Dressed for Success

Although the Los Angeles fashion industry is often associated with the most recent designer jean craze, pricey T-shirts and swimwear, stalwart brand Belldini is still going strong after several decades for a number of reasons. One of them is that even the trendiest L.A. career woman will be more likely to wear Belldini’s feminine-but-streamlined pieces to the office instead of Kitson-influenced denim or tank tops.

“Our family-owned company has been doing this for 30 years, so our overall commitment to timeless style has not really changed,” Joseph Esshaghian  said. “Belldini had branched into other fashion categories, such as women’s suits and angora knits for short periods during that time. However, wardrobe staple knits have always been our niche. It is not so much that we’re bringing this [approach to fashion] back into style. It just so happens that what we have done most successfully for three decades is coming back into fashion in a big way.”

What Esshaghian is referring to is a collection of knitwear that ranges from basic twin sets, to dramatic flowing tunics and sweater jackets, to dresses that frankly could stand in for couture Italian knitwear line Missoni, whose budget line caused near riots at Target stores across the United States last fall. However, one important thing that sets Belldini apart from other well-priced or budget clothing lines is an emphasis on quality that puts the wearer ahead of fashion’s transient nature or designer label hype. 

“I have noticed a trend in the fashion industry toward disposable clothing,” Esshaghian said. “Though many stores carry or specialize in clothing sold for ultra-cheap pricing, the reality is that once you wash something once or twice, it is history. Belldini, on the other hand, has focused on clothing that is designed with care, even though our price points are very competitive [$80 to $300]. While our pieces are investment dressing, you are not paying top dollar for something that will last you for several years.”

As Esshaghian explains it, Belldini is not just a family business, but also a personal labor of love. This is reinforced by the fact that his wife — whom he met through a rabbi in Israel around the time of their separately making aliyah in the months following the 9/11 terror attacks and his extended family are a key test market and ongoing source of feedback for individual garments, underscoring his personal commitment to keeping the brand relevant for women of all ages and walks of life. 

Though his father hoped Esshaghian would pursue a recession-proof career path in medicine, Esshaghian’s heart was in joining and retrofitting a company in the business of making different kinds of women feel good about themselves, whether they were dressing for work, weekends or High Holy Days services. Although the company and the L.A. fashion industry were in a time of transition when the younger Esshaghian decided against medical school, the father initially objected to his son stepping in. The son, in this case, knew best, and Belldini has gone into its fourth decade with flair. 

“The collections we are designing now are made up of individual separates that will stand out, even if they are wardrobe staples,” he said. “Though we are starting to incorporate more basic sweaters into the line — even in not-so-basic colors — we want to give women a variety of choices that will help them make their everyday ensembles more interesting, special and individualized. Our customers also appreciate the fact that, while the pieces are sexy, they are not too revealing.

“We also want to be sure everything we design is flattering on the body, from the proportions of individual sweaters to the type of knits. Since we have been doing this for so many decades, we have a sense of what body types work with different yarns and knits. Each style is tailored with this in mind, so if one sweater is not quite right for a certain body type, we will change up the rib or the yarn to ensure as many people will look good in a certain style as possible.”

As Esshaghian sees it, dressing for success, especially in tough economic times, encompasses the idea that you should put as much care into shopping for your everyday garments as his company does in manufacturing them.

Shop for you, shop for the world

Consumerism is often dubbed the antithesis of all that is good, but that doesn’t have to be so. More and more, businesses are adopting ethical labor practices, Earth-friendly materials and altruistic causes. We found a few ways for you to flex your consumer power — with a conscience.

