurous boy who loved to swim in the clear and cold waters there. He graduated from Yale in 1915 and, eschewing the cushy Manhattan life suggested for him, set sail for the Dutch East Indies, where he purchased a rubber plantation in 1917. He fell in love with a woman named Meta and bought a fifty-foot schooner. He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring “the works of the artisans that lived there,” and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919. They had a child, John, Jr., and opened a shop in Laguna Beach that sold goods from the South Pacific—furniture, jewelry, linens, and artifacts. When John, Jr., came of age and took over the business, he included surf clothing and gear. (He was an exceptional surfer himself.) His surf shop, which bore his name, grew in popularity until it became a globally recognized brand.

Emphasis my own and for good reason: you’d realize at some point John Hollister’s family line split into a fictional timeline one in which birthing a son who’s claim to fame was owning land in California to galavanting around the globe on a timeline that is super sonic even by today’s standards. A corporation retconning your family line seems concerning to the say the least, even if it strives to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s world building. Adding to the retelling of history is Hollister (the company) is owned by Abercrombie and Fitch, also based in Ohio (New Albany) a 30-minute drive from Hollister’s (the person) birthplace of Hannover This story was canon until…

Hollister, The Lawsuit

In the year of 2,007, Hollister (the company) sued Hollister (the town) for trademark infringement over using Hollister (the name). The lawsuit done to protect Hollister (the company) was not without irony. A company suing a town’s businesses for… using the name of a town they operate in? While the town existed far, far longer than its bastardized corporate clone, Hollister’s (the company) retroactive existence to the early 1900’s gave it some firepower. Whether that was foolhardy or tactical, I’ll leave to resident trademark experts. Years earlier, a local business also selling jeans added Hollister (the town) to its description of jeans which lead to a dispute over Hollister (the trademark) against Hollister (the company).

What was missing from the discourse was the public realization of Hollister (the company) laying claims to a family history to justify its aggressive trademark infringement lawsuits. Instead, Hollister (the clothing brand and company) was likely focus grouped into existence. Its first store opening in the year of 2,000 in Columbus, Ohio.

Claims about Hollister’s (the company) fictitious origin story were reported by the BBC in the year of 2,009. 6 years later, Dave Egger’s in-depth article in the New Yorker about Hollister (the town, the company, the lawsuit, the person) shed light on the true origins of the town’s founding.

Hollister, The Person, Town, Company, Store & Brand

Today, Hollister (the company) has done away with its fabricated origin story and instead emphasizes its focus on beach culture attire the best an amalgamation of tastemakers in Ohio can. Hollister (the town) remains unchanged. John Hollister (the person) remains deceased and lives on through the town his son founded and company strangely named after him. Hollister (the lawsuit) appears to have been dropped likely to the chagrin of a lawyer’s accounting team.