“We continue to develop new, unique and innovative products that are made by our youth. I feel good that the U.S. can still be the number one place in the world for anyone to start a business.”
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Iran until the age of 11. Life in Iran was not bad for my family. We were a lower middle class family, but comfortable. My mother was a house wife and my father was a civil engineer. I had one sibling and we lived in the city of Tehran. When I was a boy I enjoyed riding my bicycle any chance I got with my friends and invent many games that involved us getting dirty or hurt. Our lives changed when the war started between Iran and Iraq in 1980.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you immigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I was born in Iran and escaped at to America at the age of 11 with my mother and 6-year-old brother. We did so because of the horrific war between Iran and Iraq. The first bomb that ever hit the city struck at 2 AM when I was seven, hitting the house next door and we had no idea what it was at first. It felt like an 8.0 earthquake, but there are no earthquakes in Iran. I had never experienced one until I moved to Los Angeles many years later. We were all a sleep and suddenly the entire building shook. My parents ran into my room and grabbed me from under my blanket, which was covered with glass. The entire wall behind my bed had these huge glass windows and when the bomb went off, all the glass came down on my bed covering the entire bed, but sparing me sense I was under the covers as I often was as a kid.
We ran into the street like everyone else on the block, running out to see what happened. That is when we all saw the house next door was hit with a missile — the entire house was gone. “How can that be?” I asked myself. I had just seen them earlier that day when I was outside playing with my friends. The entire family was killed that night, including their daughter who was to be married less than a week later. She was the most beautiful girl on the block and all the boys had a crush on her. I don’t recall much more from that night. Only that we ended up at someone else’s house and I woke the next day to what would be our new reality. War in our city. We drove to our house. The streets were filled with people coming to take pictures to see what the hoopla was all about, but to our dismay, the bombing at my house was not so special after a few days. More Missiles and bombs fell. The ground would shake. The alarms in the city would go off and we would all run down from our apartments into the street as if that would somehow protect us in case we got hit again. Now that I look back, I think about how that was the only thing my parents knew to do. What else were they supposed to do? How to do hide from a bomb in an apartment. How to protect the family when “death from above” is falling in random places? There was nothing that we could do!
We would go from one friend’s house to another one. From one city to another, trying to get away from the bombings, but they seemed to be everywhere and more often as the days went on. I recall one night, sleeping on the floor of my father’s friend’s house when I suddenly saw the living room light up with these bright beautiful colors…reds, oranges, and yellows. As quickly as it came, it went and then a second later …BOOM! Another missile struck a few miles from where I was sleeping. I saw the flames pass by the house. That is what those beautiful colors were…
After four years of this and being in and out of school, my mother’s family all escaped to America after the Iranian revolution. They hired a team of smugglers who smuggled my brother, mother and me out of Iran. It took us around one year to arrive to America, but man oh man was it all worth it.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
During the year of being smuggled to America in 1987, it took me, my 6 year old brother and mother almost one year to come to America. We spent one month in the desert. Sometimes we spent days without water or food. We finally arrived to Pakistan and then to Vienna, Austria, where we waited 11 months to get our permanent Resident Visa to come to the USA in the late 1980’s. One of the hardest journeys of my life, but anything as good as America is damn worth going through. When I was 23 I became a U.S. citizen.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
When I was 13 years old and in 7th grade, my buddies and I started our first clothing company called Hooka Style. It was a simple California-inspired graphic T-shirt company tailored for the Skate / BMX market at the time. Living in Los Angeles at a time when Hip Hop and rap were just getting popular, we had some great inspirations for our designs. Dr. Dre even wore one of our hats on his Concrete Roots album cover in 1994 and then he wore it on the Arsenio Hall Show a few days later. We had nothing to do with him wearing the hat, he found it on his own at a shop on Melrose Blvd and purchased it. That same week, we had our first ASN (Action Sport Show) in San Diego where we had a small booth. Everyone thought that we were associated with Dr. Dre and we played along. Our brand “blew up.” Hot Topic placed an order for all of their stores. We were the new “Hot Ticket” in town. We sold over $100,000 worth of shirts in three days. We were just kids and couldn’t believe that Hooka Style was going to be in Hot Topic! We lost our minds and thought that we had made it. Unfortunately, we made some not-so-sound business decisions with their manufacture we chose, so we ended up having to fold the business. I learned a lot from that experience and since then I always wanted to work in the clothing business.
So how are things going for your business today?
I have been an entrepreneur and leader in the fashion industry for more than 26 years. In 2005 before starting my own manufacturing company, I worked at one if the biggest fabric mills in Los Angeles where I got to play with all sorts of fabric, which enabled me to see the real side of fashion and how it works. I flew to China for the first time to inspect our fabric mill and what I discovered while I was there was awful. The work conditions in these factories were at best, subpar, but this was the nature of the business and all involved seem to be okay with it except me and our designer who had come with me to China.