Photos by Courtney Raney

1. Want to shop at a fabulous New York boutique from the comfort of your Valley home? Jewish-owned retailer Lonnys recently launched lonnys.com, where you can give back while browsing designer brands. Supporting charities is a large part of the company’s mission, and all proceeds from the Lonnys Denim Peace Bag ($20) are donated to Katz Women’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. lonnys.com

2. The local and Jewish-owned boutique, Green Denim Initiative, features products created with both fashion and the environment in mind. Tags, buttons and zippers are recycled, cold-water washing saves energy, natural fibers and vegetable dyes reduce chemical use, and the store partners with like-minded designers such as Alkemie Jewelry, which donates a portion of its online sales to a different charity each month. Handmade in Los Angeles and created with 100 percent reclaimed metal, Green Denim Initiatives’ newest featured item is this stylish Alkemie Six Shark Tooth Necklace ($209). greendeniminitiative.com

3. Who knew that building a miniature bonsai forest in your home could also help green Israel? At ababyatree.com, you can get this bonsai tree kit ($78), or any other gift, and the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in Israel in honor of someone you love. The kit includes everything you need to maintain a healthy bonsai tree, and even the box and ribbon it’s wrapped in are made of recycled U.S. steel and plastic bottles. ababyatree.com

4. Jewish ceramicist Robert Siegel drew inspiration from his berry bowl-collecting bubbe when he created this limited-edition pink-and-white Baba’s Berry Bowl ($75) for breast cancer awareness. Twenty percent of the proceeds from this bowl will go to The Pink Agenda (thepinkagenda.org), a nonprofit breast cancer research and awareness organization. Available through December 2011, the bowl is hand crafted and made with lead-free porcelain. rshandmade.com

5. “How can we add a little ‘ooh-lah-lah’ to our cars?” asks Jewish entrepreneur and physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, who runs carlahlah.com, a sustainable family business creating car magnets with messages of peace and love. Using only local manufacturers, each magnet purchased ($8.99) will offset 20 miles of carbon emissions from your car. carlahlah.com

6. Famously founded by a German-Jewish immigrant in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co. has recently pioneered a way to produce the same fabulous jeans while conserving water. With Water



David Vered’s jeans are his daughter’s jeans.

The Israeli native co-founded YMI Jeanswear in 2000, specializing in junior denim. His 12-year-old daughter is now part of his target client base.

YMI is a take on the phrase “Why am I …?” As a junior brand, the company resonates with girls transitioning into teenage and womanhood.

“They’re discovering themselves,” Vered said. “[Clothes] are a way for them to express their individuality.”

Vered, 45, started his fashion career 24 years ago working in retail stores and at swap meets. He then opened a wholesale distribution company in downtown Los Angeles with industry friend Moshe Zaga, buying and selling apparel, specializing in jeans.

“One of the suppliers said, ‘You’re very good at what you do. You should sell your own brand.’ That sounded interesting,” Vered recalled, so he, Zaga and Mike Godigian partnered up.

Within the first year, YMI took off in department and specialty stores nationwide and is now stocked in some 1,000 stores. The company has also enjoyed great press, and celebrities have strutted down the red carpet wearing YMI.

In the past two years, the company has expanded into sportswear, outerwear, intimates, footwear and accessories. To accommodate the expansion, YMI also invested $18 million in a new 110,000-square-foot eco-friendly facility in Boyle Heights.

“My dream always was to see downtown,” says Vered, who commutes daily from his home in Calabasas to his second-floor office, with its stunning view of L.A.’s skyline. It’s also a great location for exposure: “Everyone on the freeways sees the YMI building.”

And everyone is who Vered is targeting. He boasts lines that are fashionable yet affordable, and the 2 percent Spandex in the jeanswear ensures a comfortable fit for all sizes, Vered said. The variety of styles, washes and treatments make for many variations on the signature five-pocket design chosen “best everyday jeans” by Seventeen magazine readers this year.

The father of four — his eldest son, Adir, was killed in a car accident in February 2010 — was recently honored alongside his wife of 20 years, Esther, as Kadima school’s “People of the Year.”

Vered is proud of his family and his fashions, and finds it gratifying when they intersect.

“When we see people wearing our stuff,” he said, “including my daughter and wife, it makes me very happy, very proud.”