12 Moments in the History of the Solo Jazz Cup

Rob Culpepper
Rob Culpepper / Rob Culpepper

You've seen it a million times, but did you ever wonder why? Here's how this beloved little cup came to be.

1. The purple and blue Jazz design was originally created in 1991 at the Sweetheart Cup Company in Springfield, Missouri. Gina Ekiss, one of 32 designers in the company’s art department, created it.

2. Traditionally trained, Ekiss and her colleagues worked by hand using drafting tables and dark rooms. But Sweetheart was transitioning to digital. “That whole context was just a perfect storm,” Ekiss says.

3. Ekiss was one of the few workers with computer design skills. When the company announced a cup design contest, she looked to an image she’d created in college and remade it digitally, scanning charcoal strokes made on vellum. The design's playful 1980's colors were a departure from the company's previous stock designs, which were much more serious.

4. “I was reluctant to let the computer have too much control,” Ekiss says. “I think part of the reason that I came up with a looser design is because I still wanted to feel like my actual hand went into producing it.”

5. The designer printed the charcoal strokes plainly, on white, because they were finely grained and would lose detail in the high-speed printing process.

6. In college, Ekiss had named her original design Razzi, so she came up with a variation. “I messed around with words—what about just jazz?” she says. It was a perfect fit for the sketch’s improvisational look.

7. Over the last few years, the pattern was rediscovered by online fashion and design communities, becoming a visual meme. This cult fandom has landed Jazz on everything from sweaters to cars. It’s also been tattooed.

8. Earlier this year, a Reddit post from lovers of the Jazz cup emerged. They wanted to track down its then-unknown designer. A reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, Thomas Gounley, found a break in the form of a tweet from Ekiss’s daughter.

9. Gounley cut to the chase. “Her phone number didn’t work, so I drove to her house,” he says. Ekiss had the day off from her job at Hobby Lobby and answered the door, surprised.

10. She had no idea how popular her design had become. “I was pretty shocked, to say the least,” Ekiss says. “It just seems like such a random thing to me after all this time.”

11. Ekiss’s close friends and family weren’t aware of her viral creation before the article came out. “It’s not something I use as a conversation opener,” she says.

12. These days, Ekiss scratches her creative itch by burning Native American–inspired designs onto gourds. “I wanted to get more back into hands-on artwork,” she says. “I guess I’m just stubborn.” In 2004, Sweetheart Cup Company was acquired by the Solo Cup Company. Solo still produces the Jazz cup today. Its designer doesn't get any residuals from it. 

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