December 16, 2018

Young fashion designers fit the industry’s Jewish tradition

From Isaac Singer and his sewing machines to Levi Strauss and his jeans, through Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein and countless others, the fashion industry — “the rag business,” as it once was called — has a rich Jewish tradition.

In Los Angeles, a new generation is taking part as young designers are beginning to make themselves notable figures on the fashion landscape.

RtA (Road to Awe) is a clothing brand that was started in 2013 by two French-Moroccan Jews: Eli Azran, a Beverly Hills High School graduate, and David Rimokh, a Harvard-Westlake alumnus. In February, just four years after they conceived the brand, they found themselves onstage at New York Fashion Week.

“Lots of people think that we’re fast risers,” said Rimokh, 31. “But four years of sacrifice and grind have been spent building a brand that will stay relevant for a long time. Success didn’t come by accident.”

Before creating RtA, Azran and Rimokh worked for other clothing companies. Though they shared a vision of design that employed an easy, natural style blending shades of black and white, it wasn’t until they joined forces that their dream took physical form.

“Eli has an amazing eye for design,” Rimokh said. “I have really good sourcing capabilities and a degree in finance from Boston University. Both of us knew success would be a process, so we trusted our own paths.”

RtA initially worked with just denim and leather, then expanded the line into full men’s and women’s collections. In growing, the company went from e-commerce and pop-up shops to rack space at various nationwide retailers, such as Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Now, with their own stores in Los Angeles and Miami, the brand has plans to go international.

“It has been a long, humbling journey,” Rimokh said. “We didn’t want immediate success because we wanted to live long and grow, but that makes the process harder. The headaches of wanting to be in this industry can only be made easier with time. Now, we’ve been uplifted by our own success — it’s an addicting business.”

Other young Jewish designers are emerging, too. Mason Spector, 23, and three other L.A. natives started the brand MADHAPPY just over a year ago.

After Beverly [Hills High School], I grew an urge to create that I couldn’t ignore,” said Spector, who joined with one of his best friends, Noah Raf, to build the brand. “With no knowledge, experience or capital, we hit the streets of downtown Los Angeles and began our journey together in 2014.”

One of the key lessons learned, he said, was harnessing the power of social media.

“Building a brand used to revolve around signing with a showroom, racking up wholesale accounts and hiring a PR firm,” he said. “Today, it revolves around Instagram, influencer tags and content. So the fashion industry has become a great outlet for kids to be able to express themselves, learn about business and make money in the process.”

Josh Mehdyzadeh, 20, a Milken Community Schools graduate and current Indiana University business student, launched the hat company 1Time Apparel last year.

When I started 1Time, I wanted each hat to feel personalized,” he said. “I’d lend a personal touch to each one, so that it was yours and no one else’s. I think that creates a community of individuals within a brand, and a conversation between me and my customers.”

Images from MADHAPPY’s Instagram account.

After a year of production, Mehdyzadeh said sales are “upward of $6,000.” While that might not sound impressive, he considers it an accomplishment.

“The journey of a product is a long one, but a rewarding one,” he said. “While I enlist others to embroider the hat, I’m often the one who goes out looking for the specific hats or shirts and their respective colors at stores all across L.A. I’m trying to personally give customers exactly what they want.”

The immediate challenge facing 1Time Apparel is growing its production capacity. Mehdyzadeh said he plans to emphasize an e-commerce store in a way that feels true to his brand’s mission, in much the way Spector did.

Then there’s the possibility a successful social media campaign can overwhelm a vendor with requests, a demand a brand is not always prepared to meet.

“We run production with numbers that we know we can sell,” Spector said. “But when there are many links in the production chain, things can get tough.”

Several weeks ago, after the launch of MADHAPPY’s pop-up store on Robertson Boulevard, one of the company’s most promising days became one of its most difficult. 

“We got an order from an international store for 300 hoodies, only to find that over 100 of them were damaged, and we had four days to clean and repair all of the pieces and get them ready to be shipped,” Spector said. “Things like that are just chaotic, especially as we’re still trying to establish a strong foundation.”

Despite the pressures, the early success of the young designers has caught the attention of veterans in the field.

“These kids have come out of school with a creative edge and with a special connection to technology,” said Camille Bergher, a 23-year veteran in the fashion industry and current creative director of the apparel design and manufacturing company Topson Downs. “They’re already masters of e-commerce, so young businesses like RtA are coming up fast and spreading their presence effectively. My businesses had to evolve immensely to even join the tech world.”

Bergher attributes the attraction of the fashion industry among L.A. Jewish millennials to the decades of Jewish involvement in the industry’s tradition.

“I feel like the stories of today’s young designers are so similar to mine,” she said. “I was raised in the Fiorucci store that my mother brought to Beverly Hills. And when it came my turn to follow in my mother’s footsteps, my family showed me an open door to my dreams and allowed me to be passionate. I think there’s something about living in this city, being part of the generation-to-generation values of Jewish families, that makes fashion such a rich field.”

Like Bergher, Rimokh’s fashion education evolved from his parents — his father was a handbag manufacturer. But more than learning to build a brand, he picked up universal values.

My parents taught me to be humble and respect elders, which was some Jewish wisdom from my dad,” Rimokh said. “There’s a lot of times I could be arrogant or boast about success, but I know that things change quickly, so I’ve combined everything I’ve learned as a Jewish kid with everything I’ve learned as a grower in the fashion business.”