Free Enterprise Staff  | August 24, 2015

8 Iconic Brands That Came Back From the Dead

When reflecting on years gone by, do you wistfully long for the days when you’d slip on a pair of Jordache jeans and your freshest Kangol hat before jumping in your Pontiac Firebird and popping in your favorite Milli Vanilli cassette? Yeah, we don’t either …

Milli Vanilli were an important part of the ’80s for many people. Source: Giphy

While there’s a reason why most fads come and go—they weren’t that great to begin with—others are worthy of the fame they attained and deserve better than the indignity they suffered following their rise to pop cultural prominence. (Where are you, cargo pants?)

Luckily, for the helplessly nostalgic among us, there is hope: Throughout history, there have been countless examples of brands that died and, in their own miraculous way, have come back from the metaphorical dead. Doubtful? Here are eight brands whose comeback stories are guaranteed to reinstate your trust in humanity—and remind you why you had faith in the first place. 

Cleary Canadian


Clearly Canadian: We hardly knew ye.

Anyone who came of age during the 1990s will vividly remember the crisp, refreshing taste of Clearly Canadian. With its sleek bottles and minimalist marketing, Clearly Canadian was, in many ways, so very far ahead of its time, which perhaps contributed to its untimely demise. Yet just last month, the flavored sparkling water maker announced it would soon grace store shelves again. Those who fondly remember the thirst-quenching deliciousness that was Clearly Canadian—Mountain Blackberry, specifically—can address their thank you notes to Robert R. Kahn, the venture capitalist who, Grub Street reports, is behind its comeback. The world just got a little more delicious—and refreshing. 


The favored notepad of both hipsters and office workers alike, the history of the Moleskine long predates its more recent designation as an accessory-of-choice among a certain set of skinny jean-wearing urbanites. As it turns out, today’s Moleskine is simply the latest iteration of a centuries-old brand of notebooks that artists and luminaries like Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway once used. It eventually fell out of favor and effectively vanished from store shelves—until 1997, when, the company notes, “a small Milanese publisher brought the legendary notebook back to life, choosing for it this literary name, thus restoring an extraordinary tradition.” Hipsters of the world, take note (literally).

Don't even think about calling yourself a hipster if you don't have one of these bad boys. Photo courtesy of Moleskine

Don’t even think about calling yourself a hipster if you don’t have one of these bad boys. Photo courtesy of Moleskine


For the uninitiated, the Cap-sac is a hybrid product that mixes the practicality of the fanny pack with the universality of the conventional hat. Half hat, half fanny pack, the Cap-sac is 100% fun. Now a popular apparel product—especially among sororities, fraternities, camps, and other group-based organizations—the Cap-sac actually sat dormant for more than two decades after co-founder Barbara Aceti originally designed it.


The Cap-sac is the coolest accessory for those in-the-know.

It was at the urging of her daughter, Jessica, that the revolutionary product was reintroduced to the marketplace, bringing a little more glamour to the world. As Jessica told Free Enterprise earlier this year: “I’d been living with this project in our house for 20 years—that whole time we had all these Cap-sacs sitting in our house—and I just thought we should make this a consumer product. I had this realization that, in the past, it had been marketed as an ad specialty, niche industry product. It hadn’t been shown to the public yet, so we launched Cap-sac in 2009 with a public-facing website.”



Fashion forward or fashion emergency? It’s up to you.

The 1990s were marked by the rise of the dot-com era, the Bill Clinton White House, and Birkenstocks. Loved and loathed in equal measure, Birkenstocks are arguably the most polarizing shoe in history. After soaring to popularity around the same time that Nirvana and grunge rock laid claim to the zeitgeist, Birkenstocks faded from view—until recently. Sold in the U.S. since 1966, according to Bloomberg, Birkenstocks are enjoying the kind of cultural renaissance once reserved for disgraced politicians, with everyone from Julianne Moore to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen now lacing—er, buckling?—up the comfortable sandal-shoe hybrid. Apart from its increasing presence on the pages of celebrity tabloids, Birkenstocks are selling like hotcakes around the world: According to the Guardian, sales on Amazon’s U.K. marketplace are up more than 100%.

Chuck Taylor High-Tops

We’ll now switch gears a bit to the other shoe that made our list: The Chuck Taylor. Like all the other brands on our list, this sneaker has quite the history. Originally conceived as a way of boosting sales, Converse signed basketball star Charles Hollis—A.K.A. Chuck Taylor—as a kind of brand ambassador to promote the basketball shoes it began manufacturing in 1917. According to AdWeek, Converse eventually put Taylor’s name on the sneaker in 1932; 15 years later, Hollis went on to design his own shoe: The high-top.


The coolest kids in town love their Chuck Taylor high-tops. Do you?

The product was an unequivocal success that helped Converse command 80% of the market. Yet competition from brands like Adidas and Nike eroded the company’s lead, with its market share plummeting to a mere 2.3% in 1997. Acquired by Nike in 2003, Converse ultimately built a different kind of cachet, becoming the de facto footwear of choice for musicians, artists, and other celebrities. With its perceived ‘cool factor’ sky-high, the Chuck Taylor went on to dominate the footwear industry, becoming a best seller.


Apple is, for many people, the prototypical brand that came back from the brink of destruction. After an auspicious beginning that saw the introduction of the revolutionary Apple II and Apple III computer models, Steve Jobs was eventually forced out of Apple in the mid-1980s. The company then cycled through various, underperforming leaders for the better part of the next decade. It was only after Jobs returned in 1997, however, that Apple was able to live up to the creative and technological prowess it displayed during its earliest days, when Jobs and co-founder Steve Wozniak presided over the computer manufacturer. The rest, as they say, is history.

Photo credit: Kimberly White/Bloomberg News

Photo credit: Kimberly White/Bloomberg News


There’s a good chance you’ve visited a Starbucks at some point in your life. (And there’s an equally good chance you’ve had one of their baristas misspell your name on the side of your drink.) But Starbucks as we know it today bears little resemblance to the company of old. The original Starbucks, which opened in 1971, sold coffee beans from its storefront in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It was a local draw, but it never garnered the kind of cult following that’s come to characterize the coffee giant. That all changed when, in 1987, current executive officer Howard Schultz led a group of investors that bought the brand. Derided as a local shop with little chance of expanding beyond its Seattle hometown, Starbucks has gone on to become one of the most popular brands in the entire world, with more than 21,000 stores in 66 countries.


Where do you get your morning cup of Joe?


Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Twinkies are an American junk food staple. That’s why people around the U.S. were up in arms when parent company Hostess Brands announced in 2012 that it was going out of business and would lay off its 18,500 workers. Founded in 1930, Hostess was besieged at the time by soaring costs and an intense labor standoff that left it unable to fulfill its production quotas, according to CBS News. As one can anticipate would happen when a pastry maker can no longer make pastries, mayhem ensued among Twinkie-crazed consumers, with some entrepreneurial folks buying up the excess supply in hopes of cashing in on the soon-to-be-discontinued treat. (According to the Huffington Post, one eBay user tried to auction off an unopened box of Twinkies for $200,000.)

Yet such fears would prove overblown. After a major restructuring by its new owners, Hostess has emerged from the smoke of insolvency with a fresh perspective—and a gleaming new production facility and corporate hierarchy. The chances of a Twinkie shortage are also pretty low these days: According to Forbes, the brand new Hostess manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas produces more than 1 million Twinkies a day—or about 400 million annually. At 135 calories a pop, that comes out to about 54 billion calories worth of Twinkies per year.