After a while, I learned a lot about fabric and we started a garment manufacturing division to service all the clients that were buying fabric from us. It made perfect sense. A large portion of our clients were buying fabric from us to produce their garments. We realized we were missing out on an opportunity to make the entire garment from fabric to finish — a true “full package” production, which we call CMTP: Cut, Make, Trims, Packaging. This is when I started learning how to produce fabric and really learn the garment manufacturing aspect of this crazy fashion world.
In 2010, I founded The Elite Fashion Group with my partner Rosario Vital, which is a full-service manufacturer and one of the few remaining U.S. apparel companies committed to manufacturing apparel entirely domestically. From development to full-package manufacturing, all production is done in their Los Angeles headquarters. My goal was to NEVER outsource to China, in order to keep the jobs here in America and make quality clothing.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
L.A. has been my home since I moved here as a refugee when I was eleven years old and since that time, it has been heartbreaking to watch the disproportionate number of homeless veterans grow and the lack of resources for them. Homeless veterans in the City of L.A. was up by 20% in 2017 per the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. According to the non-profit We Honor Vets, on any given night, more than 107,000 veterans are without shelter and lack basic healthcare. I had to do something about it. Simple on-and-off donations that we have made at times are not enough, so I launched Never Forgotten Apparel. Never Forgotten Apparel is not Just a clothing brand, but rather a movement to help all heroes and our country — if we all come together as much as possible in this effort, we can all make a difference for years to come.
Never Forgotten Apparel is an American Made men’s and women’s clothing line that donates a large percentage of ALL sales (20 to 50 percent) to We Honor Veterans, Los Angeles Fire Department Association, and to individual off-duty vets and firefighters in need. Most recently the lack of support for firefighters hit close to home when my best friend and former Iron Man competitor William Guimaraes of 58B Firehouse became an off-duty firefighter after being diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia (often caused by exposure to burning plastic and Benzene). When you purchase the “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” t-shirt or the Women’s NFA Tank Top for $19.95, $10 is donated to Will Guimaraes to help him and his family. We believe in serving those who serve us and in doing so, we want to encourage consumers to help us raise $100,000 by 2019 for our heroes.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
My overall experience was a good one. We came in as refugees and it took the U.S. government almost a year to grant us our Visas. I do not know why it took that long, and that was rather hard on my family, living in a foreign country (Austria) waiting to come to the USA. I applied for my citizenship in my early 20s and it was a fairly seamless process.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
· Believe in YOURSELF first. Before you tell anyone about your goals and what you want in life, remember that you are always selling yourself before any idea or product. If you do not believe in yourself and/or your idea, then no one else will either. At least not the people that you need to believe in you.
With Never Forgotten Apparel, you will not find a person in the world that has as much passion and total belief in the cause as I do. It is MY job to convey that to the world.
· Work hard and smart for “IT”. If you really, truly, deep inside your bones want something that bad, the universe will give it to you as long as you are willing to work for it. This old saying of working hard is true, but hard does not necessarily mean output. Working smart is also as important if not more. If you truly go after something you want, you will have it. Sometimes you must take a step back and stop working on it. Take a break. Look at the situation or challenge with a new mindset and you might find a new “road’ to solve the issue or achieve your goal.
· Get involved with your community — Nothing will make you feel as good as helping your fellow neighbor. Every day people often tend to think they are powerless and cannot contribute to anything greater or effect change, but that is not the case. Volunteer with a local nonprofit or visit a local homeless shelter and bring them donations. You’ll be surprised what seems so small is actually a big deal to someone in need.
· Plant the seed — Go to meetups and events that are related to your project. Meet and speak to as many people as possible and make connections. I like to call this “planting the seed.” You “plant your seed and water it” until a relationship grows. You never know who might be able to connect you to the right person.
· Listen to people’s advice, but know where the advice is coming from — People offer advice from their personal experiences in life. A janitor in our company heard one of our sales reps say “Trust me,” to a new client. He then said, “Trust is not given, it is earned. “You should ask for only 1% of trust and the opportunity to EARN the remaining 99%. That advice has served me very well in life.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. The fashion industry is the second worse industry for the planet, behind energy. We at The Elite Fashion Group emphasize to our current and potential customers that our company’s values include being ethical, transparent, hands-on, organic and slave-free — the antithesis of what manufacturing in China represents. Currently, citizens care more about transparency and the environment, which make me optimistic about the future of the fashion industry. With each new American generation, the population cares more and more about protecting the planet. Using technology to improve our environmentally-friendly processes to make clothing gives me hope.
2. We continue to develop new, unique and innovative products that are made by our youth. I feel good that the U.S. can still be the number one place in the world for anyone to start a business.
3. With each new generation, we strive to give back. Many entrepreneurs are finding ways to be philanthropic through its business practices and that is inspiring. For me, giving back to our heroes, veterans and firefighters, is an important cause because they have sacrificed so much to protect us.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Will Smith — -not because he is a famous actor, but because of something he said in a video I watched. He shared a story about how his father took his brother and him to a brick wall, which he knocked down and told them to re-build.
“How?“ they asked their father.
“Lay one or two bricks a day,” their father replied. Will spoke about doing this until the wall was built.
I have taken that to heart. I often say, “One brick at a time,” to my colleagues when I am at the office.
Originally published at medium.com