What happened to the popular World Industries?

World Industries licensed toys / photo courtesy of Winston Tseng

Founded in 1987 by Steve Rocco and Rodney Mullen, World Industries emerged as a pioneering skateboard company owned and ran by seasoned skateboarders. Rocco, a key figure in the skateboarding scene during the late 80s and early 90s, shook up the industry with his daring and unconventional marketing strategies. His edgy videos and advertising campaigns caught the established corporate skate companies off guard. Catering to the desires of 90s youth, World Industries rapidly ascended to prominence.

The World Industries Artist

Portrait drawn by Brian Lotti

The brand would really begin to take off once they introduced their iconic characters to the world. World Industrie’s cast was designed by Marc Mckee, who has been primarily known for his work with the World industries brand. He’s also done work for other brands like Blind, Darkstar, and Almost. Before becoming an artist, Mckee was a BMXer sponsored by Skyway BMX. He met World Industries founder Steve Rocco in 1989 while working on graphics for a BMX brand. He was brought on to create designs for apparel and skateboards. He designed Devil man first and based his design off the strongly popular smiley face trend from the 1970s. Later he’d round out the cast with Flameboy and Wetwilly.

The timing couldn’t have been more opportune. The inception of these characters coinciding with the rise of the X-Games and a surge in young skateboarders, propelled the brand to new heights. With their infamous illustrations adorning the first boards of many young skateboarders. The brand took off in the mid-1990s and was sold in 1998 for $29 million.

According to Jenken.com, World Industries was sold in 1998 because:
World was the #1 brand in the world and Blind was #2. We were just killing it. All of us had invested all of our wealth in this company, and there were three big factors. One, the overall economy and stock market was at a historic high, going off the scale. Two was our industry… Our industry was blowing up! And knowing it goes in cycles, about 10 year cycles, we knew we were really at the explosive peak of it. Lastly, is how we were managing the company. We were hitting home runs like 3 out of 4 times, and you can’t be expected to continue hitting home runs like that forever. –Scott Drouillard CFO of World Industries in the 90s

The Rebrand

In 2012, the iconic Flameboy and Wet Willy characters were separated from the World Industries brand to create their own brand, Flameboy Versus Wetwilly. The new owners of the intellectual property, i.e. distribution, created a whole Website and YouTube channel for the characters that are now defunct. I think the reboot was generally poorly advertised, as the characters are still strongly loved. It is a MASSIVE bummer as there is still a giant demand for the World Industries’ characters. Ebay listings for old 90s merch soar in the upwards of hundreds of dollars, even thousands. I can only speculate that when the shareholders saw little output from fans, they shelved the brand.

Thanks to services like Wayback Machine, I was able to recover a coloring book PDF from the original website which you can find here.

Generally today’s usage of the World Industries’ 3 characters are found on an assorted range of Tech Deck toy lines. The World Industries’ website has a broken store page that shows purchasable merchandise, but unavailable. Sites like Zumiez still have a small generous selection of boards and merchandise for long time fans to enjoy. Today’s World Industries offering is a sliver of the once large 90s giant.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *