Dynamic, magnetic Foster brothers were greatest thing since sliced bread
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For Manitobans of a certain age, Chip and Pepper Foster evoke memories of tie-dye sweatshirts, their Saturday morning cartoon show and a cool California vibe on the Prairies.
The identical twins from Winnipeg became a fashion and cultural phenomenon in their youthful heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s due, in part, to their beach- and surf-inspired ideas, ambition and high-tempo energy.
Their meteoric rise can be traced back to a summer day in Grand Beach, when the brothers hawked homemade designs out of the back of their father’s truck.
“They almost sold out there with the T-shirts they had,” their stepmother Millie Krause said. “From there, they just kind of flew, and I mean flew. They really went from zero to 100 without pause.”
The Fosters, who moved to California and still sell high-end blue jeans, revealed Wednesday they have bought Winnipeg’s KUB Bakery, which closed in November after 99 years in business.
“Get ready for Part 2,” Krause said, laughing. “They are very good at what they do, so I have no fear. I think they’re making a very good move.”
The announcement provided a blast from the past to Manitobans who grew up with Chip and Pepper clothing and spin-off brands and products some 30-plus years ago.
For some, the marriage of two iconic, made-in-Manitoba brands was surreal.
Starting with painted shorts and tie-dye shirts, Chip and Pepper made their own clothing designs on a small scale in their teens in the early 1980s.
“They were always experimenting and stuff like that,” said Krause, president of Elman’s Food Products, which was founded by Chip and Pepper’s grandfather Samuel Finkleman in 1938, and operated by their father Manny Finkleman until his death in 2004.
“They got quite a bit of information and business savvy from their dad.”
Avie and Marla Kaplan, who ran Village Streetwear on Corydon Avenue until retiring in 2017, were the first to sell Chip and Pepper’s designs.
The brothers visited the Kaplans at home in 1985 or 1986 with a box of clothes and a pitch to get space in the store for a beachwear line that pre-dated the Chip and Pepper brand.
“They had such big personalities. They were hilarious, upbeat and positive,” said Avie Kaplan, 72, who was swayed by the duo’s enthusiasm. “The product just rocked. We couldn’t keep it in stock. As soon as they came up with Chip and Pepper, it just took off.
“At the time, it was very alternative-looking for something that was ultra-casual. They just innovated and did stuff before anybody else.”
“Get ready for Part 2… They are very good at what they do, so I have no fear. I think they’re making a very good move.”–Millie Krause, stepmother
By the time Chip and Pepper were 25 in 1989, their eponymous brand had exploded in popularity and catapulted them to fame.
As it became a multimillion-dollar casual clothing line, the brothers struggled to keep up with huge demand for their products and celebrity status.
They sold bottles of barbecue sauce with their names on the label, recorded songs and appeared in music videos.
While their empire rapidly expanded, they hosted their own television show, Chip and Pepper’s Cartoon Madness, on the U.S. network NBC for one season starting in 1991.
They were parodied on the new Netflix series Saturday Morning All Star Hits!
Krause, 73, said Chip and Pepper’s ascent was an exciting time, but she still wonders if things moved too fast.
Known for their blond locks, the siblings moved to the Los Angeles area and made famous friends.
They opened boutique shops and had products in stores around the world before the boom crashed.
The pair lost their fashion line in 1991 after signing a licensing deal with a U.S. company, leading to financial struggles and some maturing.
In 2005, Chip told the Free Press the brand suffered when the name was over-licensed out and they went into receivership.
Fame subsided, but the Fosters rebuilt and continued to design and introduce new brands over the years.
They won a lawsuit to regain use of the Chip and Pepper name, which relaunched in 2003.
Now about 58 years old, they have a line of premium denim that is adored by celebrities.
Among their side projects, Pepper and his wife, Vanessa, co-own The Pennyloaf Bakery on Corydon Avenue.
At Wednesday’s press conference, he pointed out resellers have listed vintage Chip and Pepper shoes for $600 online, and sweatshirts for $200.
“It’s like a gold mine,” he said.
Wearing black sunglasses and white baker’s hats, the siblings finished each other’s sentences, vibrated with energy and displayed their trademark flair while responding to questions.
“They have something that is very unique, and that is their ability to communicate with everyone,” said Krause. “Even when they were 14 you knew they were going to do something. It was in their genes, pardon the pun.
“They had a business mind, and they put it to good use. They’re actually the best at what they do, and they’re living the good life at this stage.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.