The Never-Ending Growth Spurt
If you know anything about skydiving, you already appreciate Julio Ruiz’s art: the custom jumpsuit. His legendarily flattering designs pervade every corner of the skydiving world. Each LiquidSky jumpsuit is named after an astrological phenomenon, and it’s no wonder: They make the wearer look absolutely out-of-this-world in both the tunnel and the sky.
In any moment taken to appreciate art, we think it’s worthwhile to also appreciate the artist who created it. Julio is no exception. As the artist behind these high-flying creations, Julio’s colorful life duly informs his colorful contributions to the skydiving world, and his megawatt energy infuses every suit he makes.
When Julio was born in 1974, it was far from the epicenter of the skydiving world: rural Puerto Rico, to be specific. When little Julio was four, his family made the big move to the city—San Juan. And, as he grew up there, adventure beckoned.
“I always liked the idea of flying,” Julio smiles. “Superman—parachutes—airplanes, all that cool stuff.”
All of this, of course, was imagined. One day, it became real. As a teenager, Julio happened across a skydiving event. As it happens, that chance meeting with the sport coincided with the year that Point Break came out in theaters. Julio was sold.
The moment he turned 18, Julio was standing by at the dropzone to takea first-jump course. He immediately started jumping up a storm, becoming a static line instructor, then a tandem instructor. He went straight from there to BASE jumping.
At the same time as he was “doing everything possible in skydiving,” Julio was also putting in plenty of hours working, learning and bettering himself. As well as pursuing his professional skydiving career, Julio was earning an agricultural degree at the local college and working on a local farm, humorously enough, as a cattle inseminator. After graduation, he decided to head to the mainland to work and jump in earnest, getting a horseshoeing certification at a school in Oklahoma while working as a tandem instructor on the weekend.
“I was doing all this, which I loved, but I always loved skydiving so much,” Julio explains. “But I wanted more. I always wanted to be an architect, but I never liked the idea of having to hit the books so much and having to study so long before I was able to do interesting work.”
After a couple of years, that ache for more and better things led Julio to pursue yet another career: this time, in graphic design. At that point, he found himself in three places at once: In addition to his work in agriculture and professional skydiving, he took on a free internship at a small, local graphic design agency to chase invaluable boots-on-the-ground experience. From there, it wasn’t long before he was working as a junior graphic designer at another small agency where he soon began Art Directing the firm’s smaller jobs. That workload didn’t slow Julio down a bit at the dropzone, nor did he stop shoeing horses until he was satisfied with his income threshold as a professional artist.
Then, another big move: this time, from his comfortable place near the top of the small firm to the bottom rungs of a big, important ad agency.
“We used to call it the ‘floor,’” Julio explains, “Which is the team that takes over after the Art Director finishes his job. The graphic designers on the floor clean it, correct text and finalize the artwork.”
The clients were big—Telemundo, for instance—and Julio grew to match the challenge, rising to the level of Art Director there, then Art Director at yet another big agency with even bigger household names to add to his résumé (Ford, for instance, and Kraft Foods). The work was interesting and the money was good, but Julio’s heart wasn’t in it enough to make up for the fact that it was eating into his personal life. He and his wife had just gotten married; his skydiving was starting to suffer.
“It was like I was living in that place,” he notes. “It was so much work all day long; so many hours. And after working there, I had to go home to take care of my freelance clients.”
One day, Julio quit. He decided that he was going to take his new bride and look for a job in Miami. Unfortunately, the Florida city was experiencing a brutal post-9/11 economic slump and ad agency gigs were few and far between; luckily, Julio Ruiz doesn’t give up easily.
“I got lots of callbacks,” he says. “I got lots of I love your work but we can’t. So I decided to stay freelance.”
Thank goodness he did.
“In six months, I had to stop working at home, get a building and hire employees,” Julio grins. “In six more months, I already had six employees designing for me, helping me with the agency. We decided to buy a large-format printer. We were doing billboards. We were printing multiple full pages in the newspaper in the Saturday issue every week. We were doing really well.”
All the while, Julio was still keeping the skydiving home fires burning. He attended skydiving events regularly. And he and his wife were delightedly scheming their future.
“One weekend, my wife and I were thinking about a new joint venture,” he remembers. “We were sitting on the beach, and we come up with this idea: Make board shorts and bikinis. Problem: we don’t even surf. So then my brother-in-law says, ‘Why are you going to do that? You skydive! Why don’t you make skydiving jumpsuits?’ I was like, okay, that’s pretty cool. We decided then to start making skydiving jumpsuits and the rest is history.”
It’s important to note that Julio’s non-skydiving brother-in-law didn’t come up with that out of thin air. As a matter of fact, the nattily-dressed businessman was already known for skydiving jumpsuits: his own.
