Jewish Journal

Iranian Jewish clothing designer helping L.A.‘s homeless

by Karmel Melamed

March 12, 2008 | 6:07 pm

Recently I had a chat with Bob Roofian, one of the many accomplished Iranian Jewish businessmen in the garment industry here in Southern California. Roofian and his brother when into business with their father straight out of high school in the early 1980’s. They both started their own company Urgent Gear Inc. carrying popular young men’s and boys clothing. The Roofians are a perfect example of the success story many Iranian Jews in Southern California have encountered and really been able to live the American Dream.

Like countless Iranian Jewish immigrants to Los Angeles, the Roofians have thrived in the garment business and are now looking to give back to the community. His company’s latest denim and casual wear clothing line for men and women is called Civil Society . Roofian has chosen to partner with the Los Angeles Mission and will donate five percent of their first year’s gross sales from this new clothing line to help the homeless in Los Angeles. Likewise his company has donated a number of defective articles of clothing to the Mission for the homeless.

Roofian, now 40-year-old, shed light on his work in the garment business, his clothing line Civil Society, and the unique allure of this industry to local Iranian Jewish businessmen:

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the clothing business?

I started working in the clothing business since junior high. My first job was as at “Ross, Dress For Less” (clothing store) in stocking and distributing the clothes. Then I went into the men’s department in sales and worked there for about three years. So I had a little bit of clothing experience when my dad opened his wholesale clothing business in the early 1980’s in Downtown L.A. I started working with him as a buyer who used to go to New York and started buying closeouts and distributing them in L.A. Then we started designing our own clothes, I was sketching and designing them myself and then imported them through other Chinese people. We were distributing my own designs and I started going to the shows— and that’s how it all started.

Why do you think so many Iranian Jews have gone into the garment industry and become so successful?

It takes a lot of hard work. Persian Jewish society as a group are hard working and don’t mind working hard to achieve their goals. It does not have to do with experience, I think it’s just a lot of hard work.

Can you share what the experience has been for you as far as challenges you’ve had to overcome in the clothing business?

My biggest challenge was working with my dad. We had different mentalities, when you’re working with your dad and he has the Persian mentality of doing business, it’s not really easy. I had to overcome that barrier and I had to work twice as hard in order to prove different routes that they didn’t believe in and take some larger risks. Since I was the youngest child, I had to be able to fight through the difference to prove myself in business.

So what’s the difference between the Persian and American business mentalities?

The older Persian community is not open to taking larger risks. When they came here during the Khomeini times, they were a little afraid of doing things that were a bit risky because they didn’t know the language and were in a foreign country. It’s hard when you don’t have a background in the line of business— my dad was in real estate and the furniture business in Iran, so he didn’t know everything about the clothing business. When you’re in yours fifties, you’re pretty much set in the ways you do business. So I had to go to the shows and make the investments to prove that they work.

Education is very important for Iranian Jewish parents and they seem to push their kids to enter professional careers in medicine or the law. You’re obviously not in any of those lines of work, how do you feel about this trend among the parents in the community?

I believe the parents should definitely let the child decide, give them the tools to make the right decision but don’t push them into something they’re not interested in. The main success in business comes when you like what you do and loving you do. Also success comes from sacrificing a lot of your social life and do what you want to do. I know a lot of people who were pushed by their parents to become a doctor or lawyer and right now they’re not doing that. They’re doing other things that they really like. The best thing is getting up in the morning and having the excitement of achieving something that you really love doing.

What motivated you donate five percent of the gross sales from your new clothing line to the homeless in Los Angeles?

I’ve worked in downtown since 1982 and see that no one is doing anything about the homeless. I get up every morning and have to struggle getting into my business and see the poor homeless living on the streets. They live through the rain and heat—in very bad environments and have seen it get worse over the years. Downtown L.A. is really improving but no one is really doing anything about the homeless. I thought that our corporation can make a difference and others can join one by one to change things.

What advice do you have for young Iranian Jews or anyone who wants to get into the clothing business?

My advice is that if they enjoy fashion, they should start by going into the shows and seeing what category of the clothing business they really enjoy. Once they find it, it’s very easy. The market is so big, it always has an opening for new fashions. I hope people go in and try not to do what everyone is doing, but develop their own new styles.

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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