Determined and confident, Alicia and P.J. Guglielmo have seized self-employment firmly by the handlebars and started three new businesses in the last six years. Though one of their enterprises has since closed, the other two promise to serve the young couple, their Santa Ynez Valley clients and maybe even the world for many years to come.
The Guglielmos approach every project with boundless energy, whether repurposing a catalog store to house motorcycle gear and a mechanics’ bay or designing a swimsuit display for their day spa. When brought to bear on a joint venture, Alicia’s keen eye for aesthetic quality and P.J.’s rough-and-tumble business sense generate a dynamic creativity that drives them both to shoot for ambitious goals.
In 2004, Alicia, 33, and P.J., 34, moved from their hometown of Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley, where Alicia, a trained aesthetician, opened Champagne Boutique, a popular spot for pampering that continues to thrive.
Based on the couple’s love of motorcycles and his own mechanical abilities, P.J. promptly launched a retail store and repair shop.
“When we first got here,” Alicia remembers, “P.J. asked one of his buddies, ‘where do you get a quart of oil for your bike?’ They told him Santa Barbara, Santa Maria or Lompoc.”
“Either way,” P.J. says, “the closest place was 20 miles away. They’re a lot of off-highway vehicles in this Valley—every rancher has a quad of some sort—and there’s nowhere in town for them to go.
“I thought for about five minutes,” he laughs, “and called my dad. I located a building in a week. Running the shop was a learning experience for sure. I never went to business school and I didn’t know anything when I started. I just went for it.”
Perhaps launching a business comes naturally to P.J., whose father founded Southern Cal Seafood Company, Inc. with his brothers when he was 17 years old. Today, the company employs over 300 workers and ships to accounts as far away as Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
With his father’s hands-on help, P.J. transformed a Buellton warehouse into a showplace complete with candy-apple red floor, eye-catching display cases for all manner of riding gear and a motorcycle repair shop in back. But the location, tucked behind another building and just off the beaten path taken by “weekend warriors” headed to Pismo Beach with their dirt bikes and four-wheelers, proved less than ideal. That, coupled with competition from the Internet, led the Guglielmos to shutter the shop in July of 2008.
“I still enjoy fixing bikes and I miss visiting with the people who came in,” P.J. admits with a wry smile, “but not the bills at the end of the month.”
“On a positive note,” Alicia says, “we met a lot of people and made a lot of friends, a lot of contacts.”
Those contacts will surely come in handy as the pair jump into their latest enterprise, a line of clothing designed with motorcycle, four-wheeler and dirt bike fans in mind. Aptly named Children of the Dirt, the line features high-quality fabric, bold graphics and a daring élan geared to appeal to moms, dads, cowgirls, kids and “bad boys” alike.
“Our goal is to get a little piece of every dirt sport out there,” P.J. declares. “It’s not just a motorcycle thing, it’s desert trucks, mountain bikes, circle track, car racing and BMX racing, anything that has to do with dirt and sports.
“We’ve even thought of going into the rodeo circuit,” he continues, “because for cowboys and cowgirls, there isn’t much clothing for them. And what’s out there is old western-style. There’s no new generation clothing for the horse world.”
The Guglielmos aim for global distribution of their T-shirts, hats and yet-to-be-designed garments and accessories. Currently, items are custom made in Ontario, California, and bear dramatic art reflecting what P.J. describes as an “edgy, extreme” element paired with a lively sense of play and, of course, the allure of sports informed by the presence of the dirt.
Designs include a “shield shirt,” regarded by the Guglielmos as the “Children of the Dirt family crest,” and a “dirty money” T-shirt that marries the graphics of a 100-dollar bill with a spade, airborne motorcycles and the motto “In Dirt We Trust.”
The pair enlisted the help of Chris Woods, a renowned artist who does work for NASCAR and custom Harley-Davidson, among many others, and paints all the helmets for Red Bull’s extreme athletes. He lives in the Santa Ynez Valley, but his company, Airtrix, is based in Santa Barbara.
“I just happen to know him,” P.J. says, flashing a dimpled grin. “He painted some graphics on my Harley a long time ago and we created a friendship.
“Now, I just ask him to draw me something,” he adds, “and if we use it, he puts a price on it. He hasn’t drawn anything I haven’t been excited about.”
“For our wedding,” Alicia reveals, “he custom painted helmets for us. It’s one of my favorite gifts.” “Mine’s all beat up,” P.J. laughs, “but hers is in perfect condition.”
The couple launched their Children of the Dirt website in January 2009 with T-shirts bearing five different designs, and plan to add sweatshirts, long-sleeved thermals and fur-lined sherpa hoodies. There will also be Children of the Dirt shirts and onesies for children, as well as hats, shorts, and other items.
“We want to take the line to another level,” P.J. says. “We want to start a trend; be a leader, not a follower. Eventually, Children of the Dirt will become a cut-and-sew company,” he continues. “We’ll look at fabric, design our own items and have them sewn. And put on whatever twist we want to make it different.”
Despite a childhood spent fishing with his father and tearing around dusty tracks on a dirt bike, P.J.’s decision to get into the apparel game was guided by genetic propensity. In high school, he took all the creative classes he could, including metalworking, jewelry making and even sewing.
“My mom’s always been into fashion,” he says. “She’s a little Italian lady who loves to shop. She’s been a personal shopper and helped open Nordstrom’s in Santa Barbara.
“We’d always talked about opening a clothing shop,” he adds, “but rent was so high and we just never did it. Now that we’ve started Children of the Dirt, she’s excited… and she gets a lot of shirts to wear!”
High school sweethearts, P.J. and Alicia moved to the Santa Ynez Valley on their first wedding anniversary, after a visit with a girlfriend led Alicia to her future home.
“I came up while P.J. was away for three weeks tuna fishing with his dad. My friend took me to the Maverick,” Alicia remembers, her brown eyes gleaming. “The next morning I went to the Roasted Bean and a cowboy opened the door and tipped his hat to me. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this would never happen in Santa Barbara.’ I love it here!”
While sipping her chai, Alicia chanced upon a magazine ad for new homes in Buellton, called her mom for advice, and by the next day had put down a deposit on little more than a dirt lot.
“I found out I bought a house when I got home,” P.J. smiled. “I was excited, I’ve always liked the Valley and I’m glad we did it.”
“Until our daughter was two years old,” Alicia says, “my mom drove up from Santa Barbara four days a week to take care of her so P.J. and I could work at our shops.
“We’re blessed to be in this Valley,” she adds, “it’s so healing. And I like the friendly people, the small town, family atmosphere. It’s a good place to raise a little one.”
The Guglielmos two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Savana, inherited her parents’ fondness for motorcycles, and already has proven her mettle as a child of the dirt.
“She loves to go for little rides up and down the neighborhood with P.J.,” Alicia says proudly. “Since she was a baby, we’d go to the track and the noise doesn’t frighten or faze her. She thinks it’s great.”
“I get her dirty and Alicia cleans her up,” P.J. chuckles, though he does express trepidation when considering her future astride a bike. “I’ll try to put Savana with training wheels in a year or so,” he explains, “and she’ll go at a walking speed. It’ll be harder when she gets older and wants to go fast. I watch my buddies’ kids ride and get nervous. I guess you get more protective with a daughter.”
Active supporters of area motorcycle racing, the Guglielmos plan to establish a foundation to aid injured riders and their families. Through it, the couple will funnel a portion of the profits from Children of the Dirt in order to give back to a sport that fosters the same strength, confidence and independence of spirit that have inspired them to succeed as partners, business owners and, now, creators of cutting- edge clothing made especially for children of the dirt.