“I didn’t have any studies in fashion or sewing, but I was always the guy at the dropzone that had a custom jumpsuit on,” Julio explains. “I used to pay a lady to make them for me.”
Immediately, Julio and his partner-in-crime started developing the idea for LiquidSky. His wife came up
with the name; in two days, the couple had a logo and slogan. A big, disused office in Julio’s Puerto Rico agency building became LiquidSky headquarters. Little by little over, it came together: Julio hired some local seamstresses to cut and assemble suits; bought a machine; brought on a professional to help him design the patterns.
The first LiquidSky clients were skydiving friends, but that didn’t last long.
“I have a friend who skydives in California,” Julio recalls. “He was on vacation in Puerto Rico and saw what I was doing. He told me I should come to the Chicks Rock Boogie because it was a cool event and I could set up a booth to sell there.”
That’s when it started in earnest. Julio sold 20 jumpsuits that weekend. He went home with a fire under him to complete the orders; had to look for excuses why it was taking so long; had to ramp up hiring. The orders kept coming. Julio tackled the learning curve like a wild beast.
At this point, he’d designed hundreds of suits, but he’d never gone to pattern-making class. When he went to take the classes for the pattern-making program he’d bought for LiquidSky, the teacher was baffled by him.
“She said, ‘How can you make a pattern so good without knowing the basic techniques of the industry?” Julio remembers, laughing. “I told her, ‘Well, I just figure it out.’ One day in class, she told me, ‘I’m going to teach you the right way of making this.’ I had to respond, ‘You are not teaching me the right way. You are teaching me the traditional way. I’m achieving the same thing. Mine is also the right way. Don’t tell me that yours is the right way because I’m not going to accept that. Yours is the traditional way that people learn. My way was the way I wanted to learn it and the way I work it. It works perfectly, so my way is also the right way. It means that we found more than one way to do the mathematics. If both of them add up to the same number, it means that my way is also okay.’ I’m very secure in what I do.”
It’s hard to argue that Julio’s way is “wrong” when it works so very well.
“Little by little we were taking over the west coast,” he smiles. “After that, I started getting new athletes, sponsoring athletes in Florida, then California. After four years, we decided we were ready to move to California.”
Julio and his family moved to L.A. in 2011. The company retained the Florida office for six months until Julio felt like the one in California was on an even keel and had enough employees. Like many skydiving businesses, the company operated out of Julio’s garage until he had nine employees stacked on top of each other in there. From there, LiquidSky moved to a small, 750-square-foot office. When they outgrew that, the operation moved to a bigger one, and then on to an even bigger one. That’s where they’re located today: at a storefront space on Burbank Boulevard in Burbank, California.
As you can tell, Julio’s way is to always force his reach to extend his grasp, then strengthen his grasp to match it. That hasn’t changed. Today, Julio is making significant inroads to the karting industry—the suits for which are different, but comparable, to skydiving jumpsuits. LiquidSky’s proximity to Hollywood has also had the knock-on benefit of bringing in plenty of work in commercials, movies and events. In addition to pursuing new avenues with LiquidSky, Julio is in the process of concocting another project entirely. (He promises to keep us posted on developments there.)
“Our goal right now is to get even more well-known in the industry of action sports,” Julio insists. “That’s
what we’re aiming for. We want to be the top action sports clothing line in the world: skydiving, karting, maybe even mountain biking. Making apparel for the action sports athlete.”
All that ambition takes a big engine to run it, of course. Happily, Julio’s engine is one of the biggest in the business.
“I go to work early and I don’t stop working until I feel that I’m done,” he says. “I woke up today at 5 and was already working by 5:30. I printed fabric. I cut some shirts to help my staff. I left everything ready. I do that when there is still no one at the office because that way I don’t get bothered by anyone. When I got back home at 8 a.m. to start my day of pattern making and designing, I had already done two and a half hours of work at the office, which is equivalent to six hours of one of my employees. I can do so much in so little time.”
“I have a goal of retiring at 50,” he continues. “Maybe I will reach it; maybe I won’t. But I’m working towards it. When I say “retiring,” it doesn’t mean I’m not going to work anymore. It means what I’m going to do what I’m doing right now. I’m going to be at home, super-relaxed. I don’t even have to be in the same state if I don’t want to. I want my business to run on its own without me having to be such an important part that if I’m not there, it doesn’t work. And I’m really close to that already.”
As Julio continues to grow LiquidSky to the next level, he keeps the flag of persistence raised and waving.
“If you want something done, you will find a way of doing it,” he grins, “Because it is doable. It’s not over ‘till it’s over.”
Listen to Julio’s Interview on The Art of Manufacturing Podcast